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UPS employees begin returning; company says ‘we have a lot to pick up’

August 20, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ Teamsters returned to work and trucks began rolling today at United Parcel Service, as the company that bills itself as ``the tightest ship in the shipping business″ set out to right its course _ mending morale and winning back customers.

Today’s first order of business following a 15-day strike that crippled the nation’s largest shipping company was to pick up thousands of packages being held by regular customers.

``We have a lot to pick up,″ said Ken Sternad, a spokesman at UPS headquarters in Atlanta. ``We imagine that for next several days, we’ll see strong pickup volume, then probably next week a leveling off to something below pre-strike levels.″

But at a distribution center west of Atlanta, only a few trucks were moving this morning and some returning employees were turned away. Driver Vincent Wiggins was supposed to be on vacation but showed up, thinking he might help clear a backlog of packages. He said he was told there wasn’t enough work.

``Right now, they need to build up,″ Wiggins said. He added that he was anxious to return to work because ``I’ve already had two weeks vacation.″

Some customers said they were eager to see familiar faces in the brown delivery trucks picking up packages.

``I was buddies with all the drivers,″ said Matt Weyandt of Dover (Del.) Leasing Co. ``We’ll have a good laugh about this now that it’s over.″

The tentative agreement would combine part-time slots to create 10,000 new full-time jobs, limit subcontracting and increase UPS’ contributions to the union’s multiemployer pension and health plans.

Chereta Stephenson, a part-time loader at a UPS hub in Columbia, S.C., put in an early-morning shift today and said she was happy to be at work.

``I was up at 2 (a.m.),″ she said as she left her shift. ``I was ready to come back.″

Workers were greeted today with an announcement that any strike-related disturbances would not be tolerated. But Stephenson and her co-workers agreed there was little tension on the loading docks, even though as much as 15 percent of the work force crossed the lines.

``Some of (the strikers) were smarting off, but it was just joking around,″ said Sandra Jeffcoat, 35, one who crossed the picket line. ``They said if they knew they’d only get a dollar more per hour, they should have come to work.″

The union’s 50-member national bargaining committee and officials from more than 200 Teamsters locals unanimously endorsed the contract Tuesday night, sending it to members for a ratification vote and authorizing a return to work.

``I’m really happy. My headaches have gone away,″ said Michael Estlick, co-founder of Electro Mechanical Technologies Inc., a Cleveland company that laid off half its staff because it couldn’t get parts delivered.

UPS also said it lost money, at least $600 million in revenues although the figure was partly offset by reduced labor costs. Company officials estimated permanent volume losses at 5 percent or more, and warned that such a loss could trigger more than 15,000 layoffs.

UPS chairman James Kelly said the strike ``hurt us a great deal,″ with some customers saying the would cancel business or reduce future reliance on the delivery giant.

``But it is now time to look ahead together,″ Kelly said. ``We will turn our attention to the task of winning back the confidence of our customers _ and their business.″

The Teamsters dismissed the layoff threat as a scare tactic.

UPS, which normally ships 12 million items a day, was virtually crippled when 185,000 Teamsters went on strike with the support of the company’s 2,000 unionized pilots.

Greg Smith, an analyst with The Colography Group in Marietta, said UPS’ large-volume discounts, its history and its sophisticated computer connections with customers should allow it to regain most of its business.

And personal touches made by striking workers like Ron Monroe should help.

``All during the strike, I’ve been out seeing my customers,″ said Monroe, a full-time driver for 13 years in Atlanta. ``They’ve been very understanding.″

Although UPS competitors lacked the capacity to take up all of the company’s slack, the Postal Service, Federal Express and other shippers aggressively expanded operations the past two weeks.

``The UPS strike opened a lot of eyes,″ said Fred Backhaus, owner of Fred’s Photo in Beloit, Wis. ``I think we are all realizing you have to have more than one shipper. A lot of our vendors and distributors relied exclusively on UPS.″

Ken Shapero, a spokesman at UPS’ air hub in Louisville, Ky., believed operations would soon run smoothly again, and tensions would ease as both sides joined together.

But a few of the striking Teamsters said the animosity would last a bit longer, especially with workers who crossed picket lines.

``They stabbed us in the back; that’s about as dirty as you can get,″ said Adam Liles, a part-time driver in the Atlanta area for eight years.

At Somerville, Mass. _ one of the most aggressive spots for union activity _ Keith Portanova, 29, said he will go back with more pride in what he does and no regrets. He added that tight finances weren’t the only reason he was happy to return.

``I’m really bored,″ the seven-year UPS driver said. ``But at least I’ve gotten a good tan.″

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