The Horses are Coming: Interview with a UPS Teamster

Note: This interview was conducted before UPS and the Teamsters reached a tentative contract agreement on July 25th. The full language of the agreement can be found here.

Sarah: So how long have you been a Teamster and why did you decide to work for UPS?

Diego: I’ve been a Teamster for two and a half years. I started at UPS because it’s just a job. I flunked out of college and I hated what I was getting a degree in, and UPS was the first company to answer. I worked at different warehouse jobs at Amazon for a year before I was hired on. At Amazon, I saw aggressive management tactics being used to discipline workers, and it was pretty eye opening. I was fired from Amazon because I hurt my feet from just standing so much all day– ten hours a day, with minimal breaks– and they didn’t even tell me I was fired. I just tried to badge in, and they wouldn’t let me in. I hated that company. And after that, I applied to Target, I applied all over. UPS actually hired me. So I joined UPS.

Sarah: What does a normal day at UPS involve for you?

Diego: As a cover driver, a normal day involves waiting for a possible text at 8am to come drive a package route on a route I have no prior knowledge of, and then I’m out on the road for up to fourteen hours delivering packages. And if I don’t get a call, I show up to work inside the building at 6pm until 10:30, and I move around semi trailers in the yard for loading and unloading. I do this six days a week. I am on call all day– they own my day– and they know that, too.

Sarah: How much do you get paid an hour, and what are your benefits?

Diego: When I drive, I make $35 an hour. When I don’t get those calls, I get $17. My benefits negotiated by the union are incredible. We have free healthcare for ourselves and our family, and it has very low out-of-pocket costs. The company pays $16 an hour– every hour– into our healthcare, which really highlights how good it is. We also have a pension.

Sarah: You’re also a shop steward. What does that involve?

Diego: I defend members from management overreach, and I sit through grievance meetings. I also deal with member complaints– I’m the first person people call when they have an issue. I’m not a chief steward, but I’m still on the phone all the time. I hope I win my next election because this work is important to me. It’s the most fulfilling aspect of my professional life. I get to help members of the working class defend themselves against managers who just see them as a cog– but to me, workers are people, and I know they have families– they are people with families, they are human. I defend workers’ right to be human on a daily basis. They’re not just a number.

I’d like to see management sweat like a pig in the truck for twelve hours and still call us ‘greedy’ and ‘lazy.’

Sarah: How did you get involved in the union?

Diego: Thank you for that incredible question. When I first joined UPS, I didn’t know it was a unionized company. My first experience with the union was meeting regular, rank-and-file workers in my building flyering at the front gates about workplace issues. I loved that somebody cared, because our local union leadership is pretty much in bed with the company. But this faction within the union was actually out there, showing that unionism can be so much more through this incredible organizational labor– of flyering, showing workers their contracts, and cohesively consolidating workplace issues into materials people can relate to and understand. I wanted to help with this kind of unionism.

Sarah: Do you want the Teamsters to go on strike in August?

Diego: Yes. The company needs to understand that our labor is what makes UPS a multi-billion dollar company. We move the boxes, we load the trucks, we sort and deliver the packages, we drive these big and awesome semis, and we (through a separate union, the Independent Pilots Association) even fly the planes.

Sarah: What demands do the Teamsters want to see met by UPS in their contract negotiations?

Diego: We deserve respect for the incredible hours that we put in for the backbreaking labor in our (sometimes) 140 degree trucks– for the missed birthdays, holidays, and sports events. We want more pay for our part timers; $17 an hour for a part-time job is not enough to live on. We want improved pensions and enhanced job security. I’d like to see management sweat like a pig in the truck for twelve hours and still call us ‘greedy’ and ‘lazy.’

Sarah: What kinds of things can the public do to help you guys going into the strike and during the strike itself?

Diego: Let your drivers know they’re appreciated and that you have their backs. Offer them a bottle of water on a hot day and start a conversation. And if we strike, refuse every package delivered by a scab. Come to our picket lines, and offer support! We deliver your medicine, your clothes, your meal kits, and your cribs.

Sarah: Thank you for all of your labor and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Diego: If you are a Teamster reading this, join Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). It’s a fantastic organization of rank-and-file Teamsters fighting to make our union stronger.

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