In a 2021 interview with the New York Times, UPS CEO Carol Tomé made a striking claim: She no longer believed in the godfather of trickle-down economics. “For a long time, I was sort of a Milton Friedman person: ‘The purpose of the corporation is to create value for the shareholder.’ I’m very much now of the belief that if you take care of the needs of all stakeholders, you actually create value for the share price. And taking care of the needs of all the stakeholders includes your employees.”
The change of heart was a remarkable admission for a C-suite executive who had paid little public attention to the question of workers rights during her two decades as a leader in corporate America. Yet even as Tomé positioned herself as a friend of the workers who make her company run, she continued to donate money to national Republicans set on gutting worker power and maximizing salaries for America’s top earners.
Tomé has donated over $70,000 in the past decade to national politicians and committees set on rolling back union protections, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission. While Tomé has also made donations in recent years to Democratic candidates like Stacey Abrams and the voting rights group Fair Fight PAC, those contributions represent just a small fraction of her overall political giving — and she has made far bigger donations to politicians who are weakening voting rights in Georgia, where UPS is headquartered.
UPS did not respond to requests for comment.
Tomé’s professed realignment follows her appointment in 2020 to the top job at UPS, a company with 340,000 members represented by the powerful, and newly revitalized, Teamsters union. Talks between UPS management and the Teamsters over a new contract broke down earlier this month, pushing the union ever closer to a strike on August 1, authorized by over 97 percent of union membership.
The Teamsters’ militant President Sean O’Brien, who was elected last year, said in a June statement that the Teamsters are not playing chicken with threats of a strike and that UPS should meet the union’s demands to avoid what would be the largest U.S. work stoppage since the 1950s.
“Executives at UPS, some of whom get tens of millions of dollars a year, do not care about the hundreds of thousands of American workers who make this company run,” O’Brien said. “They don’t care about our members’ families. UPS doesn’t want to pay up. Their actions and insults at the bargaining table have proven they are just another corporation that wants to keep all the money at the top.”
The unresolved issues in the contract negotiation are increased wages for part-time workers, who make up the majority of UPS employees, and offering those same employees a path to full-time employment. Workers and UPS management have already hammered out an agreement to provide cooling systems in new UPS vehicles and to eliminate the current two-tier wage system, which creates a vast difference in pay between junior and senior employees.
In 2022, Tomé’s total compensation package was valued at $19 million. That same year, she donated $36,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports the campaigns of GOP Senate candidates across the country. Tomé’s NRSC donation followed prior donations to GOP senators, including $5,600 to former Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in 2019, $5,400 to Sen. David Perdue, also of Georgia, that same year, and $1,000 hat tips to GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and Susan Collins. She also donated $5,400 to Florida Sen. Rick Scott in 2018.
For decades, Senate Republicans have worked to roll back union rights to lower wages and increase the profits of corporate donors, like Tomé, who fill their campaign coffers. In a testament to this commitment, Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch sponsored legislation last month to strip unions of the right to enact work stoppages at ports, one of the most effective tools in the arsenal of the West Coast longshoremen’s union, which has held stoppages and slowdowns to maintain some of the highest blue-collar wages in America.
Last year, Senate Republicans similarly lashed out at America’s rail workers by voting against a deal negotiated by former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to increase sick days and avert a widespread work stoppage with the potential to disrupt hundreds of miles of U.S. rail. And, in 2021, Senate Republicans introduced national “right-to-work” legislation, which would eviscerate unions by suspending required worker dues.
Tomé has also spread cash around Georgia state politics. In 2017, she donated $1,000 to then-gubernatorial candidate Abrams, one of the few Democrats whose campaigns Tomé has supported. (She donated $2,500 to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and in 2021, $2,900 to Sen. Chuck Schumer and $1,000 to Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes.) Abrams lost to Gov. Brian Kemp, who is notorious for his efforts to gut voting rights in the state. While Tomé made a $2,500 contribution in 2020 to the Fair Fight PAC, which advocates for expanded voter rights, she went on to donate $7,600 to Kemp the following year.
In 2021, Kemp signed a law that limited absentee ballot access, placed restrictions on food and water in voting lines, and limited the use of ballot drop boxes. He also joined fellow Republican governors to oppose tax credits for workers in America’s auto unions. “We are deeply concerned that Congress is considering legislation that gives union labor a competitive advantage over non-union labor in the electric vehicle market,” the governors wrote. “This legislation is not about supporting emerging technology but is instead a punitive attempt to side with labor unions at the cost of both American workers and consumers.”
As the August 1 strike looms, UPS announced this month that it would delay Tomé’s quarterly earnings call with shareholders until August 8, the latest the call has ever been scheduled since the company first went public in 1999. On her last call with shareholders, the CEO said she was confident a deal was in reach. “While we expect to hear a great deal of noise during the negotiations, I remain confident that a win, win, win contract is very achievable and that UPS and the Teamsters will reach an agreement by the end of July.”