UPS strike could force Biden to make difficult union choice

By 
 July 14, 2023

UPS and the Teamsters are approaching a deadline that could result in a massive strike, President Joe Biden may be compelled to make a politically difficult decision regarding whether to intervene.

Contracts for UPS employees are scheduled to expire on July 31, and failure to reach an agreement could result in the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history, according to The Washington Examiner.

Biden, who has portrayed himself as the nation's most union-friendly president, may decide to intervene using federal law if the worst-case scenario occurs, although this would be a difficult decision for him.

The confrontation between UPS and the Teamsters, who represent over 340 thousand workers, has been brewing for months. The union voted by a margin of 97% to go on strike if an agreement is not reached by the deadline, despite neither party desiring such a catastrophic event.

Outsider's Take

According to Dan Bowling, a distinguished scholar at Duke University School of Law, where he teaches labor and employment courses, if negotiations fail and there is a nationwide strike, Biden technically has the authority to intervene.

Some pro-union figures criticized Biden last year for his involvement in a massive labor dispute involving rail employees.

Biden averted a strike by convening a Presidential Emergency Board pursuant to the Railway Labor Act of 1926, and Congress ultimately used its authority to impose an agreement between the two parties.

Bowling told the Washington Examiner that while Biden could not intervene under the Railway Labor Act, he could do so under the National Labor Relations Act, which gives the president the authority to intervene without congressional sanction in situations designated a national emergency.

“This was first used during World War II when [President Franklin] Roosevelt halted a strike by aircraft workers building B-17s,” Bowling explained.

Bowling stated that, in his opinion, preventing a UPS strike does not qualify as a national emergency, despite the fact that the law grants Biden fairly extensive authority. An intervention would necessitate an eighty-day cooling-off period.

Political Ramifications

Republicans could accuse Biden of being feeble in the face of economic concerns if he did not intervene.

The GOP intends to highlight the country's inflationary issues on the 2024 campaign trail and Biden's economic approval ratings are already in poor shape. Inaction would offer the president's opponents more ammunition in the run-up to the elections.

However, Biden cannot afford to lose crucial support from blue-collar unions, particularly in key transition states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, making the decision challenging for the administration.

Last week, the negotiating teams for UPS and the Teamsters blamed each other for leaving the negotiating table. According to a statement provided to the Washington Examiner on Wednesday by UPS, the parties have yet to resume negotiations.

“The Teamsters have stopped negotiating despite historic proposals that build on our industry-leading pay. We have nearly a month left to negotiate. We have not walked away, and the union has a responsibility to remain at the table,” the company said. “Refusing to negotiate, especially when the finish line is in sight, creates significant unease among employees and customers and threatens to disrupt the U.S. economy.”

Karine Jean-Pierre, a spokesperson for the White House, recently told reporters that the Biden administration is monitoring the situation between the two parties and is hopeful that an agreement will be reached before the end of the month. She stated, "I have no information regarding increased administration involvement, but we remain in contact with both parties."

Similarly, acting Labor Secretary Julie Su stated last week on CNN that the administration is carefully monitoring the negotiations. She also acknowledged UPS's significant contribution to the domestic economy: “I, like the president, believe in the collective bargaining process,” she said. “There’s a reason that the parties negotiate directly.”

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