The UPS Contract is a win for ALL workers
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
President John F. Kennedy used that phrase to describe how investments in one sector of the economy can benefit the entire country. Investments in infrastructure like roads, bridges and dams create jobs creating the materials and transporting the parts to build the structures that we use every single day across Pennsylvania. A bridge built in Philadelphia could be built with steel from Pittsburgh transported across the state by a teamster living in Harrisburg. All three communities prosper from the investments made in just one of them.
JFK was right in 1963 when we spoke those words, but in the last generation, the rising tide seems only to have benefited the bigger boats and the mega-yachts of a select few. As the American economy has become more concentrated into the hands of those select few, we too often see the many working people and their families left behind. The economy has become too focused on the ultimate outcome of maximizing shareholder profits, even at the expense of American jobs and communities.
This week’s successful contract negotiation by the Teamsters on behalf of UPS drivers and delivery workers was a repudiation of that trend. It is a massive victory for working people, for the communities they live in and – yes – for the company itself. In the post-pandemic world where delivery services are omnipresent in our lives, the fair treatment of the workers in this multi-billion industry is paramount. The Teamsters refused to settle for less than what their workers deserved, and demanded the rising tide of profits in that industry lifted the workers just as much as it lifted the corporate executives.
This contract won’t just benefit the UPS workers either. The higher wages, safer workplaces and job security negotiated in this contract will reshape the industry -- even in nonunion shops like FedEx and Amazon. Pennsylvania just recorded the lowest unemployment rate on record dating back to 1976, which means that UPS’s competitors will have to raise their pay and benefits for their workers if they want to retain employees, otherwise their employees will leave for the better jobs at UPS. Thus, even these non-union workers will benefit from the Teamsters’ hard work at the negotiating table.
Other workers on strike in Hollywood, the Post-Gazette workers in Pittsburgh, and the baristas at your local Starbucks are all fighting the same fight: to ensure that all workers, union and non-union, are treated fairly so a rising tide lifts every single boat.
It's not a coincidence that the American economy’s largest growth came during a period of peak union membership when about 35% of workers belonged to a union. America’s economy roared to become the biggest in the world, and we built massive projects like the interstate highway system that connected communities and people across the country in an unprecedented way.
The argument of corporate special interests and their political allies that the need for a union to collectively bargain is outdated is simply a ploy to undermine worker pay. They seek to weaken unions as the only true protection against economic exploitation. The decline in union membership has occurred as wage inequality has risen in the United States, which leads to a weaker economy here at home and more jobs outsourced overseas while the very top of our society increased their wealth astronomically at the expense of the working class.
For example, in 1965, for every dollar the average worker earned, the average CEO was paid $20. In 1989 that ratio grew to $60 for every dollar. Today? The average CEO gets $400 for every dollar their workers earn. Since the 1970s, worker wages have gone up about 18%. CEO wages? 1,400%.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Wins like the Teamsters’ UPS contract are an example of the path forward toward an American economy that works for everyone. In Harrisburg, my colleagues and I are focused on making sure that we create policy that makes it easier for workers to demand their fair share and allows the economy for main street, not just Wall Street, to continue to grow.
So, today we celebrate another win for working people and a higher tide that lifts every boat and tonight we focus on how we can do it again.