After rail strike averted, the next big labor deal to watch is UPS

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Contract negotiations between UPS and its massive unionized workforce are set to begin Monday in Washington, D.C.

Why it matters: It's the largest private-sector union contract in North America representing about 340,000 members.

  • Whatever kind of deal UPS workers get — and the way negotiations proceed — will set a tone for all unionized workers in the U.S.

Zoom in: The union, part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has a new president, Sean O'Brien, who's been outspoken about the demands of delivery drivers all year — holding rallies and talking to workers around the country.

  • That's not something that's happened before in the months leading up to negotiations, said Kara Deniz, a union spokesperson.
  • "We've seen membership engaged in a way that we haven't before," she said.

Zoom out: Like so many workers in the U.S., UPS employees are more fired up coming out of the pandemic about their workplace demands. Plus, they've seen big changes in their workloads over the past few years as the pace and volume of online deliveries have grown.

  • "There's this increased consciousness, around getting what you deserve from an employer," Deniz said.
  • There's also the issue of climate change; UPS drivers' social media posts about the extreme temperatures in trucks without air conditioning went viral last summer.

Between the lines: There's only been one UPS strike in the nearly 100-year history of this union, and that was back in 1997. But the level of rhetoric from union leadership, and engagement from rank-and-file, coming into this latest round is more intense than it's been in the recent past.

The other side: "UPS is focused on reaching a deal that is a win for our employees, the Teamsters, UPS and our customers — and we’re committed to doing that before the end of July," the company said in a statement sent to Axios.

What to watch: The drivers' contract expires on July 31, and O'Brien has said they're prepared to strike if there's no deal by then.

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