"We have exhausted every possible approach to try to resolve the problem," Teamsters President Ron Carey declared as he left the bargaining table late Sunday night. "At this point it's just a waste of time."
Workers at UPS offices and distributions centers around the country walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. EDT. A union spokesman said all 206 locals that represent UPS workers were on strike.
The strike by 185,000 Teamsters at UPS threatened to interrupt package deliveries for hundreds of thousands of businesses across the country. UPS handles 12 million parcels and documents a day, and analysts say rival carriers won't be able to absorb the overflow.
The talks fell apart after about two hours of discussions Sunday.
Pickets were quickly formed at UPS facilities from Atlanta, New York, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky., and in other cities: Dallas, Des Moines, Ia., Columbus, Ohio, Milwaukee, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Phoenix, Ariz.
"UPS is a great company, and they make so much money because we work so hard," said Ralph Vernon, 47, a driver at UPS' New York hub with 27 years in company. "It's only fair that we get a share of it."
Dave Murray, UPS' chief negotiator called the Teamsters' action "highly irresponsible" and called on union leaders to submit the offer _ which had remained unchanged since Wednesday _ for a vote.
"Instead of setting up picket lines, they should be sending that final offer out for a vote," Murray said. "Let the people decide."
Murray said the company would try to move priority packages _ including hospital deliveries and perishables _ with a limited workforce. Asked if the company would hire replacement workers, he said "we haven't come to those decisions yet."
Around the nation, local UPS managers began planning to move boxes themselves while drivers and sorters geared up for the pickets.
"This is our stand against big business," said Paul McAuliffe, a driver from Local 804 in Long Island City, N.Y.
In Omaha, Neb., Tim Sullivan, UPS' district human resources manager, said that management employes were ready to drive some of the trucks. "This is something we've been trying to avoid," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service warned its employes to expect "an extraordinary increase" in parcel mail. It directed that customers be limited to four parcels per visit until the UPS strike is resolved. "The Postal Service looks forward to this opportunity to serve new customers," Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said in a statement.
The Independent Pilots Association, which represents UPS' 2,000 pilots, issued a statement saying they would honor the Teamsters strike, effectively grounding the company's domestic jets. The company's overseas operations were not affected.
UPS and the union talked for a little over two hours Sunday evening, but shortly after 10:00 p.m. Carey emerged and said the talks were getting nowhere and were "a waste of time."
The company's offer included 1,000 more full-time jobs as well as increased wages and benefits.
Carey repeated that the union would sign no deal that didn't include limits on subcontracting and more full-time jobs. Some two-thirds of the Teamsters at UPS are part-timers.
"There was no progress made in the areas that are extremely critical to our members," he said. "Part-time America just won't work. A half a job is not enough."
The Teamsters contract covers nearly two-thirds of the delivery service's 302,000 U.S. employees. Their contract expired last Thursday.
Labor Secretary Alexis Herman issued a statement urging both sides to return to the bargaining table.
"UPS and Teamsters representatives should press on and not rest until they find the common ground that resolves this dispute with the least disruption and inconvenience for everyone involved," Herman said.
After 15 hours of intensive talks over two days with federal mediator John Calhoun Wells, Carey left the bargaining table Friday, saying he was frustrated by the lack of progress. The union submitted a revised proposal Saturday night, including new offers regarding full-time positions and wages.
After promising talks in the middle of last week, union officials speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company abruptly took a hard line.
In addition to the union's demands, another sticking point was the company's desire to withdraw from the Teamsters' multi-employer pension and health funds. The company said its employees would benefit, but union officials say they told UPS that such a move would be a deal killer.
The Teamsters-UPS contract is the largest labor pact up for negotiation this year. The last comparable job action that idled workers nationwide was an 18-day walkout in March 1996 by 2,700 workers at two General Motors Corp. brake factories. That strike brought GM assembly plants to a standstill, idling 177,000 workers.
A lengthy UPS strike could prove costly to both sides.
The company already has laid off 1,000 workers because business was down about 8 percent as jittery customers shifted business to rival carriers.
With more than 185,000 union members at UPS, an extended strike could cost the union about $10 million weekly. Striking Teamsters are eligible for $55 in weekly strike benefits after the first week on the line.
Consumers and businesses that ship goods via UPS would feel the pinch. UPS' closest competitor, Federal Express Corp., handles just 2.4 million packages daily. Analysts say FedEx and the Postal Service wouldn't be able to handle the extra volume.
The company said that in addition to a modest wage increase, the offer it made Wednesday included a $3,060 bonus for full-time employees and $1,530 for part-timers. Full-time UPS drivers earn $19.95 an hour on average.
UPS also said it would create 1,000 new full-time jobs and give part-timers a leg up in applying for full-time positions when they become open. The Teamsters demanded more full-time jobs.