Six hours before the July 31, 1997 strike deadline, FMCS entered negotiations between United Parcel Service and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. It required three weeks of mediation to bring to an end the largest national strike in two decades.
UPS employs 185,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the second largest private sector bargaining unit in the country, and handles about 85 percent of the package express industry market. Never before in the 90 year history of the company had there been a national strike.
Contract bargaining began in March 1997 and continued for several months. Commissioner Ron Sweet was assigned to the case and continually monitored the progress of the talks. But in the last week of July, positions hardened to the point that the company tendered its "last, best and final offer, " and the Teamsters announced a midnight July 31 strike deadline.
TALKS BREAK DOWN
Director John Calhoun Wells and Commissioner Sweet convened a joint meeting of the bargaining committees and asked that the leaders of each side meet in "off-the-record" discussions to try to overcome the issues in dispute. At the request of the Director, the Teamsters postponed their strike deadline for three days, and bargaining continued at FMCS headquarters, sometimes around the clock. Still unable to bridge their differences, the Teamsters struck at 12:01 a.m. Monday, August 4.
The Director reconvened the off-the-record discussions, but the union and company still were not ready to reach agreement on a contract. Talks broke off for four days. The Director and the U.S. Secretary of Labor communicated frequently, and on August 14, jointly called the parties back together. With the Secretary of Labors continuous presence at the negotiations reflecting the Administrations strong desire for a settlement, the FMCS Director, Deputy Director and field mediator led the parties through 80 hours of bargaining over five days. Finally, just after midnight on August 19, agreement was announced on a new, five-year contract.
At the National Professional Development Seminar held September 4-5, Director Wells presented Commissioner Ron Sweet a Special Act Award in recognition of Sweets important role in settling the UPS Strike. Director Wells also thanked Deputy Director Richard Barnes for his assistance in mediating this dispute, and singled out Deputy Director Wilma Liebman and National Representative Brian Flores for their counsel throughout the dispute. Communications Director Dave Helfert also received recognition for his skill in managing the media under such intense circumstances.
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