And wears a brown UPS uniform, or Postal Service blue or a Longshoreman or railroader's fluorescent safety vest. Yup, after three decades of deregulation and union busting, union parcel carriers UPS and the Postal Service still hold over 80% of the market. And the docks and railroads that bring the holiday gifts cross country are darn near 100% union. For decades we’ve been told that those reputed “high wage and benefit costs of union labor” should have driven the ports, railroads, UPS, and the Postal Service out of business long ago. How do these unionized enterprises survive? To find out, let’s follow a couple container loads of holiday gifts cross country from ports to the midwest.
Before the massive container ship has even tied up in a southern california port the Longshoreman have already mapped out how they will unload it and where each container will go. Giant cranes and yard tractors with chassis are lined up and ready, while on the tracks alongside mile long trains have been checked by the carmen and are ready to be loaded with over 200 forty foot long containers full of holiday gifts. Within hours the union workers have loaded the train and the first union crew of conductor and engineer take the first leg of the relay east. Two days later, despite a blizzard, the mile long train will pull into an intermodal yard in Chicago's southwest suburbs. Along the way, a couple dozen union conductors and engineers have relayed the train guided by union dispatchers on tracks maintained to the highest standards by union maintenance of way workers and signal maintainers. Sure, they earned those high union wages and benefits… But they did the work of 200 truck drivers and their train used less than a fourth of the fuel trucks would have. Not hard to see why the unionized ports, railroads, and UPS are so profitable!
Again. union workers have the unloading orchestrated, as over 60 union UPS “shifter” drivers speed the containers next door to UPS’s legendary CACH (Chicago Area Conslidation Hub). CACH employs thousands of unionized UPS workers who load, sort, and reload a couple million packages a day. Within hours the incoming packages are on their way in hundreds of semis driven by unionized UPS feeder drivers to points all over the midwest. Again, the union workers productivity is incredible- on the turnpikes they pull double trailers, eclipsing the productivity of non union drivers who speed by them with but a single half empty trailer. A few hours later at a UPS center the trailers are unloaded, sorted, and transferred by union workers to the familiar brown “package cars” for delivery to happy customers by more smiling and efficient UPS drivers.
But another container of holiday gifts wasn’t so lucky. It got toted across the L.A. metroplex by a starving non union port trucker to a non descript warehouse that only employs non union temps. The warehouse is short staffed so the container sits a day before it even gets to the dock, then spends another day getting unloaded and it’s packages partly misrouted. Some of those packages get loaded into the trailer of a midwest trucker who’s trying to make it home for christmas. After sitting two days in a truckstop, he takes the load that will barely pay for his fuel, and hopes the repo man ain’t workin’ holidays when he gets home. Our non union owner operator works his heart out, literally, but gets literally stuck in his tracks for a day by a midwest blizzard. After jackknifing the half empty trailer on icy roads and a visit to the ER for chest pains, he continues AMA to a non union parcel delivery company in central Minnesota. It’s Christmas eve and while union UPS drivers are making their final deliveries, the minimum wage non union workers at the “Speedy” parcel delivery company are MIA… The cars minimum wage workers can barely afford don’t always start in below zero weather. The driver gives up, parks his battered truck and trailer, and grabs a bus ride the rest of the way home thanks to Jefferson Line’s union drivers. He has no health insurance… Maybe if he sells the tires off his truck and trailer before the repo man gets it, he can afford to see a doctor for the chest pain that now won’t go away? The trailer load of holiday gifts might get delivered by New Year's eve...
To all the union “Santas” that bring us our holiday gifts, thanks!