LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Despite pleas from officials in Louisville and elsewhere, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is sticking to its decision to accept a five-year deal labor contract with shipping giant UPS even though union’s members rejected the deal by a 54-to-46 margin in a nationwide vote earlier this month.

Hundreds of part-time workers at UPS’ Worldport air hub in Louisville are due to get a raise under the contract’s new minimum wage of $13 an hour, up from the current $10.50. But it’s unclear when exactly that will happen, as the union and company still have loose ends to tie before the new labor deal takes effect.

The union’s national leaders said Oct. 5 that their contract with UPS had been ratified despite the ‘no’ vote. They cited the union’s constitution and the fact that only 44 percent of the 209,043 UPS Teamsters across the country bothered to cast ballots, meaning a higher bar was needed to reject the deal.

But within the deeply divided union, some regional officials who opposed the contract have called for a return to the bargaining table.

“Our members have spoken – a majority of the people who voted voted, ‘no,’” said Avral Thompson, a vice president at Local 89, the Teamsters’ chapter in Louisville, and a member of the Teamsters’ national executive board. “Any union should be there to support what the members want.”

Thompson was among a handful of union officials who asked International Brotherhood of Teamsters  General President James Hoffa to revisit the situation in letters last week. Thompson said he hasn’t received a response.

In ratifying the contract, the union relied on a provision of its constitution saying it takes a two-thirds majority to reject a deal when less than 50 percent of eligible members cast ballots.

Kara Deniz, a spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the vote turnout shows the union lacks rank-and-file support for a strike on UPS.

“The national agreement was rejected by approximately 24% of the eligible membership. No union can successfully conduct a strike with the support of only 24% of the bargaining unit,” she said in an email Tuesday.

But the decision doesn’t sit well with some rank-and-file workers in Louisville.

“We voted it down and then they are interpreting this language saying they can push it through on us,” said Amy Grubbs, a pre-loader who has worked at UPS Worldport for 12 years.

Among the more controversial items in the contract were the starting wage of $13 an hour – which some said should have been at least $15 – and a new class of weekend-working package drivers who will be paid less than regular drivers.

Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, said it’s rare to see a union move forward with a contract after its members reject it in a vote.

“That is just a recipe for low morale, for bad productivity,” he said.

But Ariana Levinson, a professor of labor and employment law at the University of Louisville, said the Teamsters’ decision could be “perfectly defensible” if union members were on notice that not voting effectively meant agreeing to the contract.

With less than half of members voting, she said, “it makes it hard to gauge how people on the ground really feel.”

Deniz, the spokeswoman for the union’s top leaders in Washington, D.C., said the rules of the union’s constitution regarding the higher bar required to reject a contract “should have been clear to all of the members.”

But Stephen Piercey, communications director for Local 89 in Louisville, said it’s been decades since the union imposed a national agreement under those rules.  

“Nobody had even considered that was even a possibility,” until the union’s chief negotiator mentioned it two days before the voting ended, Piercey said.

UPS, for its part, said it looks forward to wrapping up a handful local agreements with the Teamsters and implementing the national deal. Raises in the deal will be paid retroactively to Aug. 1 when it is finally in place.

The company is heading into its busiest time of the year, the “peak season” for package deliveries in November and December.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.