In terms of big US labor contracts, however, this is just the opening act.
There are an additional 700,000 union members nationwide in key industries who could be getting new labor deals, perhaps after going on strike, in the next year.
Each of these unions seek not only lucrative contracts but significant changes in work rules and assurances of job security that could make it difficult to avoid work stoppages.
Here are some of the most crucial upcoming negotiations:
United Parcel Service
A majority of Teamsters rejected their last UPS contract in 2018, but then-union president James Hoffa was able to agree to the offer because there wasn’t enough participation in the vote to trigger a strike.
O’Brien often talks about the $300 million strike fund the union has accumulated to pay members in case of a work stoppage.
“Do our members wake up every day wanting a strike? I’d say no. But are they fed up? Yes, they’re fed up,” O’Brien told CNN Business earlier this month. “Whether or not there is a strike, that’s totally up to the company. We’re going to utilize as much leverage as we can to get our members the contract they deserve.”
UPS said it is hopeful that the two sides can reach an agreement and avoid the company’s first national strike since 1997. The shipping giant employs more union members, by far, than any other US business. And it has been adding employees — including 72,000 new union members — since the start of the pandemic, even as other unionized employers trim their staffs.
“We want a contract that provides wins for our employees and that provides UPS the flexibility to stay competitive in a rapidly changing industry,” the company said in a statement this month. “We believe we’ll continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that’s good for everyone involved.”
Teamster drivers and package sorters at UPS are covered under a different labor law than the one governing the railroads, so the government does not have the same authority to prevent a strike as it did with the rail workers.
Airlines are among the most heavily unionized industries in the nation, and those unions are among the most powerful. Nearly 200,000 airline union members have gone months, and in some cases years, since their last raise.
The airlines are covered under the same labor law as the railroads, which means the deals don’t expire at a specific time. They become “amendable” when they reach the end of their terms, and if no contract is reached, the existing deal remains in place for however long it takes to hammer out a new one.
Members can strike, or management can lock them out, only after a 60-day cooling off period once federal mediators declare an impasse in talks. During that period, a presidential panel comes up with recommendations.
If a strike or lockout begins, it ends when the two sides reach agreement or Congress intervenes. Airlines negotiate with their own unions, so a strike would ground only one carrier, but even that would be a nightmare for the traveling public.
As a result, union leadership doesn’t know when their members might get new contracts. Some have been waiting since 2019.
“Air travel has returned…. I think this is the right time [for new contracts],” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. “Workers are going to demand better wages and better working conditions. But it’s hard to say on timing.”
There have been no plant closings since then. In fact, the automakers have been investing tens of billions of dollars to build new plants or transform old ones from traditional gas powered cars to electric vehicles.
But that switch to EVs could make the upcoming talks difficult.
It takes about 30% less labor to build an EV than a traditional car or truck because so fewer parts are needed to build them.
That’s a major concern for unions whose members build engines and transmissions. Earlier this month, more than 1,000 UAW workers at a Stellantis castings plant in Kokomo, Ind., walked out during a weekend over “local issues,” which allowed them to strike without causing a company-wide shutdown. Stellantis settled quickly because the parts from those plants keep its other factories running.
But that settlement did not address the looming question of what a switch to EVs will mean for union workers going forward.
That’s sure to be a major issue in the upcoming labor talks, according to Bernard Swiecki, director of research at the Center for Automotive Research, a Michigan think tank. “The planned switch to EVs is the big issue hanging out there,” he said.
Swiecki imagines that the UAW will want to press the issue in this round of talks rather than wait until the switch to EVs progresses further.
“Sorting out the unionization of the EV battery plants probably makes this the most interesting set of negotiations since the bankruptcy era,” Swiecki said, referring to the 2009 reorganizations at GM and Chryser, and the new deals that followed at all of the automakers.