- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

Pilots at United Parcel Service of America Inc. will begin voting next week on whether to authorize a strike, allowing the union to walk out if they don’t get a new labor agreement.

The Independent Pilots Association, which represents only UPS pilots, began negotiating with the Atlanta-based package delivery company in October 2002.

Contract talks have been conducted under the direction of the National Mediation Board since August.

But union and company negotiators have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract. The union’s five-member executive board late Wednesday unanimously approved letting the 2,500 pilots take a strike authorization vote.

“I think this sends a signal to everyone involved that things are moving to a higher level and hopefully to a point of finality,” said pilots association spokesman Brian Gaudet.

Voting won’t be completed until next month.

Pilots are unable to walk out immediately even if they authorize a strike because negotiations between UPS and the union are covered under the Railway Labor Act, which makes a strike possible only after a series of steps are exhausted to keep the two sides in talks. The current contract doesn’t expire, but it became amendable in December 2003.

The pilots union said it can strike if a mediator determines that negotiations have reached an impasse and a 30-day cooling-off period expires.

The mediator, Linda Puchala, isn’t likely to declare an impasse anytime soon, UPS spokesman Mark Giuffre said, because she already has scheduled more negotiations to begin May 16 in Baltimore.

The latest round of mediation ended yesterday in Cincinnati.

A strike authorization vote “is the union’s attempt to rattle the cages a little bit. It’s an anticipated tactic,” Mr. Giuffre said.

Union and management negotiators still have multiple issues to resolve, including salary, benefits and retirement.

The unions also want to include language in a new contract preventing the company from giving work done by union pilots, who fly the UPS fleet of 268 planes throughout the world, to nonunion pilots.

Pilots earn an average of $168,105 annually, according to the union. The company said it plans to hire 300 pilots this year.

UPS reported $3.3 billion in net income last year on revenue of $36.6 billion.

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