UPS Drivers Are Sharing Heat Readings of 120F Inside Their Trucks

Workers and the union representing them say working in extreme heat is a major safety issue. UPS says air conditioning would be "ineffective."
Jules Roscoe
New York, US
A thermometer reading 121.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Credit: Teamsters Local 804

UPS delivery drivers are sharing photos of the thermometer readings inside their trucks, showing that the temperature can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit as part of a campaign to highlight unsafe working conditions. 

A series of three thermometer readings was posted by Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) on Monday. One shows a driver’s hand holding a temperature thermometer and pointing it into the back of their truck, filled with boxes on shelves. The thermometer reads 117.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Another photo shows a readout of 121.4 degrees.

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“UPS CEOs would never accept working in 120 or 130-degree offices,” the TDU wrote in the tweet. “Drivers shouldn't have to either.”

In late July, a video of an Arizona delivery driver passing out on somebody’s porch from the heat went viral and sparked outrage over UPS' treatment of workers. The video shows the man stumbling into the shade of the porch, then collapsing to the floor and lying there for several seconds. He then musters the strength to get up and ring the doorbell, before stumbling back towards his truck. In response to the video, UPS said the driver was “fine.” 

Since then, a series of labor actions have been undertaken by workers, including the photo campaign. Last week, UPS workers protested outside a Customer Center in Brooklyn, with union leaders describing working conditions as being an "inferno."

A TDU spokesperson said that the temperature reading photos were collected from drivers affiliated with Teamsters Local 804, the New York branch of the union the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. With 1.2 million members, it’s one of the largest unions in the world. 

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Are you a driver for UPS? Do you have more information about these issues? We’d love to hear from you. From a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Jules Roscoe on Signal at 415-763-7705 or via email at jules.roscoe@vice.com

The Teamsters announced on Monday that they were kicking off their fight for a better contract with UPS, since the current contract would expire in exactly one year. They also said they had demanded details from the company about the safety of delivery drivers in the heat, and expected a reply within two weeks. 

“UPS hasn’t been proactive at all on the topic of heat and that’s going to have to change. We’re demanding the company take action now to protect workers and this is going to be one of a number of key issues that we’re bringing to the bargaining table when we go into contract negotiations," said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien in a statement to Motherboard.

The document sent to UPS, which is linked in the press release, lists a series of dates when the company supposedly received OSHA citations concerning “heat-related injuries,” including multiple Hazard Alert Letters. 

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In an emailed statement to Motherboard, UPS said that drivers are “trained” to work in that kind of heat. 

“We never want our employees to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner,” a spokesperson said. 

On June 25, a 24-year-old California driver named Esteban Chavez died after he fell unconscious in his truck due to the heat. At the time, UPS said it would be “ineffective” to put air conditioners in the trucks due to making frequent stops, Insider reported. 

“Our package delivery vehicles make frequent stops, which requires the engine to be turned off and the doors to be opened and closed, about 130 times a day on average,” the UPS spokesperson said to Motherboard. They wrote that they had “studied” how to create better airflow throughout the truck, and that they offer fans to drivers upon request. 

It’s doubtful that a fan blowing hot air would be very refreshing in 120-degree heat, amid an unprecedented global heat wave. The UPS spokesperson said, though, that drivers were “trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather. UPS invests more than $260 million annually to implement programs focused on safety, including working in hot weather.” 

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“For example, we have a program that was developed with input from experts in the field of occupational health and safety that focuses on educating employees about hydration along with nutrition and proper sleep before working in hotter temperatures,” they continued. “We have morning meetings with drivers all year round, reminding them of forecasted temperatures and encouraging them to be aware of their own health conditions. In the summer, in addition to providing water and ice for employees, we provide regular heat illness and injury prevention training to all operations managers and drivers.” 

The company also provides camera installation in the trucks for safety purposes, according to Teamsters Local 804. The cameras, plus concerns over working in the heat, were the impetus for last week's protest in Brooklyn.

“The company claims that it is about safety, but we know these cameras will be used to micromanage and discipline drivers,” reads an announcement by the union. “If the cameras were purely about safety, why couldn’t the cameras face outward without an audio function? Why would the company violate labor law by implementing the cameras before negotiating with the union?” 

“We know why,” it continues. “They want to make us work like machines, and otherwise threaten our job security. We won’t accept it.”