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Teamsters, UPS agree to talk as lost business mounts

August 6, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ Negotiators for the Teamsters union and the United Parcel Service agreed to return to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since the start of a strike that has the cost the company 90 percent of its business.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director John Calhoun Wells, in a statement released in Washington, D.C., asked leaders from both sides to resume talks to end the three-day walkout, the agency said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

``Both sides have agreed,″ the statement said.

Said Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, ``The president and I feel strongly that both the company and the workers, as well as the American people, have much to gain in a quick resolution to this dispute.″

The announcement came as frustrated customers vowed never again to depend on UPS, saying it would be better to play it safe by using a variety of shipping companies.

``I have learned an important lesson _ don’t put all my packages in the back of one truck,″ said Lynne Simmons of Marietta, who has been unable to fulfill orders for her Native South company, which uses UPS to ship 30 to 40 boxes each day of her Southern specialty foods.

United Design, a national manufacturer of figurines, has been able to ship only about half of its normal load of more than 1,000 boxes a day from Noble, Okla. Kim Woods, a shipping clerk, said managers have already declared that UPS won’t be the company’s sole shipper anymore.

``I’m sorry for the UPS people, but our head honchos have already said we won’t be totally dependent on UPS again,″ she said.

UPS, which normally delivers 12 million parcels and documents a day around the country, was running at less than 10 percent capacity after the strike by its 185,000 Teamster employees in a U.S. force of 302,000.

Dwight Sigworth, a consultant for AFMS in Portland, Ore., said there’s a good chance the first nationwide strike in the company’s 90-year history could cost UPS 10 percent of its business permanently.

``There are a lot of UPS loyalists, people who use only UPS, who are maybe going to change their tune a little bit,″ he said.

UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg acknowledged that the strike, which began at midnight Sunday, is hurting customers’ confidence in the company’s trademark reliability.

``What stability and guarantees do they have when the union leadership is going to take this action?″ she said.

The key issues in the strike are the company’s heavy use of part-time workers and its pension proposals.

Throughout the strike, both sides have said they are willing to return to negotiations. But the company maintains that it will not budge on what it calls its final offer.

``We don’t see any sign that the company has changed its attitude, so we’re not particularly optimistic,″ said Teamsters spokesman Matt Witt of the agreement to resume talks. ``But we’ll be there.″

UPS competitors have made serving regular customers their first priority and have restricted new business this week. The U.S. Postal Service has seen its business jump an average 20 percent for parcels, and some locations are keeping workers on overtime and considering hiring temporary help.

The Postal Service expressed interest in building on the new business, but officials say that for the long term, they would need to improve technology and hardware, requiring millions of dollars _ plus additional personnel.

``It’s a difficult call,″ Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said of possible expansion. ``We don’t know if this is going to be a two-day, three-day, or two-month strike.″

Some of UPS’ biggest customers, such as J.C. Penney and Lands’ End, said Wednesday it’s premature to discuss whether the strike will affect their future with the company.

``It’s a wakeup call for the entire industry,″ said Peter Howard, vice president of Ross-Simons, a jewelry catalog company based in Cranston, R.I., that expects to do $180 million in sales this year and normally ships 97 percent of its packages through UPS.

``It’s going to be hard to replace the quality of UPS service, so I can’t say I’m going to walk away from them, but we will certainly look to have backup plans and look to diversify more,″ he said.

But Melinda Watzig, assistant manager of Flowers by Dorcas, a Portland, Ore., florist and home decor store, pledged that her store will return to UPS when the strike is over.

``UPS is very convenient and very automatic,″ she explained. ``We miss Randy, our UPS driver. He’s the one who wears shorts all year round.″