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200 Members of Congress Vow Not to Interfere If UPS Workers Strike

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STRIKE A POSE - Two hundred members of the United States Congress have committed not to step in if United Parcel Service workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters go on strike next month.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democratic Party, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) led 28 Senate Democrats in sending a letter to Teamsters president Sean O'Brien and UPS chief executive officer Carol Tomé on Wednesday. An identical letter signed by 164 House Democrats and eight House Republicans was addressed to the union leader and corporate executive on Monday.

"We are writing to strongly affirm support of our constituents' right to collectively bargain with their employer," the letter states.

The Teamsters union represents more than 340,000 UPS warehouse workers and delivery drivers nationwide. Last month, 97% of them voted to authorize a strike beginning on August 1 if a deal is not reached before their current five-year contract expires on July 31. It would be the second-largest work stoppage at a single employer in U.S. history, trailing only a 1970 strike of 400,000 General Motors workers.

"The Teamsters-UPS contract is the largest private collective bargaining agreement in North America, and given the recent increase in attacks on employees' collective bargaining rights, it is critical that these rights are in no way undermined in the current contract negotiations between Teamsters and UPS," wrote the 200 members of Congress. "Furthermore, we support the principles of fair wages, safe working conditions, affordable healthcare, and dignified retirement."

"UPS Teamsters play an essential role every day in delivering critical products across the country and keeping the American economy afloat," the lawmakers continued. "In addition to continuing to work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, these workers moved a record amount of goods during this period to keep American families safe, healthy, and fed."

"We are hopeful that both sides can negotiate in good faith and reach a consensus agreement that addresses basic human needs and allows workers to do their jobs safely and with dignity," they added. "However, in the event a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached, we commit to respect our constituents' statutory and constitutional rights to withhold their labor and initiate and participate in a strike."

The letter notes that "Congress has not previously intervened in recent history to implement a collective bargaining agreement between workers and their employer under the National Labor Relations Act, and we commit to not intervening in the collective bargaining process between Teamsters and UPS."

Because the signatories constitute a minority of Congress, the letter amounts to a symbolic gesture of solidarity. While the Teamsters welcomed it, the risk remains that federal lawmakers could impose a contract against the will of UPS workers. 

If Congress stays out of the way and a strike occurs, President Joe Biden could invoke emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act to end a UPS work stoppage, as former President Jimmy Carter did to break a coal miners' strike in 1978 and former President Ronald Reagan did to force striking air traffic controllers back to work in 1981.

On Sunday, during a UPS Teamsters members update webinar, O'Brien made clear that he has asked the White House on multiple occasions to stay away.

"My neighborhood where I grew up in Boston, if two people had a disagreement and you had nothing to do with it, you just kept walking," said O'Brien. "We don't need anybody getting involved in this fight."

In early December, Biden—the self-proclaimed "most pro-union president" in U.S. history—joined Congress to thwart a pending railroad worker strike using the Railway Labor Act, which covers the rail and airline industries but isn't applicable to UPS workers.

It remains unclear whether a UPS strike will happen. Negotiations have been at a standstill for weeks, with the Teamsters holding practice pickets around the country and the company, which raked in more than $100 billion in 2022, training scabs.

The practice rallies appear to have had an impact, as UPS contacted the Teamsters on Wednesday to restart contract talks.

"UPS bowed today to the overwhelming show of Teamster unity and reached out to the union to resume negotiations," the union announced. "The Teamsters National Negotiating Committee and the company will set dates soon to resume negotiations next week."

(Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)

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