Public advocate threatens UPS over firings

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Public Advocate Letitia James today warned delivery giant UPS about consequences the company could face for telling 250 workers that they would be fired for walking off the job in February.

James and other elected officials said that tax breaks that UPS receives from the state and the city are "now on the table on the table for discussion" if the company continues to refuse to bargain with its workers.

"UPS has a lot of business before New York, a $43 million contract with the state," James said during a rally at City Hall with at least 150 workers represented by the Teamsters Local 804 union. "Our pension funds, and I'm a member on the trustee board, owns $179 million dollars in stocks and bonds. … The company benefits from a sweetheart parking-ticket program."

UPS workers walked off the job as a form of protest after a longtime employee and union activist was fired without warning. The walk-out lasted 90 minutes and then workers returned to work to deliver packages.

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Following the worker action, the company issued pink slips to 250 of its unionized drivers from a facility in Maspeth.

"I sent a direct and stern letter to UPS asking them to sit down and negotiate," James said. "Then I did a visit, yes it was not a scheduled meeting, nonetheless it was a visit from a city wide elected official, and I was shown the door."

A spokesman for UPS said the terminations were justified, citing an agreement between UPS and the union that the company has the right to discharge any employee who participates in an unauthorized work stoppage.

"These employees were warned about the consequences of the walkout as they left their jobs," company spokesman Steve Gaut wrote in a statement to Capital. "We are releasing the employees because of the seriousness of the misconduct and because we believe there must be adherence to the bargaining agreement by both parties."

Also, he wrote, "Businesses and unions cannot successfully operate in an environment that allows public officials to arbitrarily choose when employees can break collective bargaining agreements or demand when employers must disregard the terms of agreements, irrespective of the officials’ motivation."

James said she was willing to offer her office as a place to hold negotiations between the union and UPS.

The public advocate is a trustee of the city employees' retirement plan.