Drivers are being sent out to perish, UPS employees demand heat safety amid record temperatures

When Matthew Moczygemba became dehydrated, he realized something was amiss. In Fort Worth, Texas, it was mid-afternoon on a day with a temperature of 103 degrees, and the UPS driver had been delivering packages for many hours. Soon after, he started to feel faint, so he stopped his truck and threw up on the sidewalk.

Moczygemba, 35, who has been employed by UPS for five years, said, “I stopped perspiring and was beginning to become cold.” It gave off a horrible vibe.

According to medical records, Moczygemba ended himself in an emergency department at a hospital, where he was treated for dehydration and heat exhaustion and given several bags of IV fluids.

He was freed a few hours later, but in the nearly three weeks afterwards, he hasn’t gone back to work.
I’m anxious to return, Moczygemba stated.

Workers exposed to the elements are increasingly battling with the heat as heat waves spread throughout the nation and areas like Texas and Oklahoma experience record-breaking summer temperatures.

More than a dozen UPS workers and union leaders said that this year, more workers than ever seem to be becoming ill and needing hospitalization due to the heat. They are requesting that the business implement additional safety measures in response.

Left and right people are fighting, according to Dallas union steward Jeff Schenfeld, a 25-year UPS veteran. This year is different in some way. There are a lot more people.

UPS workers protest near a company warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 28, 2022.

The largest package delivery firm in the world, UPS, is known for its ubiquitous brown trucks and airless warehouses. The company placed cameras in its delivery vehicles after record earnings last year, but did not alter its thermal safety procedures, according to the union, aggravating long-standing complaints about the corporation’s objectives.

The largest union contract in North America, which covers over 350,000 UPS employees, expires the next year. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents the workers, predicts that one of the major topics in the future negotiations will be heat protections.

Sean M. OBrien, general president of the union, stated that UPS has not been at all proactive on the subject of heat and that needs to change.

Last week, the Teamsters released a letter to the public listing a number of actions UPS should take right away to increase the safety of its drivers given the weather. In addition to recruiting more drivers to lighten the strain, these include providing fans in every vehicle (rather than upon request), cooling neck towels, steady supplies of water and ice, and more breathable clothes.

According to OBrien, the corporation is essentially forcing drivers outside to perish in the heat by refusing to put these safety precautions into place.

In a statement, UPS said that as part of its cool solutions program created with regulators, the company regularly conducts heat illness and injury prevention training for employees as well as provides water and ice. UPS also said that its drivers are trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather. Weekly safety meetings between management and employees are held by the business, which claims to have responded quickly to difficulties when they were brought to its attention.

Our top focus is our employees’ health and safety, according to spokesman Matt OConnor. Never should a person continue working for us to the point when doing so puts their health at danger or requires unsafe working conditions.

RISING TENSIONS

According to NBC News, heat illness has long been a problem for UPS employees in the summer and a source of friction between the corporation and its employees. Severe cases of heat illness can result in locked muscles, kidney failure, and even death. The company’s recognizable trucks lack fans in the front and have no air conditioning. The company’s loaders operate on docks and warehouse floors, which can become quite hot.

The company has previously indicated that due of frequent stops and the size of the vehicles, air conditioning is not used in its fleet of package trucks. The same holds true for sizable warehouses with normally open loading dock doors.

According to specialists in worker safety, it is difficult to estimate how many of its employees suffer heat-related injuries each year. While severe heat-related injuries are monitored by workplace safety authorities, only in-patient hospitalizations are included in those statistics, which are typically underreported. While it may take them weeks to recuperate and get back to work, many employees who seek treatment for heat illness in emergency departments, like Moczygemba, are never fully admitted and leave the hospital after a short time.

According to some UPS employees, the backs of the trucks, which they must enter and exit to fetch products, sometimes resemble saunas. Heat indexes of 126 have been recorded by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors, while temperatures over 150 degrees have been recorded by employees in their trucks in Arizona and Florida and submitted to NBC News.

In order to reduce the heat in its vans, UPS has taken action. According to the corporation, it has improved the roofs for heat reduction and insulation, installed venting systems to promote airflow, and provides drivers with fans upon request.

Hector Medina, a UPS package delivery driver in the Tampa area for more than 20 years, noted that this job is physically taxing even when the sun isn’t shining. There are times when you arrive home and are completely out of it from the heat.

According to Medina, this summer has seemed warmer, but the company has not changed its workload due to the hot weather.

A temperature reading taken by a driver in the cargo area of a UPS delivery truck on a mid July afternoon in Florida.

According to Juley Fulcher, a worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen, a non-profit organization that fights for national heat protections, the risks faced by UPS employees and their fight for more protections from the company are emblematic of what workers everywhere, including others in the delivery industry, face with rising temperatures.

However, she claimed that UPS is distinct due to its scale and incredibly thorough employee policies.
They are so structured that they are in a particularly advantageous position to actually take action, she said.

Since many of UPS’s key rivals use a significant number of contractors and have much lower union presence, UPS’s thousands of union employees have greater opportunities to raise concerns about workplace safety. In spite of a constant stream of news stories about UPS drivers passing out in the heat this year, tensions between the corporation and union have been building.

The local Teamsters union in New York City conducted a rally on Thursday after claiming that four UPS employees visited emergency rooms in Long Island and Manhattan in the previous two days. Vincent Perrone, the president of the local union, made the extraordinary decision to excuse all union officials from the company’s weekly safety meetings.

He said in a letter to the public that he would consider re-establishing the committee “if and when the Company decides to take the safety of our personnel seriously.”

Early in July, a group of UPS center drivers distributed thermometers to gather temperature readings from the front and back of a number of dozen trucks as Oklahoma was battered by several weeks straight of record-breaking high temperatures of 100 degrees or higher, some 1,500 miles away. They recorded 12 separate readings between 110 and 127 degrees on one 103-degree afternoon, according to an analysis of their data by NBC.

One of the drivers, who asked to remain unnamed out of concern for retaliation, stated, “There are living animals in the back of my package car, and I don’t know that all of those lizards are alive by the time they arrive to somebody’s house.”

A thermometer on a box of crickets in an Oklahoma UPS truck reads 117 F.

HEAT DEATHSJorja Rodriguez lost her son, Jos Cruz Rodriguez, 23, in August, only a few weeks after he began working for UPS.

After completing his truck driving training in Waco, Texas, Jos Rodriguez texted a manager to let him know he wasn’t feeling well. He told his mother that his shift was almost done when they spoke at 7:30 p.m., but he never actually clock out. He was discovered in a concrete culvert by the facility parking lot many hours later. Around two in the morning, he was declared dead.

Later, OSHA determined that he had passed away from a heat-related ailment and fined UPS $14,502; UPS is disputing the fine.

Rodriguez claimed that this could have been avoided. He might still be here, my son. I could still keep him despite the possibility that he might have spent a few days in the hospital due to dehydration or another issue.

She and her husband sued UPS for wrongful death, and a few months later, they reached a settlement with the business.

Jorja Rodriguez with her son Jos Cruz Rodriguez

According to David Michaels, a George Washington University epidemiologist who oversaw OSHA under President Obama, heat can cause deadly illnesses such as heart attacks, albeit an autopsy may not reflect this. According to Michaels, the number of worker heat deaths is significantly underestimated.

According to Michaels, OSHA’s options are limited by the regulations in place. OSHA can only cite a company for heat exposure when it results in a worker’s death or serious injury. Rarely do the agency’s fines exceed $15,000, and many are ultimately withdrawn after being contested by businesses.

Although it will take years, OSHA has started a campaign to conduct more frequent inspections for heat-related hazards and is trying to develop worker protections specifically for heat.

The summers are increasing hotter due to the climate catastrophe, and if companies don’t adequately safeguard employees, we’ll witness more deaths, he warned. Without a doubt, UPS is aware of how to ensure employee safety and has the resources to do so.

Following the murder of a young UPS employee earlier this summer, the topic received a surge of attention.

A day after his birthday in June, Esteban Stevie Chavez Jr., 24, passed away after collapsing in his UPS car on a residential street in Pasadena, California.

Chavez’s death’s official reason is still a mystery. The family is awaiting the findings of the autopsy, but Esteban Chavez Sr., his father, told NBC News, “I firmly believe it was the heat.”

Following his passing, UPS released a statement in which it expressed its sincere sorrow, cooperation with the authorities conducting the investigation, and polite deference to their inquiries into the occurrence.

Soon after the funeral, his stepmother Dominique Chavez remarked that perhaps he would still be here if he hadn’t gone to work that day.

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