Part 6 – 1997 UPS Strike — 20th Anniversary

With the largest private sector union contract in the country, then, as now, all eyes are on UPS –Teamsters contract negotiations. Two decades ago, faced with unreasonable company demands, Local 804 members and Teamsters across the U.S. voted overwhelmingly to strike.

On August 4, 1997, 187,000 UPS Teamsters hit the picket lines. Among them was Local 804 member Pablo Ramirez, who was then a package driver in Maspeth.  Ramirez recalls, “It was a tough time, but we were fighting for something that mattered.  We were united and stuck together during the strike.”

It was the first and only national UPS strike. Over the 15-day strike, losses for UPS were estimated at $780 million. Only 20 percent of deliveries were made over the course of the strike.

Teamsters Rally.   A LU 177 Member Speaks, 1997.
Teamsters Rally.   A LU 177 Member Speaks, 1997.

The union’s top demands were maintaining joint control of the pension and the creation of more full-time jobs. The company wanted to take over the pension funds, increase contracting out and add more part-time jobs. Months of negotiations yielded no agreement.

With President Ron Carey leading both Local 804 and the IBT, New York Teamsters were front and center in the struggle. The high profile strike galvanized the entire labor movement and the public. Current Local 804 President Eddie Villalta and Secretary-Treasurer John Piccinich took part in the strike. Both were impressed by the intensity of public support.

On the strike line.   Ron Carey

On the strike line.

  Ron Carey was both Local 804 President and IBT General President at the time of the strike.

Pres. Villalta said, “We were determined to win a good contract, but after seeing all the support – cars honking as they passed by, other workers joining our pickets and actions and customers speaking out for us – you could see that this wasn’t just about UPS workers. All American workers wanted a better deal. Too many workers were being forced to work part-time and that fight continues.”

Teamsters, of course, won the strike. The Teamster-UPS pension funds remained in place and UPS agreed to create 10,000 full-time jobs over the course of the five-year contract. But it was also a victory for all workers. We showed that when workers stood together they could win.

 Pablo Ramirez 1997    Pablo Ramirez 2017
 Local UPS Driver Pablo Ramirez (left) shown in a 1997 news story.    Pablo Ramirez 2017

Pablo Ramirez is still a package driver, though he now works out of Long Island City.  Ramirez said, "In unity is strength. People have made great sacrifices for what we enjoy today and it’s our job to keep it for future workers.” He plans to begin enjoying his retirement in the next couple of years.  

Local 804 Secretary-Treasurer Piccinich concluded, “Twenty years on and retirement security remains a central issue. As pensions disappear for most workers, preserving our pension must be a top priority in contract negotiations  Just as our union leaders did in 1997, we must also look ahead and take actions now to improve retirement security down the line.”

UPS Strike Rally, August 8, 1997.   UPS leafleting.
UPS Strike Rally, August 8, 1997.   UPS leafleting.