Collage of Local 853 members

It’s been 25 years since the big UPS strike. A new contract is coming due!

The UPS contract doesn’t expire until 2023, but with more than 350,000 members across the nation, and about 1,500 members in Local 853, it can’t be too early for members to start mobilizing. “We’ve got to stick together. We do not want to have a strike,” Local 853 Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Hart, who was a UPS business rep during the 1997 strike, told the few hundred UPSers from San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Cruz at an August 1 rally and barbecue. “But we have to be prepared. Start saving your money now.”

The last time UPS members went out on strike was 25 years ago when they were out for 15 days. Fernando Barbosa had already been working for UPS for 8 years and he says he never thought that he might have to go on strike again. “We were here at this San Jose building— together, strong, 24 hours a day. Fighting for our contract. Sticking together. We definitely won that strike. It’s never the goal to go on strike, but if they want to take what they want to take from us, we have to stick together and do what we have to do.”

Marcus Smolanovich has worked at the Santa Cruz UPS hub for 28 years and was on strike in 1997. “I had been with the company for four years and had just become a full-time driver. As much as it was hard to be on strike and to lose money, the way we came together in unity and the support from the community was amazing.” Marcus also would rather not go on strike, “but this company makes an incredible amount of money and it seems like all they do is Take, Take, Take. We were essential workers. We worked our butts off during COVID and did not get anything. They made money off our backs.” Marcus says he works with a lot of part-timers. “Some of them want to become drivers, and others are short-timers. It’s hard to unite them because they recently got a $6 pay cut, which soured them. But I try to tell them that it’s all about unity and sticking together so that we can achieve what we want to achieve.”

Esperanza Bahia-Nelson has worked for UPS for 16 years doing pre-load and working on the damage material program (DMP) and has never been on strike. “My husband’s a driver so going on strike would be really hard on our household. I don’t want to go on strike, but I want changes, better wages, and for UPS to stop taking our work to other buildings. If we do have to go on strike, I’ll be there—we have to stick together.”

“You gotta be ready for it….just like being ready for an earthquake that comes or doesn’t come here in California,” says Robert Amirsehhi, who has been at UPS since 1985. “I graduated from HS and started working for UPS a month later.” The 1997 strike was his first and last, so far. “It was scary. I had one young child at that time. My wife also worked at UPS. We didn’t want to strike, but we had to stand up for our rights to better our future. Preparing is not just having enough money in the bank, but it’s also mental—getting support from your family and ensuring that we, as Teamsters, stick together.”

“The NorCal UPS agreement is the best of the best,” explained Business Rep Johnny Gallegos to the group of UPSers. “But we’re going to have to work together to keep in that way.”

“We are here to show UPS what ‘UNITED’ means—the Teamsters are united,” said Local 853 President Lou Valletta. “Nobody wants to strike, but members need to be prepared.”

Author: Local 853

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