The 1997 UPS Strike: When Teamsters Shut Down America’s Package Delivery

You remember UPS Strike like it was yesterday. The summer of 1997—posters of Titanic and Men in Black greeted you at every turn. But there was another event that shaped that summer and impacted all of our lives, though we may not have realized it at the time. The UPS strike brought the nation’s package delivery to a grinding halt, and for two weeks in August, those familiar brown trucks were nowhere to be seen. Almost 200,000 Teamsters walked off the job in the largest U.S. strike of the decade, bringing UPS to its knees and costing the company over half a billion dollars. Little did we know how much we depended on those trucks zooming around each day until they were gone. What a wild ride it was. Even if you didn’t have a package to ship, you surely have memories of news reports and water cooler conversations about the strike that showed us the power of organized labor and the importance of the humble delivery driver. Quite the summer, wasn’t it?

The Teamsters’ Grievances With UPS

The Teamsters had plenty of reasons to strike in 1997. After years of stalled contract negotiations and unaddressed grievances, UPS workers decided enough was enough. It was time to take action and fight for the pay, benefits, and working conditions they deserved!

The Teamsters’ primary complaint was that UPS workers earned significantly less than workers in other companies doing the same jobs. While UPS was raking in profits, workers struggled with low wages, inadequate benefits, and grueling hours. Teamsters sought to remedy this by demanding higher pay, better healthcare, and improved retirement plans.

Working conditions were another major issue. UPS workers frequently had to lift and move heavy packages, work long hours, and adhere to strict delivery deadlines. This resulted in a high rate of on-the-job injuries and health issues. The Teamsters called for additional safety measures, limits on hours, and greater job security protections.

Morale was low due to the lack of work-life balance and career growth opportunities. Drivers and package handlers felt overworked, underappreciated, and stuck in dead-end jobs. The Teamsters pushed for provisions allowing for more time off, career development programs, and opportunities for promotion.

After 15 days of striking, picketing, and rallying public support, the Teamsters and UPS finally reached an agreement. The new 5-year contract gave workers a substantial pay raise, better benefits, additional job security, improved working conditions, and a more balanced work week. It was a victory for labor rights and showed the power of collective action. Thanks to the dedication of Teamsters, UPS workers got the fair deal they deserved. The strike that shut down America led to a new chapter of improved relations between UPS and its employees.


So there you have it, the story of how the Teamsters brought the shipping giant UPS to its knees. For 15 days in August 1997, 185,000 hardworking men and women stood up for fair wages and better working conditions, sacrificing their paychecks for the greater good. While it caused headaches for businesses waiting on packages and consumers expecting deliveries, the strike proved that through unity and perseverance, real change is possible. The next time a UPS driver hands you a package with a smile, remember the sacrifice that made that job a little bit better. Though the strike was over 20 years ago, its impact lives on today in safer working conditions, better pay, and a reminder that together, we have the power to shape the future.

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