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Sources: UPS lays off undetermined number of junior drivers

UPS Inc. has laid off an undetermined number of Teamsters union drivers who fall under the so-called 22.4 classification in the UPS-Teamster contract, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Atlanta-based company (NYSE: UPS) said in a statement that it is “reassigning some of our employees to meet the needs of our business.” The changes, which are occurring in certain parts of the country, are in response to what the company called “uneven demand.” UPS said it hoped the affected workers will return to their prior positions later this year.

The actions seem “widespread,” said one of the people. Most affected workers will probably return within several weeks, the person said.

The 22.4 workers are junior drivers who work Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The 22.4 workers, so named by a section of the UPS-Teamsters contract that defines the role, was created in the 2018 agreement, which remains in force. It’s long been unpopular with the union, which views it as an unjustified second-class position because the junior drivers do the same work as senior drivers but for less pay.

Sean O’Brien, general president of the Teamsters, opposed the formation of the classification before he was elected. O’Brien has pledged to eliminate the language from this year’s contract and to move all drivers to full-time seniority status.

Under the contract, any layoffs must first happen at the junior level before senior drivers are affected.

The timing may seem unusual as both sides are gearing up for upcoming contract talks. The current contract expires July 31, and O’Brien has threatened to take 350,000 UPS Teamsters out on strike if an agreement isn’t reached by Aug. 1.

With volume down year over year, UPS may be sending a message that it doesn’t need as many Teamsters today as in the past, said Josh Taylor, director of professional services at consultancy Shipware LLC and a former longtime UPS executive.

UPS’ actions put the Teamsters in the peculiar position of “trying to protect people in roles they hope to upgrade,” said Taylor. “Do they fight to retain those people or to upgrade those positions? Because if UPS can get along without them, it will be difficult to justify both,” he said.