September 26, 2023

A United Parcel Service driver makes a supply behind his truck in Pittsburgh on July 13, 2023.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

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Gene J. Puskar/AP

A United Parcel Service driver makes a supply behind his truck in Pittsburgh on July 13, 2023.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

For nearly a decade, Viviana Gonzalez spent her summers delivering packages for United Parcel Service beneath the scorching solar in Palmdale, California, in an air-conditioned truck.

A typical working day means not less than 10 hours and from one of many brown UPS supply automobiles, which, in line with Gonzalez, typically exceeds 150 levels within the again. Her solely reduction is a fan that blows sizzling air in her face.

Gonzalez started to anticipate waves of nausea and weak spot all through the day.

“We’re in there for hours, so you possibly can solely take into consideration how a lot stress we’re placing on our our bodies,” Gonzalez mentioned.

Parcel supply is a single job. Once in a while, Gonzalez calls her pals for help whereas she is on the street, in case her well being deteriorates.

Final June, a 24-year-old Palmdale UPS driver named Esteban Chavez was discovered unconscious in his truck whereas delivering a route in Pasadena. Based on the medical expert’s report, Chavez died of sudden coronary heart failure. That day, the temperature exceeded 90 levels, and his household believes that his coronary heart failure was attributable to the warmth.

One other driver, 23-year-old Jose Cruz Rodriguez, died of a heat-related sickness, in line with the Occupational Well being and Security Administration, whereas on his UPS supply shift in Waco, Texas, in August 2021. His household filed a wrongful dying lawsuit towards UPS and ultimately settled with the corporate.

Gonzalez usually thinks of her 18-year-old son as she drives.

“What would occur to him if I died behind a truck?” Gonzalez mentioned. “We’re risking our lives giving delivery in these sizzling climate circumstances. And we’re individuals – we don’t know what our physique will endure.”

New measures for thermal security on the IPS

Situations for UPS Supply Drivers nationwide will change. UPS and the Teamsters union, which represents 340,000 UPS workers, entered right into a preliminary thermal security settlement in June to put in air con in all small package deal supply automobiles bought by the corporate after January 1, 2024.

UPS mentioned it will first ship the brand new automobiles to the most well liked areas within the US if potential. The corporate additionally agreed so as to add new warmth shields and followers to the supply automobiles.

The settlement shall be finalized as soon as UPS and Teamsters agree on a brand new contract, a course of that would result in the biggest single-employer strike in U.S. historical past.

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien referred to as the thermal safety settlement “a big step in direction of a stronger new actuality for therefore many employees and their households.” UPS mentioned in an announcement that employee security “stays our high precedence.”

Jim Mayer, a spokesman for UPS, mentioned the corporate is now supplying cooling tools to its workers. However drivers need to endure the warmth of this summer season – principally with out air con.

“We’ve but to get previous that peak, however it’s virtually like a landing,” Gonzalez mentioned. “We’re virtually there.”

UPS Competitor Drivers Additionally Nervous About Overheating Dangers

OSHA lists mail and parcel supply as one of many most important industries during which out of doors employees endure from heat-related sicknesses. The company’s harm database reveals that not less than 40 UPS drivers have been hospitalized with heat-related sicknesses since 2015.

This isn’t restricted to UPS. Drivers in related jobs at UPS rivals, together with Amazon and FedEx, are additionally sounding the alarm about warmth at work as local weather change causes temperatures to rise.

Each firms mentioned their automobiles have been geared up with working air con. However drivers Renica Turner and Demetria Forte, who ship packages for Amazon, and Jonathon Erwin, proprietor of an Amazon subcontractor, advised NPR that the air conditioner usually breaks down in Amazon-branded vans.

Most Amazon and FedEx employees should not represented by a union – and they don’t seem to be even categorised as workers of the corporate, making it far more troublesome to assert safety.

Amazon employees be part of the struggle

Final April, Turner was delivering Amazon packages on a 110-degree day in Victorville, California, northeast of Los Angeles, when her physique started to tingle. She thought she may lose consciousness.

Amazon mentioned the corporate’s automobiles have working air con, and people with out it are grounded instantly.

However Turner mentioned the air con and followers within the van weren’t working that day. As she lowered the home windows, sizzling air rushed in. She mentioned she knowledgeable the Amazon dispatcher about her signs..

All she received was a 20 minute break.

“They by no means despatched anybody to assist me with the remainder of the route,” Turner mentioned, referring to the 300 packages she needed to ship at a fee of 25 an hour. “I needed to get by means of the remaining, feeling dizzy, numb and simply overwhelmed.”

Turner works for an Amazon subcontractor referred to as Battle Examined Methods, or BTS. It’s certainly one of about 3,000 unbiased contractors within the e-commerce big’s supply community, small companies employed by Amazon to ship packages.

BTS proprietor Jonathon Erwin, who rents vans from Amazon, mentioned Amazon commonly fails to repair defective air con in automobiles. He mentioned Amazon vans might take weeks and even months to restore.

“It is loopy that we’re being compelled to drive these vehicles,” Erwin mentioned. “We went to Amazon, requested them to jot down off the vehicles, however it went clean.”

E-mail messages reviewed by NPR present that BTS has reported a number of cases of air con failure in rental vehicles. On September 1, 2022, Erwin wrote in an Amazon electronic mail that the air conditioners in 5 vans stopped engaged on that day alone.

Equally, in June 2021, emails reveal that it took BTS weeks to repair the air conditioners because the subcontractor labored by means of delays from Amazon’s third-party restore firms. An Amazon spokesman mentioned Amazon was not answerable for the delays, including that the vans have been repaired by subcontractors.

Turner and 83 of her colleagues teamed up with the Teamsters and signed BTS in April, largely to push for thermal security measures. That is the primary alliance of its variety within the Amazon supply community.

These newly unionized drivers have been on strike since late June over the termination of Amazon’s contract with BTS. Erwin and the Teamsters declare that Amazon is retaliating towards employees for unionizing; Nonetheless, an Amazon spokesperson said that the corporate terminated the contract with BTS on account of unrelated contract violations.

When it comes to warmth security, an Amazon spokesperson mentioned Amazon adjusted some supply routes final yr to permit drivers to take extra breaks to chill off.

The burden falls on drivers

OSHA, the federal company that oversees office security, has suggestions for the way employers ought to take care of the warmth, however continues to be within the technique of growing heat-related employee safety.

Because of this the county’s largest transportation firms at the moment haven’t any authorized obligation to offer nationwide overheat safety for drivers.

Brenda Jacklich, a warmth stress skilled on the Nationwide Institute for Occupational Security and Well being, says out of doors employees can expertise heat-related sicknesses starting from warmth rash and warmth cramps to warmth stroke.

Employers can schedule their most bodily intensive work for the cooler a part of the day and supply air con and followers the place potential, she mentioned.

“Even having a pre-cooled, air-conditioned automotive is a good way to assist somebody cool off throughout their break,” Jeklich mentioned.

Jeklich added that “buddy techniques” might assist employees take care of one another and observe signs of warmth stress. This could be a drawback for drivers who ship packages themselves.

For now, supply drivers are doing their finest to guard themselves from the acute warmth.

Forte, one other driver who delivers packages for Amazon in Palmdale, employed by subcontractor BTS, mentioned Amazon expects 25 to 30 package deal deliveries an hour, which places a pressure on her well being when temperatures rise above 100 levels.

Forte alternates between totally different supply vans. She tries to get a working air-conditioned van when she will get to work within the morning.

However she mentioned she will get caught with out air con for days, during which case she pours frozen water bottles onto the van’s cooling rack.

“(Purchasers) don’t see all this. They only see, “Oh yeah, my package deal is right here, nice,” Forte mentioned. “They do not see what we undergo each day.”

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