UPS hints at compromise, talks described as substantive
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Seeking an end to a 12-day strike that has disrupted deliveries for millions of Americans, the Teamsters and United Parcel Service recessed after 16 hours of informal talks early Friday to consider some new proposals.
David Helfert, spokesman for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said that the talks would resume later Friday morning.
``The negotiators have taken a break to allow some complex mathematical data to be run,″ Helfert said. When the numbers are crunched, ``they’ll be able to continue the discussions.″
Negotiators recessed about 1:30 a.m. EDT Friday and planned to meet again at 8 a.m. Susan King, a special assistant to Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, confirmed that the break was called to give the negotiators and the mediators some much-needed rest while other officials continued to ``crunch numbers.″
Neither Helfert nor King would characterize the progress of the talks, but the fact that there were new estimates to be run was evidence that some new, concrete proposals had arisen.
``The parties are working hard on the issues. They said we could tell you the talks are substantive and detailed,″ King said before the recess.
Still, Teamsters spokesman Steve Trossman cautioned against expecting a quick settlement.
``But we’re certainly glad to see any sign that the company is going to get to the table and actually seriously negotiate,″ he said.
Herman, who persuaded the parties to return to the table, had said earlier that ``their presence here today is a clear signal of their commitment to redouble their efforts to try to reach a settlement.″
With significant differences over pensions and part-time workers dividing the union and the company, it was hoped that the off-the-record discussions with a mediator would lead to finding common ground.
``During informal discussions, we’ll talk about anything that anyone wants to talk about, and we’ll have the opportunity to talk about anything we want to talk about,″ UPS chief executive officer James P. Kelly said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.
Teamsters President Ron Carey canceled an appearance at a rally in Atlanta and Herman settled in at another room in the hotel where the talks were being held, canceling a scheduled trip Friday to her hometown, Mobile, Ala.
If the informal talks yield progress, Kelly said, the company is willing to consider a deal that could be substantially different from what UPS has insisted was its ``last, best and final″ offer.
``If those informal discussions lead us to believe that the negotiations could be concluded at some point in time, then the last, best and final offer would cease to exist,″ Kelly said.
Later, the company stressed that while it was exploring all options in the informal talks, there had been no change in its formal negotiating position. The company has insisted its last offer should be voted on by its workers.
The company has invested a lot of energy in promoting its proposal to boost workers’ pensions by withdrawing from the Teamsters multiemployer benefits plans.
Asked if leaving that component out of a final proposal would represent a loss for the company in the standoff, Kelly replied:
``If we get an agreement reached that gets our people back to work and allows us to compete long-term, I consider that a gain for us and a gain for our people.″
The strike by 185,000 Teamsters has crippled the package delivery giant, which normally handles 12 million bundles and letters daily.
Pressure was increasing as the company lost $200 million to $300 million in business every week, and the union as of Thursday owed picketers an estimated $10 million in strike benefits.
Other unions have promised to help back the strikers.
But Herman’s stepping in also increased the profile of the talks.
``I think her force of personality and the office she holds was a factor in the parties coming back to talk. She represents the interest the administration has in these talks,″ said David Helfert, spokesman for talks mediator John Calhoun Wells. Wells is director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The Clinton administration has urged both parties to settle their differences but insisted it would not be appropriate to end the strike through direct government intervention.
Meanwhile, the National Right to Work Foundation planned to present Teamsters President Ron Carey with an unfair labor practice complaint alleging that a Florida union official lied to workers about their right to resign from the union.
Also, the Independent Pilots Association warned UPS customers that even if the Teamsters strike is settled, service could soon be interrupted again. UPS’ 2,000 union pilots have been operating without a contract since December 1995.
A recess in mediated talks called in June is expected to end by September. Then, after a 30-day cooling off period, the pilots would be able to strike.
``Since Aug. 4, the Teamsters have been on strike and we have honored their pickets,″ IPA President Bob Miller said. ``The day may soon come where we go out on strike and they honor ours.″