Local UPS drivers frustrated about strike

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 8/19/97.

Editor’s note: This story was written Monday prior to the news that the strike had been settled.

Local UPS drivers are frustrated about the strike and would prefer to be working instead of walking the picket lines. Many of the drivers felt if the strike wasn’t settled soon, it could drag on for a long time. Paynesville has about 18 people employed by UPS in Willmar.

In the news Monday morning, President Clinton urged both sides to reach a settlement soon. According to a news service report, “This strike is beginning to hurt not only the company, but its employees and the people who depend on it, and I think they ought to redouble their efforts to settle the strike and they ought to do it today,” Clinton was quoted as saying.
Several government, union and company officials said that Sunday was a crucial day for negotiations. The officials feel that after more than 70 hours of talks since Thursday, they predicted the negotiators either would reach a settlement soon or break off the talks.

Among the key issues are the union’s demand that UPS increase the number of full-time workers and the company’s demand to take over from the teamsters the pension fund covering UPS employees.

“On the local level we are hearing nothing except the news broadcasts on television and in newspapers,” Jim Butkofski, Paynesville, said. “The company has been more than fair on this end. We are comfortable with what they have offered. We don’t understand why it came to a strike.”

“I feel there is a power struggle going on between the union and UPS,” Butkofski added. “We, the drivers, are caught in the middle. At present I have enough resources to get me through for a little while but the younger guys don’t have anything to fall back upon. Once the strike is over, I’m expecting massive layoffs.”

Butkofski doesn’t see why the White House doesn’t step in and end the strike. “The White House keeps stressing national security isn’t in jeopardy, but they ended the baseball players’ strike and that didn’t concern national security,” he stressed.

“We can’t make things right, but I’d love to go back to work tomorrow. The strike is having a major economic impact on small companies. They are being forced to lay off people because they can’t deliver their product, which in turn affects grocery stores because their employees won’t have money to buy groceries or make other payments,” Butkofski added.

LeRoy Lang, Paynesville, agrees the employees are being kept in the dark and haven’t heard much from either side on how negotiations are going. “We received a letter from UPS stating they want the proposal to go to a vote but the union says no,” Lang said.

“I would love to be back at work, then they could settle the contract, but our hands are tied. Money is getting tight,” Lang added.

Lori Wall, Paynesville part-time driver, doesn’t feel the strike should even have occurred. “We all don’t agree with the union and the issue should be put to a vote. If they would let us vote, it would probably pass and we could get back to work,” she said.

When asked about her status as a part-time driver being in jeopardy, Wall said she wouldn’t be affected personally because of her seniority.

Leanne Tangen has worked for UPS 13 years and isn’t in favor of the strike. “I’m not in favor of the strike from the Teamsters point of view. We weren’t even told what the company offered before the strike was called. ”

“At contract time, there is a formality that is followed calling for the right to strike, but the company is usually given an extension. We were all blind sided when the strike was called without warning,” Tangen said. “The strike fund is broke. We have been told if we receive a strike check, to turn it back in.”

“I’m disappointed in the union leaders. UPS is responsible for 300,000 people and I don’t think either side is negotiating for a new contract. I don’t know why we are out on the picket lines. Four days after the strike started, UPS sent us letters explaining their position. However, Ron Carey, union representative, won’t let the workers vote,” she said.

Tangen is afraid that if the strike doesn’t end soon, many of the Paynesville employees won’t be going back to work. “It will take me over a year to get back what I have lost because of the strike,” she added. “I’m proud to say I like working for UPS. They entrust us with a lot of responsibility and I’d hate to lose that trust.”

Ray Glenz, an 18 year employee of UPS, feels the strike is not a good situation. “We keep hearing two different stories and don’t know which to believe. I hope the public isn’t mad at us because we would rather be working,” he said.

* * *

Despite being on strike, UPS and its striking workers provided supplies to paint the exterior of the Women’s Shelter House in Willmar last week. About 11 full-time drivers and family members helped with the project. Many employees are taking on odd jobs to help tide them over financially until the strike is over.

UPS-union reach tentative agreement
News flashes Monday night announced UPS and the Teamsters Union had reached a tentative agreement.
Tiny Reutzel, local union stewart for Union 638, felt the strike had to be done. “UPS and the Teamsters had been negotiating since February and nothing had worked out,” he said. “I’m completly on the side of the union and feel UPS was stonewalling the negotiations. Both their proposals were close, its hard to believe they couldn’t agree earlier.”

“Unions across the nation were behind us 100 percent. Federal Express and Northwest Airlines employees were walking the picket lines with UPS employees in the Twin Cities,” he added.

With the news of the settlement, Reutzel believes the union members will be voting on whether to ratify the the agreement within the next couple of weeks. Union members won’t hear all the details on the settlement until next week. “We just received the UPS proposal in the mail Saturday for the first time. It was mailed to us on Monday, Aug. 11,” Reutzel said. “UPS employees probably won’t return to work for another 24 hours (Tuesday night or Wednesday morning).”

“On the whole, everything looks good. Some of the employees objected to the strike. There are 48 union people working in Willmar and nobody crossed the picket lines. There was a lot of cooperation between the local union members. Just about everybody took their shift on the line.

“As union steward, I encouraged people to get other work as they were hurting financially because of the strike. About 60 percent of our local members got other work to tide them over.”

Reutzel said the main issues they were negotiating were part-time help, health and welfare, and pension. “The Central States Union, part of the lager Teamsters Union, has more than $50 billion in the health and welfare fund. UPS wanted $43 billion of that total. I can quote all kinds of statistics but our Local 638 has the best insurance in the United States because the union put more into health and welfare than wages.

Reutzel said the last time UPS had a strike was in 1976 and that covered only a 13 state area, lasting two weeks.

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