Today the UPS pilots overwhelmingly voted to go on strike. Or did they? (You can read the press release here)

The UPS pilots are bound to the negotiation table and so can't strike.

So what really happened, what does it mean, and why does this matter.

What did happen is that the pilots voted to overwhelmingly back their union negotiators. They want to send a signal to the arbitration board that they are not happy with the progress of the negotiations. They want the union representatives to ask the board to be let out of the requirement to continue to negotiate with the UPS management team.

Let us put this in perspective. UPS captains are guaranteed a minimum, $255,128 in salary. For this they work usually 10 days a month. It's mostly a group of whining millionaires.

This group has incredible benefits and pension plans. (yes plural)

The history of negotiations with unions normally results in any negotiated pay increase be retroactive to when the negotiations began (say four years ago or so) or be covered under a signing bonus for the pilots. So its not like they will be robbed of something.

So what's at stake here for shippers and why does this matter. It's not likely that the arbitration board will let the union out of arbitration before the end of the year and put a hardship on shippers and the economy (especially with an election coming) prior to the busy holiday shipping season, but anything can happen. In 1997 much to everyone's surprise the teamsters took a 15 day strike at UPS. That said, here is the caution for shippers.

There is one constant in the parcel business, and that constant is, THINGS CHANGE.

My advice is, if most of your eggs are in the UPS basket, at the very least make sure you have the electronic method and means to use another carrier. Does your automation give you the capability to reroute your packages on the fly in the event of an interruption in service? Do you have a working relationship with the carrier reps of the alternative services, for example USPS, FedEx or the regional carriers like Ontrac? Chances are if there is an interruption you may need their help to get a pick up scheduled. Forget about attempting to negotiate a favorable price unless you are willing to sell your soul for a long term commitment with back out penalties for going back to UPS after the "event".

What we have seen in the past with tense labor negotiations, is harassment of management by the employees "working to the rule". What this means for management (and the caution here is that the teamsters who represent the drivers, have stated publicly that they stand with their brother pilots and back their efforts) that the employees can work to the letter of the law in the contract. So for example if the contract says that a driver can only be forced to word so much overtime, then the driver punches out as soon as that threshold is met, regardless of how many packages may be left to deliver or pick up. Same holds true for pilots. They can cripple the airline network by writing up every maintainence issue and do this when the plane is loaded and ready to go, and delay all the packages on board. Can this happen, yep. Have I experienced this first hand, yep. Can the pilots wreck havoc on the network, yep. Can all this affect your service? - If you read this far, you are an intelligent logistics professional and you know what you should be doing to prepare you company and inform your management. Be informed, stay informed, and make sure your boss knows you have a back up plan just in case.