August 1 marked the official opening of the contract renegotiation period between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, representing 340,000 drivers, and United Parcel Service, better known as UPS. This is a major event for the Teamsters; the UPS drivers represent nearly 25% of the union’s 1.2 million dues-paying members.
UPS drivers hit the internet with social media campaign on heat exhaustion
Being a consumer of mostly impulse purchases from online retailers, I am visited by a “package car” from one of the delivery service providers about every other day. To be able to ride inside that metal box, with nothing more than the air blowing as you drive down the road to cool you off, is not something I would be able to handle.
Recently, a video of a UPS delivery driver collapsing outside a house while delivering packages had been making the rounds online. Working in the desert Southwest, where temperatures easily break 110 degrees, can push bodies beyond their limits.
When UPS was confronted by the media over the incident, the company said in a statement to Newsweek: “UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and for the effects of hot weather. Our employee used his training to be aware of his situation and contact his manager for assistance, who immediately provided assistance. We never want our employees to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.”
So why is there no air conditioning in a package car?
Why aren’t UPS package cars equipped with air conditioning? They were not designed to have it. UPS owns the patent for those big brown delivery trucks, along with the infamous Pullman Brown color of their uniforms and a host of other patents. UPS is in the business of delivering packages, not driving down the road in comfort.
Most drivers are stopping so frequently to make deliveries that they would not be able to cool the cab anyway. And the same fan that some drivers jump through hoops (yes, there are hoops) to have installed just changes the “hotbox” from a regular oven into a convection oven.
According to law, the only doors in the truck that must be closed are the bulkhead doors of the package compartment. Apparently, Federal Aviation Administration regulations still cover the packages even after they come off the plane.
UPS has gone to great lengths to ensure that drivers keep the bulkhead doors shut. There are sensors to make sure the door is shut and the driver has his or her seatbelt attached as it travels through the streets. UPS does not want to be fined for an incident in which loose packages fall out of a truck. Apparently there is a conflicting OSHA-mandated safe temperatures regulation.
Why the Teamsters need a good contract with UPS
Let’s go back to the situation at hand with the UPS-Teamsters negotiations. There are quite a few open contracts right now. Contract negotiations have been ongoing between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, which is backed by the Teamsters.
The Class I railroads are in talks as well, recently forced into negotiations by a Presidential Emergency Board after threats of a national strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. That union’s membership has already voted overwhelmingly to strike if suitable terms cannot be reached.
One reason the Teamsters are pushing hard is to protect the lucrative pension plans that are a big recruiting incentive. Recently, news broke that the pension fund only had solvency until 2025. After that, the projected monthly stipend would be around $100, much less than the current $3,000 per month average. But the American Rescue Plan propped up the pension funds, until 2051 or later, by guaranteeing it with taxpayer funds.
In general, union membership has declined over the past several decades (except for unions that represent government employees).The Teamsters – and other unions – are trying to get membership numbers back up.
One could wonder if laws such as Assembly Bill 5 in California, the law that intends to force independent contractors to become W-2 tax-paying employees (and thus more likely to join unions for better compensation), will be spread across the country by activist politicians. Already, there is talk by the New Jersey Labor Commission to start pushing regulations that copy AB5.
It is a unique situation we find ourselves in, with so many unions on the streets rallying support for their causes. Rail, sea, and road logistics services depend on union labor to flow. What would happen if all that was to shut down all at the same time?