Part 2 – World War 2

Local 804 members have a reputation for both patriotism and union solidarity. From its inception, Local 804 understood the importance of supporting other workers’ struggles and working with other unions to achieve common goals. Area Teamster Locals representing UPS workers including New Jersey Locals 138 and 177 and New York Local 804, 478 and138 bargained together.  In December of 1941, Local 804 had 3,325 members.

And when their country needed them, Local 804 members heeded the call.

The US declared war on Japan and Germany in December1941. Local 804 members did their part on the battlefield and on the home front. More than 500 active Local 804 members served in the military during the Second World War. The majority of them returned to their union jobs.

After the U.S. entrance into World War II, with many UPS workers joining the armed forces, UPS began to hire women to work in the operations side of the company. By December 1942, UPS employed women in the operations of its major cities. The women still worked behind the scenes, in jobs such as sorting, tracing, routing, and loading of packages. A year later, women were hired as drivers as well.

Both major labor federations, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and their affiliated unions, including the Teamsters, promised “no-strike” pledges for the duration of the war. At President Roosevelt’s urging, union leaders agreed to temporarily set aside differences with management to ensure no disruptions in wartime production. But, business leaders rarely permitted the war to come between them and profits. Seizing a chance to cut company costs, NYC area department stores placed ads in local papers urging their customers to carry their own packages home as a way of contributing to the war effort.

In return for labor's no-strike pledge, the government offered arbitration to determine the wages and other terms of new contracts. Those procedures produced modest wage increases during the first few years of the war but didn’t keep up with inflation, particularly when combined with the lengthy arbitration process. Additionally, some businesses took advantage of the wartime rules to reduce labor costs and generally take advantage of workers.

While union members overwhelming supported the war effort, the no-strike pledge caused tensions and difficulties for workers. Union officials, for the most part, stood by their pledge and refused to sanction strikes and walkouts. As a result, most worker actions were described as “wildcat”, or illegal under union rules.

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New York City's Mayor was instrumental in settling a 1942 UPS strike.

 

A 1945 telegram to IBT Pres. Tobin, explaining a stoppage in violation of the no-strike pledge

Despite the no-strike pledge, Local 804 members struck UPS in June 1942, stopping the deliveries of 100,000 packages at 375 stores in the New York metropolitan area. Following the suspension of 315 drivers for refusal to do overtime, the strike began at the beginning of June. Wage increases and jurisdictional disputes with other local unions were also at issue. Two and a half weeks later, Mayor LaGuardia intervened, and a contract was reached.

Until the war ended in 1945, Local 804 was involved in several more disputes, either on behalf of Local 804 members or in support of other union members. Servicemen returned home, and labor unions were no longer bound by wartime rules.

Before the war most groceries, dry cleaners, drugstores, and department stores offered local home delivery service. During the war, the labor shortage as well as gasoline and tire rationing, gave retailers a reason to limit or stop delivery services. They found that requiring customers to buy their products in person increased sales. This reduced UPS business, and with 804 members returning from war to their old jobs, the union worried about layoffs and unemployment.

To counter job loss, Local 804 launched a public relations campaign to encourage shoppers to return to their pre-war consumer habits. At the end of the war, Local 804 membership was down to 1,900. The union ran an ad in NYC area papers urging women to “not be imposed upon” and made the case that shoppers were paying for delivery whether or not they carried their own packages and that 800 experienced men needed the work. The post war economic boom, as it turned out, also helped to alleviate the jobs shortage.

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Detail from an ad Local 804 ran to encourage shoppers to use home delivery

 

A 1946 letter to newspapers making the case that returning vets need delivery jobs

Then, as now, the union understood that in order increase its bargaining power, it had to grow. Organizing new members provided the union the density needed to strengthen the union. The International union helped the Local to aggressively organize in the following years.