Last week, the Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the US, voted to ratify a contract with UPS. The five-year deal includes wage increases and historic new protections for working in high temperatures for UPS’s employees. UPS is the largest parcel delivery company in North America. The company generated over $100 billion in revenue in their last financial year.
There is an interesting back story to the heat protection clauses. Theresa Klenk, a nurse and the wife of a long-time UPS driver – started drawing national attention to the need for air conditioning in UPS trucks over 5 years ago. She started her petition in 2018 after her husband nearly died of heat stroke on the job. The petition, run by Change.org, was signed by more than 1.3 million people.
The decision, which more than 86% of UPS union members who voted supported, removes the threat of a strike at United Parcel Service. A protracted work stoppage would have caused widespread supply chain disruptions across the U.S. There is no way that FedEx, the United States Postal Service, and regional carriers could have picked up the slack.
UPS, like many companies, claim that their “people are their most valuable asset. This claim was made again in UPS’s last annual report. Carol Tome, the chief executive officer at UPS, wrote in a letter to shareholders that UPS is a “customer first, people led, innovation driven” company. She claimed “it is important to us that every UPSer views our company as a great place to work.” Theresa Klerk’s petition, which started in July of 2018, was an articulate plea to UPS to align their rhetoric with the reality faced by their workforce.
“As a nurse of 20 years, I’ve seen dozens of patients who have suffered from heat stroke. In the summer of 2016, my husband — a UPS delivery driver — was one of them.
UPS does not provide air conditioning for their drivers — even in the blistering summer heat. Join me in demanding that UPS keep their employees safe by adding AC to their delivery trucks.
After several days of working in the humid August heat in 2016, my husband woke up feeling ill. Hours later, he was in the emergency room and his kidneys were failing. My husband was re-hydrated and stabilized by a team of doctors. He was one of the lucky ones.
Drivers like my husband are at incredibly high-risk during summer months, when temperatures in their trucks can climb to 180 degrees. As a result, they can face dehydration and heat stroke, which can have life-threatening consequences.
Because UPS won’t protect their employees, drivers like my husband are forced to protect themselves. He tries to save his vacation for the hottest weeks of the year, but it’s nearly impossible to predict. After 14 years as a dedicated employee of UPS, I can’t believe my husband has to worry about his safety at work.
UPS: We know you care about your service, now show us that you also care about your people. No one should have to go to work not knowing if they are going to make it home.”
The Teamsters took up the banner of worker safety during the negotiations. The union hammered UPS on Twitter with the Teamsters urging union Twitter followers to “EXPOSE UPS INACTION ON HEAT SAFETY.”
The New Contract
The new agreement eliminates a two-tiered wage system and institutes raises across UPS’ workforce. Current full- and part-time union workers are guaranteed a $2.75 hourly pay increase this year, which will total $7.50 in hourly increases over the duration of the contract. The pay for existing and starting part-time workers will be raised to at least $21 an hour immediately, advancing to $23 per hour. Wage increases for full-time drivers would bring their average top rate to $49 an hour, the union said.
UPS had long resisted calls to add air conditioning to its fleet. The new contract includes an agreement to gradually equip the company’s fleet of vehicles with air conditioning systems, new heat shields, and additional fans. The agreement requires in-cab air conditioning in most UPS delivery vehicles purchased after Jan. 1, 2024. Two fans would also be installed in package cars, which make up most of the company’s 93,000-vehicle fleet. Newer vehicles would also be equipped with exhaust heat shields.
Existing and newly purchased package cars would be fitted with air induction vents to alleviate extreme temperatures in the back of the vehicles where cargo is loaded and unloaded. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors have documented heat indexes of 126, and temperature readings provided to NBC News taken by workers in their trucks in Arizona and Florida have shown temperatures above 150 degrees. More than 100 UPS workers have been hospitalized for heat illnesses in recent years, with some, like Mr. Torme, falling so ill that they neared kidney failure.
The contract should be viewed only as an important first step because the phase in is gradual and it does not include air conditioning in their warehouses. Amazon and other third-party logistics companies have faced pressure to make warehouse work safer during heat waves. This contract could serve to ramp up pressure on other leading companies to improve heat-related safety for logistics workers.