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Central Pennsylvania UPS union workers get ready to strike; what that means for customers

UPS workers go through a rehearsal of a pending strike at the UPS Customer Center Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Longwood, Fla.
John Raoux
UPS workers go through a rehearsal of a pending strike at the UPS Customer Center Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Longwood, Fla.

Central Pennsylvania UPS workers are preparing to take part in a nationwide strike if their union cannot reach a new contract deal with the shipping company.

The current contract between UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ends on August 1. Union workers want higher wages for all workers, more full-time jobs, elimination of a two-tier wage system and safer working conditions.

“As a package car driver in those hot summer days, I would bring a thermometer with me and I'm not exaggerating when I would say it would sometimes reach 145 to 150 degrees in the back of the package car,” said Eric Kime, a business representative for Teamsters Local 764.

Teamsters Local 764 represents about 425 UPS workers in central Pennsylvania, which includes State College, Sunbury and Williamsport. Last Thursday, they staged a practice picket outside of the State College UPS Customer Center. Kime said the purpose of this practice picket was to show unity and solidarity with Teamsters nationwide. It was also meant to let the general public know what was going on with negotiations and how a strike could affect them.

“Their packages, whether their medical, dog food, your Amazon deliveries, whatever it is, they won't move, or they will move minimally. And it will disrupt the supply chain,” Kime said.

Negotiations have been at a standstill for more than a week. Kime said the two sticking points are part-time wages and working conditions.

“There's a big wage gap between full-timers and part-timers. Our General President Sean O'Brien and the national negotiating team, as well as our local supplemental negotiating team, have made it a point to reward the part-timers. They're often left behind and they're not rewarded for their hard work and dedication,” Kime said.

While negotiations are at a pause, UPS said it is training non-unionized workers to step in if a strike does happen.

“While we have made great progress on a new agreement, we have a responsibility as an essential service provider to take steps to help ensure we can deliver our customers’ packages if the Teamsters choose to strike,” UPS said in a press release. “We, therefore, have begun implementing business continuity plans to prepare for any outcome.”

Kime said customers will still be affected by a strike, even if UPS trains more people to fill the gap.

“It's not to say anything disparaging against any non-union workers they may try to hire to replace us; they're not going to be able to do the job. I mean, our people are very skilled. It takes a lot of training to safely operate the vehicles, the tractor trailers, the package cars. And our inside employees who sort, scan, and unload, they’re also very skilled. It's not a job that you can just walk off the street without any training or minimal training and perform successfully,” Kime said.

UPS said it is ready to get back to the negotiating table and finalize a deal, according to the company’s latest negotiations update on July 14. If a deal is not reached, Teamsters say they will begin to strike on August 1.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.