Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: You can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/citationsneededpodcast. All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated as we are 100% listener funded. We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full-length episodes when there is either some breaking news that we want to cover or the news itself is breaking, as we often talk about here, and we are excited today, Adam, to be joined by Teddy Ostrow, a journalist from Brooklyn covering labor and economics. He’s the host of the Upsurge podcast and his work has appeared in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Nation, New Republic, and plenty of other places so go check them out. Teddy, welcome to Citations Needed. I’m excited to talk about the pending UPS strike and other labor matters and how they are covered in the media, which we do like to talk about on Citations Needed.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah. Thanks for having me, guys. Appreciate it.
Adam: So I want to start off by asking you to do one of those annoying things we do for our guests, which is basically do our work for us. Can you explain to the listeners, just real quick, kind of recap the current state of labor, quote-unquote “labor unrest” with Teamsters, and UPS, just to kind of orient our audience before we kind of go into the bigger media narrative surrounding these negotiations?
Teddy Ostrow: Sure, sure. Yeah. So these negotiations between the Teamsters union and UPS are for the largest private-sector bargaining agreement in the United States, it’s the UPS package division. So that includes somewhere between 330,000 to 350,000 Teamsters, and that’s mostly warehouse workers, but also, you know, technicians, semi truck drivers. And of course, the people we know and love, the people we interact with, package car drivers. So it’s just an enormous bargaining unit. And for close to a year, the Teamsters have run what’s called a contract campaign. And basically, that’s an organizing campaign to build excitement, unity, you know, tension, and really just a credible strike threat surrounding the main demands of the workforce and union leadership. What’s notable here is the union leadership has said, if their demands are not met in a new contract by August 1, that’s the contract expiration, five-year collective bargaining agreement, then they’ll strike and, you know, that could be the largest strike against a single employer in US history.
And just to briefly touch on the demands before I tell you where negotiations are going, or, or where they’re not, you know, these are demands to solve issues that extend way beyond the UPS bargaining unit, we’re talking about the abolition of tiers among driver positions, basically, to restore equal work for equal pay, because there’s a new generation of drivers who make less and have fewer protections than their predecessors. Despite doing pretty much the exact same work, we see tiers across workplaces. And there’s the problem of poverty wages at UPS, a good portion of the workforce is part time, and make as low as $15.50 an hour, which is just not a livable wage in most parts of the country. There’s forced overtime, there’s serious harassment, people are being forced to work six days a week, up to 14 hours a day. And some people are doing this for years. There’s surveillance with inward-facing cameras people are worried about, there’s gig workers they want to get rid of to protect the bargaining unit and the job. And among other issues, you know, there’s the safety protections, which are the ones that people probably have heard about the most UPSers in the package car, but also inside the warehouse, which is not really talked about as often they deal with extreme heat, which literally kills people. It literally kills people and makes people very sick with heatstroke. Because there’s no air conditioning, there’s no sufficient ventilation. Sometimes there’s no fans. But there are other weather issues. Everyone’s dealing with air quality right now in different parts of the country. You know, storms, all the terrible things of the climate crisis ramping up and UPS pushes their workers to just deal with it. That includes COVID of course. UPSers were quote-unquote “essential workers.” But given no hazard pay, and many people died and they got sick. So that’s for negotiations. They’ve been going on at the national level since April. They’ve been slowgoing because it appears like UPS wants to play hardball. Teamsters have played hardball right back. And for a little while it looked like you know, there was some solid progress. People were like, ‘Oh, there may not be a strike.’ And it came to a number of tentative agreements on non-economic issues that includes air conditioning and new package cars, which was considered like you know, a pretty huge win. You know, there are some stipulations people are worried about, but yeah, they moved on to economic issues. These are the big-ticket items. So wages, benefits, those kinds of things, important things.
Basically, the Teamsters had to walk away from the bargaining table because the UPS counterproposal was just awful, it was leaked, you can go check it out for yourself if you want. But really just appalling, insulting stuff. And you know, it was always going to be a toilet paper proposal. That’s how negotiations work. But the Teamsters said, Enough is enough. They said to UPS, you have to give us your last best and final offer by Friday, June 30. So we’ll have to see if they got an offer they deemed worthy of passing on to the membership to vote. And otherwise, they say that a strike is imminent, come August 1. But obviously, there’s time and we’ll have to see.
Nima: So you’ve really kind of seen what has been coming for a while now, you know, you were on this beat before negotiation started in April, and actually wrote a fantastic piece for Fairness and Accuracy and reporting, or FAIR, where you note kind of what we’re about to see what we were about to see in media coverage of the negotiations of labor disputes, or, you know, bargaining in general, how unions are depicted in the media, you really saw this coming. And you laid out a number of these, like braindead media tropes that we see time and again, that are meant to disparage or build public opinion against these kinds of union actions, namely, as we see time and again, against striking. So let’s begin with actually the first trope that you yourself noted in your April fair piece, the idea that averting a strike, right, like strike averted? Or how are we going to make sure that strikes don’t happen, how that is seen as the ultimate kind of inherent good on behalf of society. We see this nonstop, whenever strikes are imminent, or even suggested. We saw this last year with the congressional and White House intervention on behalf of capital and management in the then-pending rail strike. And so we hear time and again the simple message that strikes are disruptive, and therefore they must be averted. Can you talk about how this trope surfaces time and again, and always seems to be in service of this vague thing called “the economy” quote-unquote, this natural occurring entity, right, as we are told, the economy, let’s talk about some of those cliches?
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah. Like these words, “averted,” “prevented,” “headed off” is another one, you know, the strike is looming, menacing. Yeah, it would have “crippled” or “devastated” the “economy.” Yeah, you know, there’s a lot in those phrases. Most people don’t, or don’t know about most, but a lot of people don’t read past the headline, that’s all they really get. And personally, when I read this kind of language, in my head, I kind of read it in like a SWAT voice like “Crisis averted.” Or like some NASA guy saying, like “Mission complete,” we’ve destroyed the asteroid that was heading for Earth, like, you know, seeing this language is sort of like peddling this catastrophism, it’s supposed to make you sigh in relief that the worst has passed. It’s often in passive voice. So you don’t really know where it’s coming from. There’s no context to this, you know, alleged hurricane that’s circling around the gulf and clearly being depicted as this thing that will harm us all. But, you know, we’ve been trained enough by media to know, right, it’s the greedy workers who must be stopped, or worse, they directly demonize the workers or portray them as villains. And so last year, Biden flanked by Democrats and Republicans, as you guys have said before, you know, they were framed not as intervening on the side of capital, but as these neutral arbiters performing neutral actions that had to be done to save us all.
Nima: Yeah, shooting the rocket to hit the strike asteroid before it destroyed Earth’s economy.
Teddy Ostrow: Yes. And in reality, the media itself is kind of neutralizing the class politics of what’s going on. I’ll just say quickly that some people are concerned now that Biden will intervene in the UPS strike. UPSers fall under Taft Hartley, not the Railway Labor Act, so the bar is higher to force workers back to work. And also a key piece of this is UPSers are very popular. So Biden would be risking himself a little bit more politically by shutting down the strike. Anyway, that’s a digression but you know, we’ve already seen a lot of coverage by mainstream media that is essentially trying to scare people with this language you know Business Insider I noted warned, “A driver strike with threatens to upend millions of deliveries,” end quote. Fortune decries that the strike “could hurt virtually every American” end quote, and now the Teamsters are saying a strike is imminent. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the word “looms,” or “looming,” there’s probably some other words that these editors can think of.
So we have been seeing these forecasts of economic doom right now and they’re really ramping up, and the phrase that is so often invoked as the victim as you said, is the quote-unquote “economy.” And when they say that, they’re really just talking about corporations, the flow of capital and profits, and we’re supposed to read that and identify with that. We’re supposed to hear “economy” and think, you know, ‘oh, my life, my family, me, me, me, I’m going to be affected’ and you know, admittedly shutting down UPS would be disruptive. They transport 6% of GDP daily. Packages may go undelivered or be slower to be delivered. But mostly this is gonna hurt the company. And we’re supposed to feel some type of way about that. Bloomberg emphasized, you know, “the stakes are high for Tome in the US.” That’s the UPS CEO, Carol Tome. But the problem as I see it, right, and other people see it is with this framing is it completely overshadows the stakes for the workers, it overshadows the reasons the workers go on strike, the things I said above, you know, we may see some throwaway paragraph, but rarely any quotes from actual workers. Just like some aggressive quote from Sean O’Brien, the union president, trying to make him look like unreasonable or out of context, saying we’re going to strike, there’s no indication that this is something that is like the last resort of workers after months of negotiations and years of struggle with the issues at hand. And of course, no indication that like, you know, people say striking is transformative for workers. And that’s absolutely true. But it’s also kind of shitty, like you lose a portion of your, your paycheck when you go on strike. You know, thankfully, the Teamsters have a strike fund. But hopefully you’re organized, you know, you stick in solidarity with your union siblings, and you win what you deserve. There’s a lot of history, in my opinion, interesting history, but the union, the stakes, the issues, all the implications for the reader that are far far more important, more impactful than this alleged damage to the economy, these tropes of catastrophism completely disregard all that. So we’re left with like one touchstone that we’re supposed to identify with. And that’s the economy, which often really has nothing to do with the well being of working people. And the effect is to turn people against the very people, the workers with whom I think they have much closer common interest.
Adam: Yeah, I think the idea of like the economy as something that is being menaced by labor without any other context is something that we see a lot is actually a really great montage made by Steve Morris of The Recount that we want to play right now to listen to. This is CNN discussing the then-pending, although later subverted labor strike by rail workers and sort of note how they talk about it in this kind of doom and gloom, menacing way.
[Begin Clip Montage]
Man #1: A rail strike is one of the most disruptive and expensive things that can happen to an economy.
Woman #1: A rail strike would disrupt supply chains
Man #2: A strike means food prices could skyrocket.
Woman #1: Many experts are saying would be an economic catastrophe.
Man #2: That could mean a big shortage and massive price hikes. Even gas prices could increase.
Woman #1: And it also could cost the economy a billion dollars within the first week.
Woman #2: That would cripple the economy.
Man #3: I’m not setting aside the concerns of your members. But are you and your members willing to stop the rails in effect, and accept those costs of the US economy?
Woman #3: Do you believe a strike is worth it? If it cripples the US economy and costs up to $2 billion a day?
Man #4: More than $2 billion per day?
Woman #3: Is it worth it?
Man #4: And on top of all of that, the holidays are right around the corner.
Man #3: So a little less than a month, right, before Christmas here.
Woman #1: Especially right before the holidays.
Woman #3: President Biden warning if that happened, it would devastate the economy if we had a strike like that. So joining me now to talk about this and a lot more is Bank of America, Brian Moynihan, Chairman and CEO, one of the biggest banks in the world.
[End Clip Montage]
Adam: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I mean, they reduce the rail workers to basically a Bond villain or bad guy from Captain Planet, right? They’re sort of destroying the world for the luls.
Nima: Yeah, it seems like the media framing is always about averting the strike itself, like the strike is the bad thing, rather than alleviating the conditions under which workers would strike. So it’s like, yeah, people want to avert a strike, like workers don’t want to need to strike. But the framing is never that they are being forced to do this by capital, by the companies themselves, and that the companies are forcing the strike rather than workers just deciding that they’re going to strike because somehow that’s just like a fun thing to do. And you know, asserting control and destroying the quote-unquote “economy.” The point is that it’s supposed to suck. Strikes are supposed to suck because that’s going to actually provide some sort of leverage, right? Like, what other leverage do workers have other than withholding their labor?
Teddy Ostrow: Right. You know, I think a part of this is that media can get away with depicting this as this big, big issue that you have to, you know, be scared about. And it’s the workers’ fault and the corporation has nothing to do with it because we’re looking at a landscape where most news outlets don’t even really have labor reporters, you know, business press are tasked with having to cover the news that happened in the labor sector, and there’s just like, disinformation, or just a lack of understanding on their part, and just the reading pretty much of like corporate press releases. So what happens is, you have all of these articles depicting this thing coming at you, you don’t know any of the context. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot of context there, there’s a lot to workers dealing with, say, you know, not being able to put food on the table, and not being able to see their kids, like in the morning or at night, because they have long hours, workers just don’t strike just a strike. I mean, maybe they did at some point in this country. But right now, it’s, it’s a pretty rare thing, unfortunately, for workers to like, use the thing that they have, like their principal leverage, right, against the employer. There’s very few tools that workers have to get what they want, and to get what they deserve. We’ve seen, you know, so called corporate campaigns, sometimes they work sometimes they don’t try to draw media attention over the past, like 30 years, this is what unions have tried to do when they were really on the defensive from the corporate offensive, and they don’t really work, labor has continued to shrink. And with that, we hear less from them. And it legitimizes this idea that they’re still these like crooked institutions, workers are greedy, and they just should go back to work because I’m inconvenienced, we need to, like help the economy.
But at the end of the day, as you said, this is what they have, this is the thing, the tool they can use to basically stop the flow operation stop the flow of capital, because that’s the point. And you know, they don’t want to stop people from getting their goods that, you know, they don’t want consumers, like oftentimes the workers are like, you know, they love their customers, or like, they like to make the things that they make or do whatever they do, often they don’t. But this is a last resort, and it takes sacrifice, and it takes organization that is that’s the other thing is, it’s almost treated as like this thing that just happens. But like it’s calculated, hopefully, it’s very well organized, and it’s done for a reason. And the media just love to strip all of that context.
Adam: Yeah, so one, mode of reportage that you touch on, that I wrote about a little bit, is this idea of centering the consumer. There’s kind of the pseudo-service journalism where you have the largest maybe, you know, potentially the largest private single employer strike in US history. And then the journalist sits down and says, Okay, well, I’m gonna frame it as how it affects you as a consumer, right? There’s a kind of narcissism of you of the consumer. Now, obviously, again, economic disruptions affect people clearly, as again as they’re supposed to otherwise the threat of strikes don’t work, because the corporations effectively have so much power that can effectively hold entire economies hostage, which is a separate problem. In this kind of pseudo-service journalism is a framework that we see a lot, CNN: “What the Potential UPS Strike Could Mean for Your Packages.” Forbes: “Without a Package Deal, UPS Workers Could Strike. How to Be Ready.” The Rockford Register: “One of the Largest Strikes in US History Appears Imminent. Here’s How It Impacts You.” ABC News: “What the Potential UPS Strike Could Do to Your Packages,” et cetera, et cetera.
This pseudo-service journalism effectively turns you know, it’s quite clever, because again, the idea that a person who’s reading that their primary role in society is consumption, right? How does it affect your packages? How does it affect your ability to consume? versus, you know, again, that is one role people play. But there are other roles, like for example, a member of the working class, a wage worker who may benefit from militant private sector, public labor strikes, right, let’s serve as the assertion of power, their role as I don’t know, a citizen of a country. Can we talk about how this kind of consumer framing turns the reader into this sort of hyper-solipsistic, individualized, atomized individual whose entire politics, his whole political horizon, is like, am I going to be able to send packages or not?
Teddy Ostrow: Right. I really liked your framing of that. If you guys will let me indulge in a little bit of history, I could bring us back to 1997, which I think is important to touch on, you know.
Nima: Please do.
Teddy Ostrow: That’s when UPSers last went on strike, and I think we can learn a lot. You know, I highly recommend Deepa Kumar’s book Outside the Box, which analyzes the 1997 strike when 185,000 Teamsters, UPSers struck the company and she analyzes the media discourse around it, it’s really fantastic. I recommend reading it. But you know, the issues back then were pretty similar to what they are today, a big issue was that 60% of the workforce was part time. And they wanted more full time jobs. And when the strike happened, it caught UPS and the media way off guard, they did not know this was going to happen. That may be different now. But you know, in the first week of that two-week strike, they just completely disregarded the workers’ perspectives and focused on, you know, again, the economic damage, $40 million a day, we’re lost, you know, 80% of packages were not shipped. And the coverage focused on basically the inconvenience to the consumer. We heard from market analysts, and like, you know, pro-company scholars, and they love to focus on the workers they could find who were suffering on the picket line to show like, look, even the workers are suffering just like you, you know, inconvenienced consumer. And to the media’s surprise, again, polls came out that showed the public supported the strikers two to one over the company, people identified with the UPSers. The motto of the strike was “part-time America won’t work.”
The Teamsters’ frame, their fight is a fight for workers across the country. And it was kind of like this battle against a larger trend that started to pick up in the 1990s. You know, across corporate America, we saw a corporate restructuring, that shifted full-time work to these like shitty low-paid part-time gig, or temporary or contingent jobs. And I’m sure it sounds familiar, because that’s kind of what we’re dealing with today. But meanwhile, you know, there was a quote-unquote “economic recovery” going on that most working class people just weren’t seeing, also sounds familiar. But the public was struggling. And they looked at this strike, in part because of a very skillful communication strategy by the Teamsters union. And they really resonated with people, you know, they’re on the picket line, and they identified with the workers, you know, because they’re workers, too.
The Teamsters were winning this kind of battle for hearts and minds. And the media was forced, eventually, to start contending with questions of inequality, actually start speaking honestly, with workers. So there was a temporary shift we saw towards more pro-worker coverage before it reverted back, of course, but you know, fast forward to now, we’re seeing this framing, again, that you put so well. And, you know, so sassily, in your piece, Adam, I really loved it. You know, like, rather than centering the worker, media is centering the consumer, they’re saying, ‘Hey, you, this is a really bad thing that’s about to happen, it’s going to harm you, will harm the economy, which is a stand in for you the consumer.’ And, you know, as I was saying before, by doing this, the media is basically like, without our permission, lumping us in with the corporation, like the consumer is like 1/3, of like this perfect corporate family or something.
Adam: No, it’s brilliant, because ‘the economy’ is such a great class-flattening, which is also by structural design, right? Like your 401(k) is like sort of getting the middle class to have the psychological investment in the wealthy being rich. To some extent, it’s true, right? Like, to some extent, it is true that like, a lot of quote unquote, “middle class” people have a lot of their wealth tied into the stock market. So you sort of align the interests where you create this kind of human shield component, right? It’s quite brilliant, because it really does work. “The economy” is the ultimate class flattening sort of ism to throw out.
Teddy Ostrow: Right. I mean, we see this sort of assumed alliance, it’s almost like the consumer in the corporation are depicted, like the parents together, like the parents of these grumpy workers, who are just like throwing a fuss for no reason. But of course, as we said, you know, a strike is no fuss strike is workers principle leverage over the employer, when they are pushed to the edge. It’s like, what they have to get what they want, what they deserve. And in the case of UPS, workers are dying from heat, you know, workers don’t get to see their children because they have to leave before they get up and they get back when they’re asleep. Workers, you know, have to live in their cars or even in homeless shelters. You know, workers are breaking their bones trying to get like 100-pound packages off of conveyor belts at unsafe speeds, while supervisors are just, like, screaming at them. These are things that a lot of people deal with in different forums across the country, like, you know, ot to use their phrase across the economy, and unity and solidarity can be built around these experiences as workers and I think there are alliances to be made between consumers and workers alike. You know, there’s room for focusing, as you wrote in your article, Adam, for the consumer focus, but the framing I think that is the most important in this situation, in this labor dispute is that a strike can be beneficial for all of us, that in the case of a strike, it’s not the workers holding consumers hostage. It’s like the corporation holding both the consumers and the workers hostage from getting what they deserve.
So what we try to do at the Upsurge podcast, you know, is framed the potential strike is, I don’t know, like maybe an exciting thing that may happen for the good of the labor movement. When 350,000 workers go on strike, workers in every single zip code in the country, you know, definitionally, they’re not just striking for themselves strikes in general, and especially of that magnitude have ripple effects that can raise standards across industries.
Adam: Let’s talk about that. Because I think that, let’s assume for you know, for a minute that there is this kind of ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, that someone’s listening to this, they say, ‘Okay, well, how does a UPS strike benefit me, a worker,’ I know, of course, that the plan, the next sort of big plan is to unionize Amazon. And obviously, this will have tremendous implications for that. And that’s another, you know, few 100,000 workers. And then of course, there’s, again, these warehouses, and a lot of the cities are the entire economy and various sort of cities throughout the country, that this is the new whatever, car manufacturing, steel, coal, whatever. So that this is now a major American industry, and that it has implications for that, can we talk about how a more militant, more successful strike for UPS would have ramifications for other workers? How it would kind of lift the boats of the working class in general? Because I think that is a question people have.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah, you know, there was a really good article that came out in Jacobin, authored by to UPSers, actually, Sean Orr and Elliot Lewis. And they described like, there’s two visions for America, there’s the Wall Street vision of hyper-surveillance, like low wages, all the bad things we were talking about. And then then there’s the vision for the future of the labor movement. And that’s, you know, job security, wages that are livable, claiming back time that has just been given to the company and just, you know, not breaking your body, not putting yourself at risk. A strike is very inspiring to people, or it can be, when you inspire people to organize and, you know, to use the leverage that they didn’t know they had, and they didn’t know that could work, that the threat of withholding their labor, you know, withholding selling their labor, because that’s what we do is workers can have really major impacts. Yeah, I mean, it kind of poses the opportunity for a labor resurgence and just UPS by itself, if they raise the standards, that could be very, very important for the specific industry. But beyond that, the Tramsters are trying to organize Amazon right now. Amazon is an existential threat to the industry, as well as just the working class in general. But it’s yeah, a strike is very important. You know, and just to bring it back to the consumer thing, you know, at the end of the day, like if a strike happens, you the consumer is probably going to be pissed off. Like, the question is, are you going to be pissed off at the workers? Or are you going to be pissed off at the corporation? And that existential question is really like, which side are you on? Yeah, and the media’s framing of you, the reader, as like, the consumer is sort of a way of making that decision for you, like you talked about, Adam, like, the consumer is sort of this atomized agent. It’s true, and but they’re also supposed to be a part of this, like larger community, like the corporate community, the economy. And I’m watching this situation somewhat hopeful that if there is a strike, you know, like in 1997, workers will take control of their own stories, they will win the hearts of minds of the public and make them realize that they’re workers first and a strike is good for them. And in my opinion, like helping people understand that would be like the real public service journalism.
Nima: Well, yeah. And Teddy, the fact that so much of this reporting on potential strikes, goes hand in hand with like, stating how much some workers who might strike make for a living, right, so like, you’ve pointed out that outlets like Fortune and the Daily Mail, reporting on the potential UPS strike, having their headlines, you know, they could strike quote, “even though delivery drivers already earn upwards of $95,000 a year,” end quote, right, so, of course, oftentimes absent from these articles, or the fact that, as you’ve pointed out at the top of this conversation, the vast majority of UPS workers are not drivers. And they can earn as you said, as little as $15.50 an hour. But we see this kind of thing that’s kind of focusing on the highest end potential salary of some workers to then discredit labor movements and the you know, what they’re actually advocating as if you can earn your rights away, right, like at a certain salary threshold. You know, how many hours you work or what the conditions are, what protections you have don’t actually matter. And it’s all just about this like number that makes you unworthy of then other kinds of labor solidarity. Let’s talk about that kind of framework.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah, you know, media appears to love to copy and paste these figures like seemingly directly from corporate press releases. And it, just like a quick funny aside: in 1997, like a UPS paid consultant, made the rounds on network television as a quote-unquote “expert” speaking on the strike and media didn’t reveal that he was literally paid by UPS. So I’m not sure whether they corrected it eventually. But yeah, that kind of shit happens. And you know, anyway, this stuff is pretty infuriating. I don’t know whether it’s disingenuous or you know, like these journalists or business press that are assigned to these stories, and have no idea what they’re writing. So they’re literally just stenographers for these corporations. But you know, that’s why we need more labor reporters. And thankfully, that appears to be changing. But yeah, there’s a couple of things going on here, as I understand it.
I don’t know about you guys, but it seems pretty awesome to me that UPS drivers make that much money. Like I’m like shit, like, I picked the wrong damn job. The fact that they make that much money, you know, I mean, standards around the country will be higher, especially for people who don’t have to, you know, go into debt with a college degree. And frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing that make more. So it puts pressure on, say Amazon, right, to stop exploiting their own drivers, which, as I said, hopefully the Teamsters will organize and these companies can, frankly afford it.
Nima: And they make that much because they have good unions.
Adam: Yeah, well, the biggest sin in the world is to perceive someone who is not, I don’t know, didn’t get a four-year college degree and like —
Nima: Worthy enough, yeah.
Adam: Yeah, they’re not allowed to make six figures, that those are all kind of greedy, lazy, sucking the teat, you know, union grift and it’s like, what do you do? You’re like in marketing, you like, you don’t do anything?
Nima: And how much did the CEO make?
Adam: What do you do, you move numbers around in a screen?
Nima: How much did the company earn? Right? Hundreds of billions of dollars.
Adam: I don’t know. I just think it’s funny because you were like you said, like, it’s an outlier, too, right? It’s not even it’s obviously not an average. And it’s not who they’re really, but it’s like people get they do this a lot in New York City where they’re like, ‘Oh, you know, someone who works at the sanitation department makes $120,000.’ And I just think that viral Tiktok I was like, Good! That’s what they should be making. That’s a normal middle class like comfortable living there and they’re not rich you know, they’re not throwing, you know, Eyes Wide Shut parties. They’re just fucking going on a cruise a couple of weeks a year like, we should all live like that. What the fuck is your problem? Why do you give a shit? You’re getting this deserved and undeserved, like anytime someone who’s perceived as working class, who makes a modest, very modest middle class salary for having you know, two, three kids or whatever, it is just, sound the five-alarm fire, this cannot happen. This cannot be allowed, you know, gotta get these wages down.
Nima: They’re not allowed to ask for anything more. And they don’t deserve anything more.
Adam: Right. Because they didn’t go to the, you know, they didn’t go to the University of Michigan like I did and got a four-year degree in communications or whatever bullshit job the person who’s outraged has.
Teddy Ostrow: I mean, in a different world, it would kind of be like an advertisement. Like shit, Teamsters get $93, $95k a year, that’s pretty dope. But like, it’s kind of, as you started to say, like, the other thing is that the inclusion of these kinds of figures is really just like, the exclusion of many other figures, like, at UPS, specifically, we’ve been talking about 60% of the workforce is part time, and many of them receive poverty wages, like the people live in poverty, you know, they work multiple jobs in order to live. Meanwhile, these articles either completely exclude or put it at the second-to-last paragraph that like UPS made $100 billion in revenue last year, nearly $14 billion in profit and the CEO, Carol Tome, she made $19 million. So those figures, when you have that context, you know, it starts to change the calculations in your head a little bit.
The other thing is, regardless of the money, you know, more importantly, I think, and we see this in the case of nurses, the case of teachers in the case of UPS drivers. Yeah, money is important, but it’s not. It’s often really not about money, like nurses’ strikes are famously about staffing ratios to protect themselves and their patients from harm.
Adam: Those greedy staffing ratios.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah, like nurses in schools like the teachers are trying to stop the destruction of public schools. This is a public service, to try to strike for that. You know, UPS drivers are not complaining about money. Part-timers definitely are. But drivers, they’re complaining about not having lives, like not having enough, you know, schedule stability to make doctor’s appointments. They’re complaining that their bodies are being destroyed by years of carrying 70-pound packages and being yelled at by their supervisor to move faster, and really all you have to do to understand this is just open your frickin’ ears, like talk to a worker and really hear what they have to say because I have to tell you, I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of UPS, there’s many of them are drivers. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single one even mentioned or raised as a major demand of theirs in this contract campaign, not a single one. So I don’t know where the hell these journalists are hearing this, like, I’m pretty sure they’re just getting this stuff from the corporations. But you know, that’s not really the job of a labor journalist, or I don’t think it should be of any type of journalist.
Adam: Well, that means that does, again, raises the question of like, you know, this article is on a vertical called CNN Business. And of course, there’s not a CNN Labor. There’s such a thing as “business reporting,” and there’s maybe a handful of labor journalists throughout, you know, in these various publications, I don’t think CNN has a labor journalist. I know, I think the Washington Post does now. So it’s, you know, when you have an industry that’s basically 50 to one, you know, generously, with, like, quote, unquote, “business journalists,” because that’s, again, that’s who CNN courts right there, they’re a corporate network, they’re gonna court corporations, corporate sponsors, you know, UAE propaganda, whatever. Like, there’s just always going to be that asymmetry because of the genre. And so the people that work in those verticals don’t question the genre, it’s just sort of seen as an axiom that, ‘oh, we need to center the quote unquote, consumer,’ even though that’s a deeply ideological and deeply reactionary assumption. But it’s sort of baked into the reporting genre, to their professional norms. And so the idea that you would say, again, you would get, ‘how will the UPS affect your packages,’ but you will never get ‘how will the UPS strike affect you, as a member of the working class?’ Like that would be unheard of. Right? Because that’s the latter is seen as ideological, the former is sort of seeing like, gravity or the tides, it’s just natural.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I am somewhat hopeful, you know, the business press is gonna just be the business press. And I feel like I’ve done my fair share of reading of it, you know, because I also cover financial and economic issues. And I, like, you know, as a listener of your podcast, I’m sort of like, I can read it and not be completely infuriated. I can read between the lines, but something hopeful is that there are appearing to be more labor journalists who actually unpack this stuff and cover it from the side of the workers, which I think, you know, if journalists are supposed to hold the powerful accountable, then there really, you can’t cover it from the corporation side, there’s a complete asymmetry. And so lots of them are freelancers, but some of them are getting staff jobs. And we already have seen I, you know, I haven’t gone back and read all of the articles for 1997. Again, you should go read Deepa Kumar’s book to talk about that and read about it. But it looks like there are at least more people in mainstream media outlets who are willing to cover it from that side.
But like, you know, I just got sent a photo from a guy in Oklahoma, where it’s 110 degrees. And he like, I’ve never seen this before, he concocted his own thing that he put in his van. That is, I don’t know, it’s literally a homemade air conditioner. And he told me that it reduced the temperature in the cab by seven degrees. And he’s like, I have like, this guy specific guy has seven kids. He’s like, you know, ‘I can’t afford to die. I need to take care of my children. I don’t want to die.’ And so they’re left to have these makeshift things that you know, apparently is too much to ask for according to corporate media.
Adam: ‘I can’t afford to die’ should be on the tombstone of every worker. ‘I can’t afford to die.’ That’s like I literally, I can’t leave my children destitute. I just want to live. That’s it.
Nima: Yeah. And yet A/C is a luxury that is not afforded by a $100 billion corporation.
Adam: Is there no end to the insatiable greed —
Nima: Od the worker who just doesn’t want to die?
Adam: Of the worker trying to go from 110 to 95 degrees?
Nima: Yeah, exactly. Unbelievable. But Teddy, this has been so great. Cannot thank you enough for joining us today on this Citations Needed News Brief. Before we let you go, can you tell our listeners just a little bit more about the Upsurge podcast and any other work that you have coming up that we should look out for?
Teddy Ostrow: Sure. Yeah, thanks. You know, please check out the Upsurge podcast, you can find it on all platforms. We’ve been working really hard on it for almost like seven months now. We unpack Teamsters, history, UPS history, the stakes, the issues of this current moment, and, you know, we always broaden out the implications to the rest of the labor movement, because it’s called the Upsurge because there’s a hope, right? That a strike at UPS can be somewhat catalytic for a broader labor upsurge that we don’t know has happened until it happens, right? And, yeah, for Christ’s sake, support our Patreon, please, you know, follow the Upsurge on Twitter, my Twitter, follow In These Times and The Real News, which are our partners, and we’ll be covering this closely. So to get up to speed, just binge our nine episodes, it’s mostly rank-and-file voices, people you rarely hear from in corporate media.
Nima: We follow your work very closely, whether it’s in FAIR or on your pod and elsewhere, and you’re doing amazing work. So thank you so much. We’ve been speaking with Teddy Ostrow, a journalist from Brooklyn New York covering labor and economics. He’s the host of the Upsurge podcast, can’t spell “upsurge” without UPS, and his work has appeared in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Nation, New Republic, many other places. Check it out. Teddy, thank you so much again for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Teddy Ostrow: Thanks, guys.
Nima: And that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. We will be back very soon with more full-length episodes of the show, so stay tuned for that. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/citationsneededpodcast. . We are 100% listener funded and cannot thank you enough for supporting us if you do, but that will do it. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed’s senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Our producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. The newsletter is by Marco Cartolano. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.
This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Wednesday, July 5, 2023.