The longest session of mediated talks held since 185,000 Teamsters struck the package delivery giant 12 days ago came Thursday as the company suggested there was room for compromise.
The talks recessed about 1:30 a.m. EDT today "to allow some complex mathematical data to be run," said David Helfert, spokesman for the federal mediator. Negotiators agreed to meet again at 8 a.m.
Susan King, a special assistant to Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, confirmed that the break was called to give the participants some much-needed rest while other officials continued to "crunch numbers."
Neither Helfert nor King would characterize the progress of the talks. But the fact that there were new estimates to be run was evidence that some new, concrete proposals had arisen.
"The parties are working hard on the issues. They said we could tell you the talks are substantive and detailed," King said before the recess.
UPS, which normally ships 12 million items daily, has been virtually shut down since the Teamsters went on strike Aug. 4. The two sides failed to reach agreement on a new contract to replace one that expired July 30.
The strike was costing the company $200 million to $300 million a week in business, and the union as of Thursday owed picketers an estimated $10 million in strike benefits.
Other unions have promised to help back the strikers.
The talks were billed as a discussion rather than negotiations when, at Herman's urging, they resumed Thursday morning following a four-day hiatus.
Teamsters President Ron Carey canceled an appearance at a rally in Atlanta Thursday night and Herman canceled plans to attend a homecoming event in Mobile, Ala., as the talks continued.
Herman, who persuaded the parties to return to the table, had said earlier that "their presence here today is a clear signal of their commitment to redouble their efforts to try to reach a settlement."
The Clinton administration has urged both parties to settle their differences but insisted it would not be appropriate to end the strike through direct government intervention.
With significant differences over pensions and part-time workers dividing the union and the company, it was hoped that the off-the-record discussions with a mediator would lead to common ground.
"During informal discussions, we'll talk about anything that anyone wants to talk about, and we'll have the opportunity to talk about anything we want to talk about," UPS chief executive officer James P. Kelly said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.
"If those informal discussions lead us to believe that the negotiations could be concluded at some point in time, then the (company's) 'last, best and final offer' would cease to exist," Kelly said.
Later, the company stressed that while it was exploring all options in the informal talks, there had been no change in its formal negotiating position.
The company has invested a lot of energy in promoting its proposal to boost workers' pensions by withdrawing from the Teamsters multiemployer benefits plans.
Asked if leaving that component out of a final proposal would represent a loss for the company, Kelly said, "If we get an agreement reached that gets our people back to work and allows us to compete long-term, I consider that a gain for us and a gain for our people."
In other strike-related developments:
_Louisville, Ky., police said an officer directing traffic at a union rally outside a UPS air hub Thursday night was hit by a vehicle. A police spokesman said the driver was a Teamster, but he did not know if the motorist was a striking UPS worker. The officer's injuries were not life-threatening.
_In Clarksville, Tenn., a 13-year UPS driver who continued to work despite the strike quit after he reported receiving death threats and told police of a drive-by-shooting at his home. No one was injured. Police were investigating.
_A new poll finds that 55 percent of those surveyed support the Teamsters, compared with 27 percent backing UPS. The USA Today-CNN-Gallup Poll released Thursday also found that 75 percent of the respondents believe the two sides should settle the strike themselves; only 21 favor federal intervention. The poll of 819 adults was conducted Wednesday and Thursday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.