LOUISVILLE, KY: The Independent Pilots Association (IPA), which represents 2,600 pilots who fly for the United Parcel Service, says it members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action.
The move comes after several years of unsuccessful negotiations with UPS over a new contract.
Next month the IPA will ask its members to give the union's leadership the authority to request a release from National Mediation Board (NMB) negotiations with UPS.
"The overwhelming outcome of this vote is both a show of IPA unity and a clear signal to UPS management that our crewmembers are serious about closing out this contract over the next two weeks in Baltimore," said Captain Tom Nicholson, president of the IPA.
UPS negotiates with the Teamsters on behalf of its drivers and sort center employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Unless renewed, labor contracts under the Act automatically expire at contract end and the employees are free to strike, and the company is free to lock them out of its premises.
In contrast, UPS pilot labor negotiations are conducted under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). As such, contracts do not automatically expire and both sides have to maintain the status quo while they begin the statutory negotiation process supervised by the NMB.
Unions governed by the RLA can only strike after exhausting the procedures outlined by the RLA. Since 2005, only six strikes have been allowed under the Act.
The IPA began direct negotiations with UPS in September 2011. As of November last year, both sides had been in direct negotiations for a total of 29 months and mediated talks for 10 months.
Nicholson added: "We only hope that UPS management is as committed to finishing this contract as we are. "We are in our third year of negotiations with UPS management over this contract. UPS knows what it's going to take to make a deal, and their actions at the table over the next two weeks will let us, and the NMB, know if they want to come to agreement or dig-in for the traditional UPS labor fight, which will further confuse our customers and leave them uncertain about the stability of the airline."
Absent a deal, should either party refuse arbitration the NMB will announce a 30-day "cooling off" period. After that, if no agreement is reached and the White House doesn't intervene, the IPA contract will expire and both sides are free to respectively strike and initiate a lock out.
The IPA said a recent survey of UPS customers had 47 percent saying a deal will be reached only after a work stoppage, or a strike and a long fight; 24 percent said they are making contingency plans in the event of a stoppage; and 91 percent will contract with another carrier in the event of strike with 69 percent choosing FedEx.
In August the Air Line Pilots Association International said it had reached a tentative agreement with FedEx - subject to ratification by its 4,000-plus pilots - that would last through 2021.
The IPA survey also noted that 10 percent of shippers "would never be willing to switch their company's business back to UPS after a UPS work stoppage".
Nicholson concluded: "The next two weeks are our last best hope for a quiet resolution to this contract."