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Year in Review: 1997

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Re-rank the list of top news stories of 1997

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Princess Diana's death stuns the world

Weld steps out -
Cellucci steps forward

Mother Teresa is laid
to rest at age 87

Chinese rule returns
to Hong Kong

Supreme Court strikes
down 'Net decency act

UPS strike disrupts thousands of firms

Heaven's Gate cult commits mass suicide

Mars Pathfinder explores Red Planet

Ellen comes out, marking a first in TV

For the first time, a mammal is cloned


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UPS strike disrupts thousands of firms

By Diane E. Lewis, Globe Staff, 08/04/97

A striking UPS worker walks the picket line outside the Somerville UPS office. A striking UPS worker walks the picket line outside the Somerville UPS office.

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Teamsters' victory seen as watershed


SOMERVILLE - Teamsters formed picket lines outside United Parcel Service package delivery sites throughout Massachusetts yesterday in the first day of a nationwide strike that sent thousands of businesses scrambling for other ways to transport goods.

About 185,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters walked off jobs yesterday morning after a deadlock over subcontracting, pensions, part-time jobs, and safety.

While the Teamsters say as many as 6,000 struck UPS stations in Norwood, Somerville, Watertown, Chelmsford, Pittsfield, Brockton, Deerfield, Springfield, and West Springfield, UPS officials put the number at closer to 3,000.

''We're out here because we work hard, and we don't want to be treated like second-class citizens,'' said Chris Justice, a 22-year-old UPS driver who marched with about 25 others outside the UPS Somerville site on Third Avenue.

''[UPS] wants more part-time people,'' said David J. MacDonald, 30, a full-time driver and 9-year UPS veteran. ''If I'm surrounded by part-timers, then I'm the one they'll headhunt a few years from now.''

UPS negotiator David Murray said yesterday that the company would make no concessions and urged the Clinton administration to intervene. However, White House spokesman Michael McCurry said the president would not order the strikers back to work.

The strike at UPS, which is by far the biggest package delivery company in the nation, left all but the largest firms worrying about finding alternative ways to deliver their goods.

Lands' End, the Wisconsin-based catalog retailer, used the Postal Service's priority mail to ship orders normally handled by UPS. The company told customers to expect delays.

Maine lobster dealers held back on their perishable shipments, fearing that alternate carriers would be unable to ensure timely delivery. ''Everybody you talk to is not shipping. You wouldn't dare to,'' said Peter McAleney of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, which sends crustaceans worldwide.

Locally, companies turned to Federal Express, Airborne Express, the US Postal Service, and smaller courier firms.

At Geerlings & Wade in Canton, a mail-order wine company that serves some 300,000 customers nationally, president Jay Essa said other delivery services would transport wine to customers in seven of the 21 states where the company does business. Geerlings & Wade uses its trucks to transport wine to customers in Massachusetts and 11 other states.

Some large companies, regarded as high priority because of the products they make and the size of their deliveries, saw no change in UPS service yesterday.

At Cognos in Burlington, a manufacturer of business intelligence software that is used to access and analyze corporate data, UPS trucks picked up packages in the morning and afternoon. The trucks were driven by nonunion managers.

''UPS has said that we are an essential business and so it will do all it can to deliver our packages,'' said Cognos spokeswoman Roberta Carlton. ''We send 1,800 packages by way of UPS each month, which has assured us of a priority status right now.''

The disruption for many businesses was compounded as shippers found themselves overwhelmed. Many package delivery firms limited the number of packages they would accept. Seattle-based Airborne, for example, said it would only serve longtime customers who also rely on UPS for some deliveries.

Faced with the prospect of receiving more packages than it can handle, the US Postal Service limited the number of parcels taken at local Post Offices to no more than four per customer.

Although the Postal Service processes an average of 600 million pieces of mail daily, a spokesman said the service handles only 10 percent of the package delivery market. UPS, by contrast, controls 80 percent of the market. The remaining 10 percent is handled by such companies as Federal Express and Airborne.

Yesterday, Federal Express said it is limiting its acceptance of new customers to drop off locations. The company said all of its business service offices in Boston were closed yesterday by 6:30 p.m. because of unusually high traffic volume. Ordinarily, these locations are open until 8:30 p.m.

Last week it appeared that the strike would be averted when UPS and union negotiators appeared close to an agreement, but tensions rose after UPS presented a last and best offer that contained a provision to remove company funds from the Teamsters multiemployer pension plan. The company says it invests about $1.6 billion in the fund yearly. The union rejected the offer and talks broke down late last week.

''I think working people have been taking it on the chin long enough,'' Teamsters president Ron Carey told CNN yesterday. ''It's a crime that they have forced our members into a strike.''

Businesses were not the only casualties of yesterday's strike. Four picketers - including Justice, the UPS driver - were arrested in Somerville on disorderly conduct charges after attempting to prevent a truck driven by a UPS manager from operating. Two other strikers were arrested on misdemeanor charges outside a UPS station in Norwood.


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