FAIRFAX, Va. -- The Teamsters rallied at United Parcel Service facilities across the country Tuesday, demanding higher pay and more full-time jobs in the shadow of a July 31 deadline.
"The pace has picked up, so they know we're serious," Teamsters President James P. Hoffa told protesters, wearing brown shorts and shirts, gathered in the parking lot of the UPS distribution facility in suburban Washington, D.C.
Rallies and petition drives were being held at more than 200 UPS facilities, including Louisville, Ky., Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, where the company's headquarters is located. The union's rhetoric has intensified in recent weeks as the July 31 expiration of the current, five-year contract grows closer. Members last month voted to strike if an agreement is not reached by then.
UPS spokesman Norman Black said the rallies are part of the negotiating process and do not reflect what's going on at the bargaining table. The company is pleased with the talks, which are progressing ahead of schedule, he said.
"We're absolutely more convinced than ever that we're going to negotiate a contract without any disruption of service to our customers," Black said.
Both sides say they want to avoid a repeat of 1997, when a two-week strike cost the company $750 million.
The Teamsters represent about 230,000 workers at UPS, which has more union workers than any other U.S. company. It is the largest Teamsters' employer and the union's fastest-growing segment.
The standoff has been Hoffa's biggest leadership test, as he tries to win sizable concessions from UPS that top the previous contract negotiated by his predecessor and bitter rival, Ron Carey. Hoffa has secured a $100 million line of credit and pushed through a dues increase to build a strike fund in preparation.