Back to the 19th century at UPS

December 8, 2017

Workers of the logistics world need to come together to stop dangerous conditions, like UPS's 70-hour workweek for drivers, writes a UPS Teamster.

UNITED PARCEL Service (UPS) is proving that it will go to any length to make profits this busy holiday shipping season--and the people who work for the multibillion-dollar logistics giant are paying the price.

UPS has implemented a mandatory 70-hour workweek for Teamsters who drive the brown trucks called package cars.

Drivers already worked 60-hour workweeks--the maximum allowed by the Department of Transportation, but UPS found a loophole in the law and now can work drivers 70 hours. All that matters is how many stops per day UPS can force a driver to do. More stops means more profits.

Sixty hours is already dangerous enough, with workers lifting up to a ton of packages a day on a grueling schedule. The safety of drivers as well as the public is in jeopardy due to this overwork.

UPS management used to pretend it cared about safety by making us memorize safety questions and requiring workers take part in a yearly practice evacuation. Now, it doesn't even bother pretending as it drives workers to keep up a frenzied pace to keep packages moving through the UPS system.

An overloaded UPS facility
An overloaded UPS facility

And if a worker is hurt in the process, management has a policy of blaming the injured victims instead of its own unsafe and dangerous production schedules.

THESE LAST few years have been miserable at UPS. There is no longer a slow period. Volume is high year-round--and off the charts during peak season, which begins after Thanksgiving and now has been extended into January.

On many different rank-and-file Teamster Facebook pages, UPS workers tell their horror stories and exchange information that paints a picture of a company-wide pattern of speedup and overwork.

At Louisville's Worldport air hub, workers have to wait in long lines to get searched before they can get in the building--and then they have vast distances to travel inside before they can clock in. The same is true when leaving work. All of this is unpaid time.

Last week, at the CACH facility outside of Chicago, a fire broke out that filled a section of the building with smoke. Management refused to evacuate the building, though it eventually evacuated the area where the fire was raging.

What you can do

Sign the petition sponsored by Teamsters United against the 70-hour workweek at UPS.

Dense clouds of smoke lingered in the facility, which workers had to breathe in. Toxic and hazardous packages are routinely sent through UPS, and it is possible that the fire could have been toxic--and as management should know, breathing in smoke can injure or kill you as easily as the flames can.

Yet managers had people work through the fire to keep the building operating.

A company willing to expose workers to a fire thinks nothing of forcing them to work dangerously long days and nights. Workers have seen their workload significantly increase over these last few years.

This peak season is the warning alarm that workers at UPS need to stop this onslaught by the company or it will only get worse. Management is trying to force workers to work six days a week during peak season. This will be a major step backward if they are able to get away with this.

Many workers have been doing voluntary overtime inside their buildings for almost the whole year. Package car drivers as well as feeder drivers have been working mandatory overtime over many years.

Some workers want and need the extra money, even if it means they hardly have any time outside of work. But that's part of the problem--working 50, 60 and 70 hours a week means people aren't making enough to live comfortably on a 40-hour week.

Also, with workers working more, the company is using fewer workers, and that means less money for our underfunded pension plans. It also means the union has fewer workers and is weaker--which wouldn't be the case if more workers were working a 40-hour week.

Besides overworking union employees, the company has been using nonunion subcontractors to drive trailers year-round, a clear violation of the contract with the Teamsters.

UPS has been apologizing to customers for not being prepared for the high volume during the peak season. But this is because the company relies on too few workers working harder and faster most of the year.

Seasonal employees don't make enough money, and many quit in disgust when they see how horrible the working conditions are and how low their pay is.

Other UPS workers mistakenly take pride that they work long hours in terrible conditions--as if it is a badge of honor to be abused by management. These ideas need to be countered with union principles of fighting for higher wages and benefits, full-time jobs for part-timers and a shorter workday.

During the eight-hour movement of 1880s, the demand was for an eight-hour day with pay equal to 12 hours of work. We need to argue for that, but before we get there, we need to stop the company from instituting a 70-hour workweek.

TEAMSTERS UNITED, the slate that almost beat Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa and his old guard in the last election in 2016, is circulating a petition demanding that Hoffa stand up against the 70-hour week. Within the first day, it got thousands of signatures. Hoffa was forced to write a letter to UPS CEO and Chair David Abney, which read:

While implementation of the new work schedule breaches the company's commitment to inform the union of changes and provide the opportunity for discussions, the more serious betrayal is to the workers who will be required to work inhumane hours, subjecting them to increased chance of injury, and depriving them of time to prepare themselves and their families for the holidays. The company's lack of concern for their well-being is inexcusable...

I assure you the union will make every effort at the bargaining table to ensure that its members will not have to pay the price for the company's mismanagement in the future.

Hoffa concludes that this issue will be taken up in the next contract negotiations. But we can't wait that long--we need action now!

Letters and contracts are worthless pieces of paper unless they're enforced by our real power. A great example of using the union's power was the 1997 nationwide Teamsters strike at UPS that shut down the logistics system.

This year, on December 4, some New England Teamster locals rallied against the 70-hour week. Local 251 in Providence, Rhode Island, had a parking lot rally outside of their hub instead of doing what management wanted and starting work earlier than scheduled.

It's actions like these that can help convince other workers that fighting back is possible. But they aren't enough on their own.

The logistic industry has expanded astronomically in these last few years. Amazon is nonunion and treats its workers like expendable machines. This isn't just a U.S. phenomenon, but is happening all over the world. Recently, in Italy, unionized Amazon warehouse workers facing similar concerns that we have in the U.S. went on strike during peak season.

Bosses from all of the logistic companies are in a battle for control of a worldwide market. As they war among themselves, they also are intensifying their attack on their own workers.

We need to organize the unorganized at Amazon and FedEx, but to do that, we need to stop UPS's attacks on us.

UPS management hates an active union and has relied on a compliant national Teamsters leadership for almost 20 years. But that status quo is in trouble. Even the most complacent pro-company workers are becoming disgruntled or burnt out.

Workers of the logistics world need to unite and organize against the bosses. If we don't, we have a bleak future in store for us--one that we can already see with UPS's latest attacks on its workers.

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