After more than three and a half years of UPS refusing to agree to a new contract with aircraft mechanics and related classifications, Wednesday the mechanics requested that the National Mediation Board (NMB) release them from mediated negotiations with the company.
UPS relies on the mechanics, stationed at over 90 gateways across the country, for all maintenance of its cargo aircraft. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Airline Division Director David Bourne delivered the request to the NMB. He also advised the NMB that Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa has pledged his and the International Union’s full support of the mechanics’ request.
In response, the NMB may offer the mechanics, represented by the Teamsters Local 2727, and UPS the opportunity to let a neutral third-party arbitrator decide remaining contract issues. If either the union or the company refuses to arbitrate the dispute, a 30-day “cooling off” period would be triggered and the mechanics could then be free to strike any time after the period ends.
The aircraft maintenance workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in November. In total, 80 percent – 950 – of the company’s 1,200 maintenance employees participated in the strike vote, and 98 percent of those workers voted in favor of a strike.
“UPS is investing in its fleet and preparing for a future where home package delivery is increasingly common,” said Kevin Gawlik, a 20 year aircraft mechanic at Rockford, IL gateway.
“But UPS must also invest in the workforce that keeps those planes flying. No one wants to go on strike, but we are ready to if we need to because UPS mechanics and our families deserve better from UPS.”
Despite continued growth, UPS is calling for massive reductions in health benefits for 1,200 maintenance workers who are critical to the company’s supply chain. UPS aircraft mechanics and other maintenance workers do physically demanding and often dangerous work around jet engine aircraft and equipment and toxic chemicals and exhaust.
UPS is also calling for a devastating reduction in benefits for retirees who spent their lives servicing the company’s planes. Under UPS’s proposal, health coverage for a retiree and his or her spouse would skyrocket to more than $19,000 per year in the first year with further increases each year thereafter.
Mechanics have stepped up the pressure on the company over the last several months, most recently holding a rally and picket line in Miami during the Valentine’s Day holiday. Ninety percent of the flowers UPS delivers Feb. 14 pass through the Miami International Airport.
“Dedicated aircraft maintenance workers are simply asking to keep the benefits they already have so they can keep UPS planes running effectively,” said Tim Boyle, president of Teamsters Local 2727, the workers’ union. “We are taking this extraordinary step because UPS is refusing to work with us. We’ll do whatever it takes to protect good, middle class jobs, our health and our families.”
Many of the airline’s gateways operate with just one aircraft mechanic per shift, meaning he or she works alone around massive aircraft parts and equipment, sometimes for up to 39 hours straight. Lifting injuries and accidents are common. Repetitive stress injuries, hearing loss, inhaling toxic exhaust, and jet engine blasts are among other health risks UPS aircraft maintenance workers face.