UPS Teamsters ready to stage America's biggest strike since 1997, with solidarity as the main sticking point

Unionized UPS Teamsters — 260,000 of them — are set to strike in the biggest American strike since UPS's unionized drivers walked out in 1997.

Superficially, the issue is about the company moving to seven-day delivery, but the issue that's forcing the strike is the sizable cohort of union members who are unwilling to accept a two-tier workplace where established workers get the full protection of the union and younger hires are given a worse deal. This has been a traditional way that employers have split, weakened and ultimately killed their workers' unions — by buying off the long-established employees with better deals that make the workers who'll replace them feel that unions have nothing to offer them, which establishes divisions that can be exploited later to lay off those higher-paid workers, leaving only the lowest-paid employees and no union they can use to press for better pay.

It seems like some of UPS's Teamsters have figured out that solidarity pays.

One proposal on the negotiating table is to create a two-tier wage system that would take part-time workers who earn $15 an hour and make them full-time at the same wage. Existing full-time drivers now earn an average of $36 an hour, or roughly $75,000 a year.

The Teamsters are divided on this proposal, which makes it harder to reach a deal and avoid a strike.

America may soon face its biggest labor strike in decades
[Chris Isidore/CNN Money]