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Shippers searching for options if UPS workers walk out

July 31, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ If a threatened UPS strike lasts for more than a couple of days, Sunday schools that rely on the Faith Baptist Bible Bookstore in Ankeny, Iowa, for lesson plans might not have a prayer. Or get their prayers late, anyway.

Bookstore assistant manager Steve Imel says even a brief strike could hopelessly clog his shipping schedule, putting him way behind during one of the year’s busiest times, just before the next Sunday school term begins in late August.

Across the nation Wednesday, retailers and manufacturers looked for other ways to ship if 190,000 Teamsters strike UPS.

If the ubiquitous brown trucks stop moving, it could mean delivery headaches for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of businesses. The shipper moves about 12 million packages a day. Its closest competitor, Federal Express Corp., handles 2.4 million packages daily, and analysts say FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and other shippers wouldn’t be able to handle the added demand.

Negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters continued Wednesday, but there was no immediate sign of an agreement to prevent the strike, set for midnight Thursday.

The union is demanding pay and pension increases, limits on giving work to subcontractors, more full-time positions and health and safety improvements. The Atlanta-based company says it needs more flexibility in hiring and work rules to compete.

For James Hook & Co. in Boston, a wholesaler that ships $12 million worth of lobsters around the world each year, a strike would all but sever the company’s lifeline to its customers.

``We use them every day,″ said owner Edward Hook Jr. from an office jutting over Boston Harbor.

Hook said customers either are ordering more lobsters in advance or making alternative arrangements with competitors or commercial airlines.

The planning should mean a short strike would not disrupt business too much, he said.

``It’s like going to buy potato chips at the store. You’ve got 50 different kinds to buy, and if your favorite brand isn’t there you pick another,″ Hook said.

Across town, Player Systems Corp. relies on UPS for shipping its golf-cart gadgets that calculate the distance to the hole. Switching to commercial airlines or FedEx would boost shipping costs by about 80 percent, said Noah Eckhouse, the company’s product development director.

``We would probably have to jump to another service for the short term. But I’m optimistic. I don’t think they’ll go out, and, if they do, it won’t be for long,″ he said.

UPS’ competitors say they’re gearing up for more business, but many add that their loyalty goes first for current customers. New customers trying to avoid the strike may not get the same delivery guarantees or service.

Seattle-based Airborne Express said it would take extra shipments for existing customers, but that the goods would be sent on trucks.

At Ikon Office Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz., office equipment seller, Vice President for Operations Larry St. John recalled UPS labor troubles several years ago that forced the company briefly to switch to FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

``We all know that if UPS is out for more than a day (other companies) become crowded,″ he said. ``It almost buried them for the first day, and for the second day it almost brought them to a stop.″

Ikon Office Solutions is talking with other shippers to make sure their needs will be met, and St. John said the company may hire extra drivers for local deliveries.

``He who has the most options usually wins,″ he said.

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