“It’s sort of funny. You laugh about it because there’s nothing else you can do. But it’s actually pretty sad, too, because guys get mental issues,” Elliot Lewis said. “I know a guy who quit the job because he was paranoid.”

Matt Leichenger explained that the job had made him paranoid, too. His supervisor drove a gray Ford Explorer, he said, and the sight of that vehicle had started to haunt him. “I was constantly on the lookout for this gray Ford Explorer, because I was, like, ‘Are they following me?’ ” he said. “Even when I was off the job, when I’d see a gray Ford Explorer I’d look to see who was driving.”

The drivers explained that their workday does not end until they have tried to deliver every parcel in their package car, and the unpredictability of this schedule can lead to tensions at home. “We always say we have a start time but no finish time,” Andrews said. He added that “a lot of people get divorces,” and soon afterward he mentioned his ex-wife. “When I would say, ‘Hey, I’m working,’ at ten o’clock, she’s, like, ‘You’re not possibly delivering a package at that time.’ But I was!” he said. “So it will definitely cause an issue at home.”

Before long, most of the men had left the room, and only Andrews and Santiago remained. “You want to hear something, bro?” Santiago asked Andrews. He began talking about his children, how he used to miss school events all the time, how they would be in bed when he got home. “I missed a lot of good things with my kids,” he said.

Andrews said, “How many times you’ll make a delivery at someone’s door at five-thirty, and they open up the door, and you see the family at the dinner table. And they’ll say, ‘Hey, you want to come in? There’s space for you.’ ”

“You know what it’s like to make deliveries in the summertime, to look at a guy on his front porch having his beer?” Santiago said. “I’m, like, ‘Wow, I wonder what that feels like.’ Not to say that I want to drink, but it’s just, like, these people live a normal life.” He added, “This job takes a lot from you.”

On a Sunday morning not long ago, Local 804 held its last general-membership meeting of 2022, at a union hall in Nassau County. Any other organization that held a Sunday-morning meeting would likely have to contend with members straggling in late, but by ten o’clock there were three hundred Teamsters packed inside—a hundred of them standing at the back. Perrone, his executive board, and business agents were seated on a dais, facing the members. “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield, blasted from speakers: “There’s battle lines being drawn . . .”

The meeting started with Perrone calling the union’s newest members to the front of the hall. “You guys are just starting out. These gentlemen sitting here,” Perrone said, referring to a group of older men seated in the front row, “they’re retired. They made their twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five years in this company. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” He added, “Just do the job right.” Perrone administered the Teamsters oath, and, when the new members finished reciting it, the crowd stood and applauded them.

“This is a contract year,” Perrone continued. “It’s very, very important that we pay attention to what’s going on.” He added, “As we always say, if you don’t participate, you can’t complain. We don’t want to hear it.” He mentioned the pay of UPS part-timers—“They deserve better!”—and then segued into a favorite topic: TomĂ©’s compensation package. “They won’t pay our members across the country a living wage, but you know what? C.E.O.s can have a twenty-seven-million-dollar benefit package per year. That’s not going to fly in 2023!”

The room erupted in applause. (UPS said that this figure is a “significant overstatement” and gave another figure for the value of TomĂ©’s total 2021 compensation package: “15.2 million.”)

In recent months, the Teamsters’ talk about their coming contract fight has become increasingly militant, but the union is heavily invested in UPS’s success. Local 804’s quarterly newsletter advises workers not only on how to file grievances but also on how to be reliable employees. One example: “Maintain good attendance, report to work on time every day, and never have no call /no show unless you’re in a coma.” And, as Amit Mehrotra, of Deutsche Bank, explained, UPS’s business strategy is inextricable from its unionized workforce. He mentioned the UPS driver who delivers to his home, in Atlanta: “he’s a great guy, and he’s been doing it for many, many years.” The driver in the brown uniform is key to UPS’s success, he believes, because “the most successful logistics companies are the ones that offer the best service.”

Mehrotra added, “Essentially, UPS’s success is tied to the long-term viability of its union labor, and the long-term viability of the union labor vis-Ă -vis the Teamsters is tied to the success of UPS. And how refreshing it would be if folks can enter these negotiations with that mind-set of ‘Hey, let’s try to figure out a win-win situation, because my success is your success and your success is my success.’ ”

The tenor in the union hall, however, was far more combative. Perrone mentioned that some of Local 804’s clerks were at risk of being moved to other positions, and added, “We’re not going to just lay down and let them take clerk jobs away!” Perrone turned the meeting over to members to ask questions, and those who wanted to speak formed a line in the center aisle. A seventeen-year UPS veteran eventually got his turn. While everyone else had addressed their words to Local 804’s leaders, this man walked around the microphone stand so that he could speak directly to his fellow-Teamsters.

The room went silent. Many of the union members knew his story: he was a former driver who had been shot while on his route two years earlier, in Queens. (A teen-ager in a stolen car, reportedly angry about how the driver had double-parked, fired a .22-calibre pistol and hit him in the stomach.) Afterward, he could no longer work as a driver. The union lobbied for many months to get him a new position, and he now works as a porter at a UPS building.

“Vinnie did the oath for the new members,” he said. Looking out over the crowd, he exhorted his fellow union members to stick together in the coming months, to not let their managers divide them. “My question to us is: How are we going to help them”—the union leaders at the front—“get us the best contract for 2023?” he said. “That’s the question we should all go home, talk to our families, meditate on, and, Monday morning, come in and fight. Because we need better language for everyone, from driver to preloader. We got to help each other out, brothers and sisters. We will not survive if we don’t.” ♦