Friday, July 28, 2023

What the media missed in the UPS story

In the three days since the story broke, (see previous blogpost), neither the Times nor the Post has run a single opinion piece exploring the significance of the new Teamsters UPS contract.  They did run essays on Harvard University's admissions policy, Twitter's name change, online dating, how to quit your job, the aftermath of Dobbs, UFOs, "anti-Woke hysteria" in Tennessee and Florida schools, and of course a plethora of essays about Donald Trump. 

So what might they say about the new UPS contract? 

  • It averted what might have been the largest nation-wide strike in decades and illustrated that strikes and the threat of strikes is the most effective tactic that workers have for improving their working conditions.
  • It was a rare win for labor at a time when union membership is in decline but public approval of unions is on the rise. 
  • It pushed back against management's anti-worker tactics that have become increasingly common throughout the economy, including surveillance of employees, the hiring of underpaid subcontractors, and forced overtime. 

Most importantly, it represented a triumph of the reform wing of the labor movement, via Teamsters for a Democratic Union, over a sclerotic old guard--embodied in the person of Jimmy Hoffa Jr.--that has presided over the decline of unions in this country for most of the past 40 years.  The last UPS contract, negotiated by Hoffa in 2018, was imposed on the UPS workers in spite of a rank-and-file vote to reject it. This new contract reverses the most heinous element of that contract, creation of an inferior category of part time, low-paid drivers, a disastrous, solidarity-destroying provision that other old-guard unions have capitulated to.  

Under the new contract, part timers will make large gains, including a 48% pay increase over 5 years and the expansion of full-time positions for those who want them.  This runs counter to the practice of other national employers--like Starbucks--who brag about generous pay and benefits, but then limit workers hours so they are note eligible for benefits and get enough hours to make a living wage. 

These provisions and other elements of the UPS deal could be an inspiration to the 8,000 Starbucks workers who have voted to join a union but still have not been able to negotiate a first contract--if they manage to wade through the culture war coverage to find a story about it.

It's estimated that the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision might have a direct impact on 10,000-15,000 students. The UPS contract affects 340,000 workers.  There's no question that the Times and Post have published more articles on the former than the latter.  A lot more. And where elite college admissions are not likely to have much of a ripple effect on the vast majority of college students who attend non-competitive colleges and universities, a labor renaissance would have an impact on everyone in the US who works for a living.



Tuesday, July 25, 2023

News brownout of the UPS-Teamsters contract

This afternoon I opened three major national newspaper apps, starting with the Wall Street Journal, whose lead story was today's UPS contract agreement, which came just in time to avert a commerce-crippling strike.

The "liberal" New York Times and the Washington Post buried the story the far below the top of the front page.  Above perhaps the most significant labor story of the year, they posted articles about libraries banning books, immigration policy, legacy admissions at Harvard, Ron DeSantis's faltering presidential campaign, his feud with Bud Light over transgender issues, a story about a video depicting police violence, and ads for sales of precious metals in conservative media outlets.  In Jeff Bezo's Post, the UPS story appeared below the links to crossword puzzles and other games. 

(Forget about the Boston Globe, which led with no less than eight sports stories; UPS was nowhere to be found.)

Among the stories given more attention by the Times and Post than the fate of 340,000 American workers at a moment when conflict between a rising labor movement and anti-union corporations is on the rise, were also a few items about global warming and international conflicts.  But most of the stories deemed more newsworthy than a rare and perhaps historic win by labor focused on culture war and identity politics. Most striking to me was the elevation of two stories about admissions to elite colleges, something that will impact a tiny elite.

Of course the apps are constantly updating and re-arranging the order of the stories during the day, so a more reliable assessment might be what the print editions look like tomorrow. 

Update: The Print Editions.

In spite of Bezo's being perhaps the most successful contemporary union buster, the Post gave the UPS story the most prominent placement--top left front page, second only to a story about Putin (newspapers almost always put the lead story on the right side of the front page).  Does the editors of the Post have independence from their anti-labor owner?

The Times put the story inside, on the front page of the B section and led with the story about the elimination of legacy admissions at Harvard.

The Journal ended up burying the UPS story on B3, with a promo on page 1.

The Globe put a promo to the story at the bottom of page one and led with two big sports photos, a sports story, and Biden's asylum policy. 

I guess this is not surprising, since, according to one study, 28% of NYT reporters and editors attended Ivy league schools and 52% attended the 29 most elite universities. These folks are part of the tiny minority whose children will be effected by the the elimination of legacy admissions.  But most Americans won't be; only 0.4% of US undergraduates attend an Ivy League school. Meanwhile, 70% of nonunion “skilled and hourly workers” in the U.S. say they would consider joining a union if given the opportunity.

Thursday, July 6, 2023


A word I heard quite often last week at a conference of teachers on seminar style instruction: “harm.” As in: how can we make sure our students are not harmed by what happens during class discussions? As one participant put it “the texts we assign may do harm to some students and we might or might not be aware of it. We need to move this burden onto the educator. It’s our job to protect and deflect and make sure everybody is supported.”

Earlier in the week, we’d watched a video showing an “adventure playground” where “kids are encouraged to participate in healthy risk-taking.” Adults lurk around the edges removing hidden hazards, like rusty nails. But mostly they leave the kids alone, and refrain from interfering in risky behavior like climbing too far out on a thin tree limb 20 feet off the ground.  “Even when you feel uncomfortable, that should not inform your next move,” the adult says afterwards.  Children experience danger.  They are allowed to light fires and wield hammers and wallow in mud puddles. 

Adventure playgrounds were conceived by Margory Allen of Hurtwood (1897-1976) who said: “it is better to risk a broken leg than a broken spirit. A leg can always mend. A spirit may not.” 

It reminded me of my childhood, though no one was getting rid of rusty nails around the forts we built in the woods far away from the parental gaze. A trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot and to get the sneaker bits removed from your foot was a rite of passage in our neighborhood. We also rode bikes and cars without helmets and or seatbelts. One study found that kids today experience a total of 7 minutes per week of play unsupervised by adults.

How is it that as we parents of the post-missing-child-milk-carton era have made childhood increasingly safe, our children have become so increasingly anxious and sad?  Maybe Ms. Allen was right. Maybe danger is good for the spirit.


Adventure playground video.

Margory Allen bio.

Latest news about the bubble wrap generation.  Just before I posted, these two pieces showed up in news sources I consume.  

This one, in the Times on July 4, showed how high school theater teachers are being required to protect students from evil content in plays like "Bye Bye Birdie" and "The Addams Family" ("It’s Getting Hard to Stage a School Play Without Political Drama" by Michael Paulson).

This article appeared on the front page of the Atlantic website on July 5: "The Gravitational Pull of Supervising Kids All the Time," by Stephanie H. Murray. It traces the rise of safetyism in parenting, which is closely related to safetyism at school and around the Harkness table.