Over the weekend, I was on WNYC's On The Media, discussing the journalism I've been doing over the last month about conditions for grocery store workers and other Americans who can't work from home. You can listen HERE. — Judd
Shipping and logistics giant UPS brought in $74.1 billion in revenue last year. As the COVID-19 outbreak intensifies in the United States and around the world, and more people shift to online ordering, the demand for its services remains high. But dozens of workers around the country say UPS is failing to take basic measures to keep them safe.
On UPS' webpage, the company tells customers that the company is taking the following steps to protect its workers:
Enhanced cleaning in all our facilities, especially shared equipment
Encouraging employees to follow CDC guidelines for hygiene and social distancing
Frequent refilling of automatic hand sanitizing stations
Providing sanitizing supplies to drivers to keep signature DIADs and vehicles clean
Cleaning vehicle exteriors and interiors on frequent schedules
Providing an emergency paid leave program to any employee affected by the virus
Numerous UPS workers, however, tell Popular Information that this is not true. A UPS driver in Tennessee reports the following:
UPS is not doing enhanced cleaning of its buildings or vehicles in my area. There aren't any automatic hand sanitizer stations...The cleaning of vehicles has not changed from before coronavirus. So, the only thing that they say that is actually happening is the sick leave...It is not a job that lends itself to frequent hand washing and to my knowledge the company is not making allowance to accommodate hand washing. They are not providing gloves in my area due to cost concerns. Parts of the operation in the building do not lend themselves to social distancing. So I would say that 90% of what they say on their website is PR bs.
UPS workers across the country had similar experiences. A package handler in South Carolina told Popular Information their experience working for UPS during the pandemic:
There is NO enhanced cleaning in my facility and they do not clean the shared equipment. My job requires me pulling a package from a cage and then loading it into the truck. The cages are filthy and haven't been cleaned in years. For shared equipment we wear these belts and scanners. At the end of our shift they are thrown into a box that is then locked and put away. The next day the supervisor will unlock the box and we grab the equipment. At no point do they clean the shared equipment...The only hand sanitizing station I know of is the bathroom's sink. And it's oftentimes out of hand soap…
A UPS package handler in New Jersey says, "there are absolutely NO hand sanitizer stations in my building to even refill." During a six-hour shift, the package handler gets "one 10-minute break," which is "our only opportunity… to wash our hands." A driver in North Carolina says they have "not seen any hand sanitizer" and "cleaning supplies for vehicles also have not been made available."
A UPS package handler in South Carolina says they've been provided with "zero supplies" and "there is no hand soap at times." A New Jersey UPS driver says they were only provided with "a box of gloves." A Tennessee UPS driver says they were told they would not be provided with gloves because they are "too expensive." A Virginia UPS driver says they have been provided with "nothing" and "bought myself hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes." A Pennsylvania UPS loader says they have not seen "any type of hand sanitizer, gloves, disinfectant spray, or anything provided to us."
As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads, the federal government is not taking steps to protect essential workers. So the best tools we have available are accountability journalism and public scrutiny.
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Lashing out at the CEO
Popular Information obtained a message that UPS CEO David Abney sent to all employees through its internal messaging platform, UPSers.com. In his message, Abney said, "the health and safety of all of us remains, and will always remain, a top priority." He told employees that "it's critical to take the necessary safety measures such as frequent and thorough handwashing, a maintenance of social distancing, and practicing good respiratory hygiene."
In response, Abney received a flood of complaints from UPS employees about dangerous working conditions. Popular Information obtained 40 of them.
In response to a request for comment about employee complaints, UPS spokesperson Matthew O’Connor held the line. "Our workforce has been provided information and supplies to manage health risks, and UPS facilities are operating at high standards for cleanliness and professionalism. The safety and health of our employees is extremely important as we care about each other, our families and the communities where we live and work," O'Connor said.
The truth about paid sick leave at UPS
According to its website, UPS is "[p]roviding an emergency paid leave program to any employee affected by the virus." This overstates the scope of UPS' policy. According to O'Connor, UPS will provide emergency paid leave to anyone with a positive COVID-19 test, anyone with a doctor's note requiring them to quarantine based on their illness, or anyone required to quarantine due to a "family member’s confirmed COVID-19 illness."
There are, of course, many other ways that an employee can be "affected" by COVID-19. Specifically, an employee could be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms but not receive a formal order to quarantine from their doctor. Others are affected by school closures or the loss of childcare.
So UPS is providing emergency paid sick leave, but only under limited circumstances.
AT&T, Costco, Target, and other large employers are offering their employees hazard pay to compensate them for the increased risks of their jobs. UPS is not. This was a source of frustration among employees posting in response to Abney's message.
In 2018, Abney "received total compensation of $15,060,876" from UPS. He is retiring in June but will continue to be paid through the end of the year.
Sweating to support small business
In this newsletter, I write a lot about big corporations behaving badly. But many businesses are trying to do the right thing. One such business is Cut Seven, a gym that focuses on high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It was created by a local couple in DC without any outside investors. It took them seven years to get started, and they recently had to shut down due to COVID-19.
As huge corporations lay off staff, Cut Seven has kept all of their coaches employed. But they need help to keep going. You can now get access to daily live and on-demand workouts from anywhere in the world thanks to their new email newsletter.
You can learn more and sign up to try it for free HERE.
I have no financial interest in Cut Seven, but I've been doing their workouts for years. I can attest that their programming is very good, and the people behind them are even better.
Thanks for reading!