Airline maintenance workers who maintain UPS’s fleet of aircraft announced yesterday that they have authorized a labor strike affecting the global parcel carrier after contract talks remained deadlocked over the issue of health-care benefits. Right now, it does not seem likely that a labor strike will occur during the upcoming crucial holiday fulfillment period. However, we believe that shippers and retailers should be considering the possibility of potential periodic slowdowns and/or delays in UPS airfreight shipments over the coming days.

The unionized maintenance workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike after three years of negotiations during which the labor union claims that UPS has continued to demand huge health care concessions. In total, 80 percent, 950 of the company’s 1,200 maintenance employees, participated in the strike vote, and 98 percent of those workers voted in favor of a strike action.

Because of the nature of UPS operations, union worker actions come under the purview of the U.S. Railway Labor Act which outlines authorization protocols before a full labor strike can occur. The Teamsters union that represents air maintenance workers will now seek to request a federal mediator overseeing negotiations to release the union from negotiations and move toward a 30-day cooling-off period. After this period, if no resolution or concessions are met, a board appointed by the President of the United States would have to rule on a strike, which has another 30-day window. With a President-Elect about to take office on January 20, there is a potential overlap of administrations regarding oversight of the potential labor strike authorization, and as to whether President Barack Obama or President-elect Donald Trump will oversee the action.

UPS issued a corporate statement indicating that talks continue to progress under the control of the National Mediation Board and that the carrier continues to negotiate in good faith for a contract that is good for employees, customers and the company. The carrier expressed confidence that talks will be completed successfully, just as they have during all previous negotiations with mechanics.

Labor tensions at UPS are not unusual.  Last September, UPS pilots threatened labor actions as frustrations boiled over multi-year contract renewal talks.

Another potential issue is whether UPS unionized delivery drivers and pilots themselves join in solidarity with air maintenance workers, perhaps adding additional labor tensions with UPS management. Teamsters have already indicated that protests and informational pickets will continue throughout the holiday period.

Therefore, it would behoove multi-industry logistics, transportation and procurement support teams to stay abreast of ongoing developments and be watchful of any signs of disruption or erosion of UPS delivery commitments over the coming weeks.