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Teamsters boss urges new talks with UPS

Striking UPS workers block a truck August 5, 1997
Web posted at: 7:52 p.m. EDT (2352 GMT)

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ATLANTA (CNN) - Saying "it's time to get serious about a settlement," the head of the Teamsters union Tuesday asked United Parcel Service management to come back to the bargaining table, CNN has learned.

James Kelly, chairman and chief executive of UPS, acknowledged that he received a faxed statement Tuesday afternoon from Teamsters President Ron Carey asking for negotiations to resume. Kelly said he is willing to go back to the table, but added the company has already put forth its "last, best effort."

CNN's Dan Ronan reports
icon 2 min., 27 sec. VXtreme streaming video

The walkout by the 185,000 Teamster-represented employees began at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. The strike will be a crucial test for labor, which after withering for years is claiming renewed strength, and for UPS, the nation's largest package delivery company that is facing its first nationwide walkout in 90 years of doing business.

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said she had called Carey and Kelly Tuesday and urged them to renew talks.

"I spoke to both parties privately by telephone this afternoon and urged them both to go back to the bargaining table," she said in a statement Tuesday.

Carey said Teamsters leaders "are prepared to meet -- anytime, anywhere, with a mediator or without one -- to negotiate a contract that provides good jobs for working families."

Kelly told CNN that UPS is now waiting for the federal mediation board to set up negotiations. If all the key players are still in Washington, that could begin as soon as Tuesday night.

Tensions on the rise

The possible breakthrough occurred as tensions rose Tuesday on UPS picket lines and at hospitals and small businesses that depend on UPS for on-time delivery of everything from surgical supplies to live lobsters.

Lobster Gram

UPS, the nation's largest package delivery service, normally moves the equivalent of 6 percent of the U.S. gross national product each day, and so the strike's effects were beginning to ripple through the economy.

Hospitals kept a close watch on medical supplies as deliveries dropped off sharply. A seafood company stopped shipping lobsters after some of them were dead on arrival.

Picketers were arrested at several UPS sites around the country, and there were angry confrontations at others as management employees and non-union workers drove the big brown delivery trucks.

UPS spokesman Mark Dickens estimated the Atlanta-based company was running at less than 10 percent capacity.

Management struggles to make shipments

Post office worker

"We've got a lot of management folks out there making every attempt to operate as best we can, but it's a fraction of what we've been doing," he said. He said UPS was focusing on critical shipments such as medical supplies.

UPS' competitors couldn't handle all of the overflow packages and put restrictions on customers and new business.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said President Clinton was encouraging both sides to return to the bargaining table but had no plans to intervene because the major impact of the strike so far is economic. The president could step in if the strike poses an imminent threat to national health and safety.

At least nine arrested

At least nine strike-related arrests were reported Tuesday morning, including five in Somerville, Massachusetts, after picketers tried to block UPS trucks. At least 16 people were arrested on disorderly conduct and other charges Monday in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois and Kentucky.

A UPS employee was arrested on reckless endangerment charges Tuesday after allegedly striking two picketers with his car as he tried to enter a UPS terminal in Buffalo. One picketer was treated for a sprained ankle; the other was not hurt.

A striking worker was arrested in Norwood, Massachusetts, after a police officer and several picketers were pushed up against a moving truck, and police in several cities responded to complaints of near-accidents or minor injuries involving trucks and workers.

Robert Lee, one of the few union workers across the country who chose not to strike, stopped to argue with about two dozen colleagues who taunted him at a distribution center west of Atlanta. "I've got a family to feed," Lee said.

"Everybody else is in the same situation he is," said an unsympathetic Morris Hughes. Hughes, the father of two, has worked shifting trailers for 19 years.

Reporter Russ Jamieson contributed to this report.

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