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UPS workers could be on course for a historic strike within weeks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

UPS workers may be heading for a strike in early August. If they do walk out, it would be the biggest strike against a single employer in U.S. history. As NPR's Danielle Kaye reports, this would mean millions of package delays for people and industries across the country.

DANIELLE KAYE, BYLINE: Three hundred and forty thousand UPS workers are prepared to walk off the job if their union and the company don't agree on a new contract. Tommy Storch, a supply chain expert, says customers would probably feel the effects of a strike for weeks, even months after it ends.

TOMMY STORCH: However long the strike happens, there will be, you know, a much longer tail of just getting those millions of packages that largely weren't delivered that have been stacking up.

KAYE: And it's not just about your average packages like household goods. Major industries could also be disrupted. Here's Jason Miller, a professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University.

JASON MILLER: Probably the scariest one for people is the medical supply chain or the health care supply chain. Manufacturers of medical devices and medical products tend to ship very extensively using parcel carriers.

KAYE: As UPS and its workers get closer to a strike, there's a big threat looming over both sides that wasn't there during the last UPS strike in 1997. The industry has changed a lot. Companies like FedEx and Amazon have expanded their delivery networks.

JEREMY TANCREDI: There's just more competition than ever.

KAYE: Jeremy Tancredi leads the supply chain team at consulting firm West Monroe.

TANCREDI: That's the biggest concern UPS has - is while one carrier couldn't take on the majority of the volume, there might be enough carriers out there to spread it around, and it could be a little more of a hit to them than it was in '97.

KAYE: UPS' main rivals - FedEx, the United States Postal Service and Amazon - wouldn't be able to take on all of the millions of packages left behind. But FedEx, which is largely nonunionized, is still trying to take advantage of the threat of a strike. It's urging shippers to, quote, "begin shipping with FedEx now," according to an internal company memo, before a strike even happens. Tancredi thinks that's a pretty smart move.

TANCREDI: So even if a strike doesn't happen, those customers have already switched over.

KAYE: UPS CEO Carol Tome said in April that UPS has assigned executives to keep customers as the threat of a strike looms large. UPS and the Teamsters Union have less than three weeks to negotiate a new contract. The union says UPS isn't budging on a key sticking point - wages for part-time workers. UPS made billions of dollars in profit last year. This, the union says, means the company can afford to pay its workers more, and they're willing to strike if UPS doesn't give in.

For NPR News, I'm Danielle Kaye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.