July 09, 2020

Businesses feel pull of UPS strike > Stalled shipping affects small N.E. companies

More than 20 United Parcel Service employees were on the picket line in Brewer Monday morning, congregating in small groups to chat, and taking up formation when vehicles approached the local UPS center.

The picketers were a mere subset of the 160 UPS employees in Brewer who walked off the job on Monday. Nearly 800 employees across the state have joined in the strike.

In Maine, UPS officials said that they knew that picket lines formed at eight of the nine UPS facilities on Monday, including Portland, Lewiston, Rockland, Presque Isle, Island Falls, Waterville and Wells.

“I don’t think that there’s a business that isn’t impacted,” by the strike, said Teamsters Local 340 trustee and business agent Terry Hanlin, who mingled with the picketers in Brewer, where he is a former employee.

Hanlin pointed out that, like in the rest of the country, UPS accounts for about 80 percent of the Bangor area’s parcel delivery service.

There are as many as 12,000 packages processed in Brewer every day, servicing an area that stretches from Mount Desert Island to Greenville.

UPS spokesman Craig Owen said: “We still have enough management people that we’re continuing to process the packages that are available at this time. But we’re limiting the volume that we’re accepting.”

Owen explained that UPS is giving priority to international and emergency shipments, such as those containing medical supplies.

The handful of UPS’ management staff in Brewer reported to work Monday morning to answer calls from folks looking for their parcels and to make some deliveries.

The Teamsters allowed one of the operating signature brown UPS delivery trucks to come and go through the picket line. For the occasional vehicle that strayed down Atlantic Avenue, picketers pointed out the double doors at the front of the massive UPS warehouse where they could ask about their undelivered parcels.

Most of the 160 people employed in Brewer are unionized. Generally, the full-timers in Brewer drive the delivery trucks and the tractor-trailers while the part-timers work processing and loading the trucks.

Both belong to Local Teamsters 340.

Mirroring the trend across the company, and symbolizing one of the contentious issues in the contract negotiations, the number of part-time employees has continued to grow in Brewer, to the point where their numbers now equal the total of full-time employees.

On Monday, the impact of the strike on the Bangor area remained unclear. The co-owner of Mail Boxes Etc., Rick Marston, explained that as the week progressed, he would run into difficulty shipping out.

“We haven’t been hurt yet, ’cause it’s just starting out,” said Marston, who explained that he is using the services of FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service for shipping in lieu of UPS.

Some Maine lobster dealers, though, reported being left out in the cold.

Pete McAleney, of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, said dealers are afraid to try to send their lobsters by alternate carriers that refuse to guarantee timely arrival. Many wholesalers, he said, have halted shipments that would normally be sent via UPS.

“Companies like FedEx are going to serve their biggest customers first, which puts small businesses in a tough spot,” said Todd McCracken, president of National Small Business United, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. “UPS really is their shipping department. So a typical small business out there doesn’t have a lot of options.”

The midnight walkout by the more than 185,000 Teamsters across the country was the first nationwide strike in the 90-year history of UPS, which delivers 12 million parcels and documents a day. UPS estimated that a scattered, one-day walkout in 1994 cost it $50 million.

Although this is the first nationwide strike in the 90-year history of UPS, the last UPS strike in Maine occurred in 1976 and lasted 13 weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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