Louisville union president blasts national Teamsters leaders

UPS planes | Courtesy of Teamsters

Louisville Teamsters leader Fred Zuckerman sharply criticized national union leaders’ forced ratification of a new five-year contract that a majority of workers had rejected.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been in business,” Zuckerman told Insider Louisville.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters had said on Friday that 54.2 percent of package handlers cast ballots against the proposal. However, the IBT said union rules required that the agreement be ratified because if less than half the eligible members cast ballots, the agreement fails only if at least two-thirds reject it. Only 44.3 percent of the eligible 209,043 members participated.

Zuckerman and other Louisville Teamsters members said the union constitution allows — but does not require — the IBT to ratify the rejected contract, and they’re urging members to contact the IBT to pressure national leaders to change their minds.

“Membership is very angry about this,” said Zuckerman, president of Local 89, which is one of the nation’s largest and represents the bulk of UPS’ 21,000 Louisville workers.

Fred Zuckerman

The five-year national agreement would cover about 240,000 Teamsters nationwide, including 7,000 part-time package handlers at Worldport and another 1,000 at Centennial and Bluegrass ground hubs in Louisville.

The agreement calls for starting wages to jump to $13 per hour, from the current $10.50, and, for current workers, raises of $4.15 over the life of the contract. While the IBT and the company have touted the agreement as beneficial for the company and the employees, Zuckerman and other critics have said the starting wage is at least $2 too low.

“It’s just a bad contract,” Zuckerman had told Insider last month.

Contract wrangling also is being tainted by political infighting.

Zuckerman and a Boston-based ally hope to supplant the IBT leadership, including President James P. Hoffa, in the 2021 elections and had been urging their members to reject the national agreement. The IBT could not be reached Monday or Tuesday.

While Zuckerman and many local workers are united in their criticism of the IBT, they disagree about the portion of the contract that Zuckerman’s team negotiated.

Only about a third of Louisville-area eligible members cast ballots on the local agreement, with about 1,300, or 59 percent, rejecting it — though Zuckerman said that the IBT has overruled that vote as well.

That’s not all that surprising though: All agreements — local, regional and national — have to be ratified before any portions go into effect.

A Local 89 dissident group, which hopes to oust Zuckerman in the 2021 election, criticized the local proposal in part because of poor pension benefits and what they said were unfair bonus payments.

Zuckerman dismissed those criticisms, telling Insider that the local proposal was the best that’s ever been negotiated.

He said the local portion was rejected in part because of the confusing vote setup. Members voted on all three agreements — local, regional, national — at the same time, and Local 89 leaders had urged members to approve the local agreement — but reject the regional and national ones.

It was a “difficult situation,” Zuckerman said.

Implementation months away?

Courtesy of Teamsters Local 89 Facebook page

While Local 89 and other members are trying to put pressure on IBT leaders to continue negotiations, Zuckerman said he wasn’t sure whether those efforts would be successful.

Regardless, implementation of any of the agreements will not happen any time soon, he said.

Six regional agreements, including in central Pennsylvania and New York City, have yet to be ratified. In those areas, more than 50 percent of eligible members cast ballots, which prevented the IBT from ratifying the proposals. That means those agreements will have to be renegotiated and voted on again, which, Zuckerman said, likely won’t happen before mid-January, because UPS and the Teamsters are about to enter their peak season.

That would mean Teamsters members would have to continue to work under current contract conditions until early next year.

UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot told Insider via email Tuesday that it was “premature to comment” on how long the implementation process would take.

Company representatives are meeting with Teamster leaders “to discuss the next steps regarding remaining agreements,” he said.

“In the interim, it is business as usual, and our customers can count on the reliable service they expect from UPS.”

Meanwhile, many union members remain unsure about the status of the agreements they rejected.

“There are conflicting and confusing messages coming from the union,” a New York-based worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told Insider via email.

Local 89 member James Anderson, a package handler, had told Insider Monday that he worried the IBT’s forced ratification of agreements would have far-reaching consequences and could undermine the union’s long-term viability in so-called right-to-work states, including Kentucky.

However, Zuckerman told Insider that he did not share those concerns. As long as the union provides valuable services, people will want to participate, he said.

While he understands people’s frustration about feeling powerless, he said leaving the union would be the wrong step, as that would assure that workers’ voices aren’t heard.