It’s safe to say that, thanks to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, most of you are reading this at home, having willingly separated yourself from other people, from the activities you enjoy, from regular showers and companionship and work and so many other things because you know it’s the right thing to do, and you’re just one person. If you were a massive organization who, by its very design, interacted with thousands and thousands of people every day, you’d think taking Coronavirus precautions would be astronomically more important. If that was so, you would also be making much better decisions than UPS, the huge global package delivery company.
With so many retail businesses shutting their doors during the pandemic, delivery services like UPS have become even more important and crucial than they already were. If you’re stuck at home and you need something, it has to be delivered. There’s just no way around that.
And, even if you’ve effectively quarantined yourself, when you interact with the delivery person you’re exposing yourself to many more people than just that driver, even if you don’t even make physical, direct contact with them.
The cardboard box that you bring into your home has been handled by huge numbers of people, the truck it was delivered in has been occupied by even more people, loaders, drivers, logistics teams. And any COVID-19 viruses that have found their way onto the truck that your package was on can survive for an incredible 72 hours on the hard metal and plastic surfaces. And those same viruses can survive on the cardboard box that’s been in contact with those surfaces and that you’ve just taken into your home for 24 hours.
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Package delivery services like UPS are incredible ways not to just deliver huge packages of toilet paper and restaurant-sized tubs of chili, but also to potentially deliver the COVID-19 virus right into your home.
That’s why you’d expect a company like UPS to be taking extreme and comprehensive measures to keep workers safe from infection and, as a result, customers safe as well.
Just so we’re clear, if we look at the CDC’s own recommendations for workplaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we can see that the conditions described by UPS workers do not meet the CDC’s recommendations:
For most employers, protecting workers will depend on emphasizing basic infection prevention measures. As appropriate, all employers should implement good hygiene and infection control practices, including:
■ Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, including by providing workers, customers, and worksite visitors with a place to wash their hands. If soap and running water are not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
GUIDANCE ON PREPARING WORKPLACES FOR COVID-19 9
■ Provide customers and the public with tissues and trash receptacles.
■ Employers should explore whether they can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if state and local health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies.
■ Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
■ Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should consult information on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectant labels with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, PPE). Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People, if Appropriate
■ Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical step in protecting workers, customers, visitors, and others at a worksite.
■ Employers should inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure.
■ Employers should develop policies and procedures for employees to report when they are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION 1 0
■ Where appropriate, employers should develop policies and procedures for immediately isolating people who have signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19, and train workers to implement them. Move potentially infectious people to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors. Although most worksites do not have specific isolation rooms, designated areas with closable doors may serve as isolation rooms until potentially sick people can be removed from the worksite.
■ Take steps to limit spread of the respiratory secretions of a person who may have COVID-19. Provide a face mask, if feasible and available, and ask the person to wear it, if tolerated. Note: A face mask (also called a surgical mask, procedure mask, or other similar terms) on a patient or other sick person should not be confused with PPE for a worker; the mask acts to contain potentially infectious respiratory secretions at the source (i.e., the person’s nose and mouth).
■ If possible, isolate people suspected of having COVID-19 separately from those with confirmed cases of the virus to prevent further transmission—particularly in worksites where medical screening, triage, or healthcare activities occur, using either permanent (e.g., wall/different room) or temporary barrier (e.g., plastic sheeting).
■ Restrict the number of personnel entering isolation areas.
■ Protect workers in close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) a sick person or who have prolonged/repeated contact with such persons by using additional engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE. Workers whose activities involve close or prolonged/ repeated contact with sick people are addressed further in later sections covering workplaces classified at medium and very high or high exposure risk.
Almost none of these conditions are being met by UPS, according to many worker’s reports.
For its part, UPS did release a statement on Tuesday describing its official Coronavirus preparations:
“UPS places the utmost emphasis on the safety of our employees, especially as we work through this coronavirus pandemic. Here at Worldport, we are taking numerous extra steps to safeguard our workers. We are adding additional shuttles at Worldport to allow for more distancing, we have enhanced shuttle cleaning procedures, and we are looking at alternate drive paths to minimize the amount of time employees spend on the trams. We have enhanced cleaning of our employee entrances, break rooms and other common areas. Companywide, we continue to educate employees about good public health practices, most importantly frequent hand washing, as well as CDC guidance that it’s very unlikely to be infected by handling boxes.
This is a fluid situation, and we continue to look at practices and policies to enhance the well-being of UPS people as they move critical shipments that save lives and livelihoods during this crisis.”
According to a number of UPS workers I spoke with, this is not the case at all. Multiple UPS workers from locations all across the United States have told me that the company is taking no protective measures for their crucial workers whatsoever.
One worker I spoke with, who wishes to remain anonymous, put it like this:
Now that we are delivering during this time of uncertainty we don’t have access to any PPE (personal protective equipment), hand sanitizer, masks and our trucks are not being sanitized.
If you read the UPS propaganda that’s being put out health and safety is of their greatest importance. Wrong, it’s the maximization of profit and a public relations stunt...
Something has to change because everyday my brothers and sisters in brown are putting their lives and their families lives at risk. Our building alone probably has the potential to make contact with 3-4000 people a day just by doing our job. UPS is not living up to their end of the bargain and someone is going to pay with their lives from getting sick.
That’s certainly alarming, and other employees have corroborated these reports with more details. From a hub worker (as in not a driver) at the UPS center in Maumee Bay, Ohio, I was told this:
I‘m a hub worker, so I can’t speak on the drivers aside from the major complaint I hear the most that the offices are closed off to all drivers. They are isolating the office and management, but not doing anything to clean and sterilize the rest of the hub to where it should be, no providing us with any gear or supplies to combat this situation.
Worst of all, they started out intentionally giving misinformation (exhibit B, notice it says 3 feet instead of 6).
Our sort aisle hasn’t been sterilized once since this started.
I want to take a moment here to emphasize the point about how the management offices are being protected with one standard not granted to drivers and hub workers, and those workers are not allowed to even enter management’s offices.
This picture demonstrating this, taken by a driver, has been circulating around UPS groups:
“NO DRIVERS IN OFFICE.” Somehow, the shamrocks just make it all even worse.
This shows that management is aware of the conditions and the potential to spread Coronavirus, and they’re trying to protect themselves, yet are doing nothing to protect the drivers and hub workers and all the other staff that actually has contact with the packages, package cars (that’s what UPS calls its big brown trucks, usually Grumman-Olsen P800s, just so you know) and, eventually you and I and everyone else in the public.
The same employee from the Maumee hub who provided me that picture also described an interaction they had with management, where they attempted to talk to the Hub Manager:
I tried to get to the hub manager, but he is keeping himself in isolation in his office because he “is running multiple hubs right now and can’t be disturbed” as HR told me.
So they sent the head of HR to have a conversation with me. I hit him with “can you name one single change since this epidemic hit ohio that this hub has made to keep us safe?” He stuttered for a little bit, and eventually said “I have no idea. I come in the HR entrance.”
So I began listing things they need to do before they get people killed.
1. The tiny guard shack that everyone is crammed through like sardines needs to be closed, and they need to wand people outside through the gate. Putting tons of people in a tiny room with a couple security guards is just asking to spread mass infection. People have to put all their possessions, including sweaty headphones, on the counter and slide it across That is unacceptable and easily mitigated risk.
2. Our belts that haven’t been cleaned in a VERY long time in the sort aisle need to be sterilized after every shift. It wouldn’t cost that much to do.
3. We need masks and gloves on hand. We are one of the highest risk industries there are, and we can’t close down because that would shut the entire country down.
4. Actually follow the CDC and WHO’s recommendation of keeping people 6 feet apart (or 3 feet apart, as the UPS memo claims they said) in the sort aisle. They are way too comfortable with cramming people into a small area like sardines and a slight change to how the doors are managed would make worlds of difference with CDC compliance.
To his credit, the HR head was friendly and receptive, but that’s what he’s trained to be. He said he will follow up with me tomorrow, so I guess we’ll see about that.
Our management is notorious for putting production over safety, but I can only hope that they see the financial benefit to not getting the entire building sick. Most of our machine shop is over 55, and one outbreak could kill or take all of them out of commission at once. What would we do then?
Their lack of action is risking lives and I encourage everyone to raise the same concerns at your hub. Once people start getting sick on the job, it’s too late. Everyone is already infected. COVID-19 can incubate for up to 2 weeks with a victim being completely asymptomatic, but absolutely contagious.”
UPS is operating hubs that handle the packages that all of us end up handling with none of the safety precautions recommended to prevent spread of the virus. Workers claim the company has failed to provide sanitizer, masks, or any other equipment, and even the memo sent out by UPS to its workers, referenced in their comments, incorrectly describes the amount of space needed between people as three feet instead of six—and I was told by workers that even a three foot gap is is a wildly unrealistic goal under current working conditions.
I spoke with one worker who was fine with using her name, Joan-Elaine Miller, a driver who works in Philadelphia. Miller has been with UPS for 27 years, and she’s been driving a package car for 13 to 14 of those years. When it comes to UPS, she knows what she’s talking about.
Miller said the company is not the same as it used to be, and has, over recent years, cut down on crucial services that once made the company great. These things range from providing cold water in the brutal heat of summer to such basics as washing and maintaining the package cars.
Regarding maintenance of their package cars, another driver had more to add:
Over the past year, conditions at centers all over the country have rapidly deteriorated. They stopped spending money on house keeping to clean the buildings, our trucks haven’t been washed outside and inside in almost or even maybe over a year.
Our buildings floors are covered in layers of dust, our parking lots littered with trash and the condition of our package cars is absolutely atrocious. When you open the bulkhead door to make a delivery you walk into a cloud of haze from all the cardboard dirt and dust that we’re always breathing in. You can barely see out of our windows and when the light shines it then it’s impossible to see oncoming traffic. Our trucks and buildings used to be spotless but our fearless leader chooses stockholders over the safety and well being of his employees.
This same driver also provided pictures of his package car to show the sorry condition:
Workers do occasionally clean their own package cars, but UPS doesn’t make this an easy thing to accomplish—there’s no time to do it during deliveries, and workers don’t have access to the vehicles otherwise, generally. I guess they do a lot of hoping for rain.
While potentially dangerous, the general lack of cleaning of package cars also means they’re not being disinfected for COVID-19, either, and neither are other pieces of equipment drivers use.
Miller told me about how the driver’s handheld computers, called DIADs, are stored in wall-mounted charging cubbies, next to which there are usually sanitizing wipes—only her facility has been without sanitizing wipes for at least three days so far.
Miller also explained,
“The company is not providing anything—no gloves, wipes, or anything. And preloaders load packages into cars, and then other drivers take those same cars to the parking area, and that’s all after the driver. There are many employees in the cars, and they touch everything, and no one is in gloves or sanitizing anything.”
Miller also explained how, normally, the drivers would participate in a precommunication meeting (PCM) every morning with a manager—a ten-minute or so rundown of the previous day’s numbers, safety information, and so on—but ever since the CDC recommended no gathering in groups, those meetings have stopped.
That seems prudent, until you think a bit more about it. Miller goes into more detail:
“Stopping the PCMs only helps the managers. The drivers and other workers are still close together in groups in the sort aisles and right next to each other at the loading belts. I haven’t seen the center manager in days.”
Miller said that the Teamster’s Union has been trying to get UPS to make changes to get people more room in the hubs, but so far has not been able. The Union did fight for and was able to get UPS to provide ten days of pay if a worker is told not to come in because of the Coronavirus, but made clear that on its own, the company has done nothing.
The workers I have spoken with, and reports that have been posted to private online UPS worker forums corroborate this:
The worker at the Ohio facility did mention she had a somewhat productive talk with the head of HR at the facility, but very little in the way of concrete action was resolved:
“All of his initial suggestions were more reactive than proactive. He talked about UPS’ plans to give additional sick leave to anyone in the future who gets the virus. I explained my goal is to prevent people from getting the virus, and I wasn’t that concerned with the financial side.
He promised to have the hub clean and sterilized between shifts to a much greater degree (will see if he’s speaking the truth about that).
He wouldn’t really react to my suggestion of staggering the doors so that we could comply with the CDC’s/UPS corporate’s guidelines of keeping people distant. He seemed to be listening, but I truly hope he understands how important this is.
Ultimately, he was cooperative. We made a lot of good steps in the right direction today. It wasn’t enough. We have a long way to go, but it’s a big step up from having done nothing at all as it was yesterday.”
It’s hard to imagine a worse situation when it comes to spreading viruses than what’s going on at UPS. I realize that UPS is a colossal organization, but these reports of inaction in the face of very real Coronavirus threats seem inexcusable, especially when you consider the vast amount of contact their employees have with the general population.
UPS needs to change how it’s working, and fast, or there could be devastating repercussions. Miller made clear to me that, even if the company doesn’t seem to get it and is only concerned with “the almighty dollar,” as she puts it, the employees are doing their best.
Many employees are bringing their own sanitizers and gloves and other equipment and taking what precautions they can. They genuinely don’t want to infect their customers, and they give a damn, even if it seems like the company doesn’t.
I have reached out to UPS via its press contact lines and will update this story with any response I may get.
UPDATE: UPS sent a detailed response:
We continue to share the hygiene protocols suggested by the CDC and WHO with our employees, and that if any employee experiences symptoms such as fever or respiratory infection, they are required to seek medical treatment immediately and not come to work.
We’ve directed that the surfaces in our facilities be wiped down daily, and that our vehicles are cleaned and disinfected daily with an emphasis on the interiors and frequent exterior touch points. We are distributing large quantities of hand sanitizer to our facilities. Our employees are able to wash their hands with soap and water at our facilities, we have good product availability through our supply chain, and we are constantly replenishing supplies. This includes a 60 days’ supply of antibacterial soap and other necessary hygiene products such as paper towels and toilet paper for all of our facilities.
If our service providers (drivers) are delivering to businesses that are open, they can wash their hands at those facilities. We also have implemented a policy that enables our drivers to main social distancing and not share a pen with the consignee when making business and residential deliveries that require a signature.
We are following the CDC’s recommendations to maintain the available supply of masks for healthcare workers and those who are caring for people who are sick. We are making masks available to our drivers who make deliveries to healthcare and assisted living facilities. Here’s the recommendation on the CDC’s website that addresses this approach.
Wear a facemask if you are sick
“If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to “wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.
UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have agreed to a paid leave policy that covers approximately 298,700 full- and part-time hourly employees (primarily drivers, package handlers and mechanics) if they are directly impacted by the Coronavirus. The policy provides up to 10 days of compensation for any employee who is diagnosed with the virus, or who is required to quarantine, or if a household member is diagnosed with the virus and the employee is required to quarantine.
We are communicating with our employees through multiple channels on how to help prevent contracting the novel coronavirus and what to do should they exhibit any symptoms. These channels include Pre-work Communications Meetings (PCMs) which we have adjusted to maintain social distancing, messaging posted at facilities, discussions with local management, and electronic employee communications channels. Our employees also always have a direct line of communication with their immediate management and protocols for escalating their concerns if they feel that their concerns are not being adequately addressed.