When UPS delivery drivers started calling out the company two weeks ago for not putting air conditioning in their trucks after a driver died of heatstroke, it wanted to clarify two things. Firstly, fans were available in the trucks upon request. And secondly, that the drivers were “trained” to deal with the heat exhaustion that would inevitably come from working in 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
But four drivers across multiple UPS locations say that fans, if they’re even installed, often don’t work. They have also told Motherboard about a training—called "Cool Solutions," according to drivers, which includes such advice as "drink water" and "load up… on watermelon."
Elliot Lewis, a delivery driver and steward in Teamsters Local 804, the branch of the international Teamsters union that serves New York, posted a photo of a UPS handout about “Hydration and Fatigue” he got on Twitter.
“Even being mildly dehydrated can leave you feeling foggy and fatigued,” the handout reads. It encourages drivers to drink water consistently throughout the day, and to eat foods such as watermelon, “which are 90% water and a good source of energy.”
Lewis writes that the handout is from UPS’s “Cool Solutions” training for drivers on how to deal with heat exhaustion. In a previous statement to Motherboard, a UPS spokesperson confirmed the training, and gave details about its content.
“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,” the statement read.
“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,” it continued. “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 spokesperson said that UPS annually invests more than $260 million in safety programs like this one.
But drivers argue that the program, which also asks drivers to take multiple-choice tests, is not helpful. Mike Dunaj, a driver in Florida, described the training in a phone call to Motherboard. “It’s common sense stuff—how much water you should drink,” he said. “And then there are multiple-choice questions. And if you get one wrong, you've got to retake it. But the questions always have the same answer, so you can just write them down.”
Dunaj said he became extremely dehydrated during his first day on the job because he couldn’t keep up with the amount of water he was losing to sweat. When he finally made it home for the day, his muscle cramps were so bad that he could barely move. “It was the worst experience of my life,” he said.
“If you dehydrate, they kick you off the road,” Dunaj said, explaining that drivers are sent to work in the warehouse, where they earn lower wages. “So I told [my wife], do not call the ambulance because they'll take me off the road and I won't be able to drive. They punish you if you get dehydrated.”
When he recovered and came back to work, Dunaj said he had to do the “Cool Solutions” quiz over again, and that it was just the same multiple choice answers as the first time he had taken it. “Drink water, drink water, drink water is all they say,” he said.
Dunaj drinks half a gallon of water and half a gallon of sugar-free gatorade every morning before even getting on the road, and continues to drink throughout the day.
Another driver, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, said in a phone call to Motherboard that UPS’s solution was, “You don't drink alcohol before work the night before, don't drink coffee before work, but you come in and make sure you drink water, and if you're hot, find a shady area.”
In a statement to Motherboard, a UPS spokesperson wrote, “If one of our drivers needs immediate assistance due to extreme heat, local UPS personnel respond by coming to their location to help them safely return to their delivery center or arrange for immediate assistance at their location. We never want our employees to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.”
“We also send reminders to our employees throughout the day to stay hydrated and to take their rest breaks,” the statement continued.
Motherboard has previously reported on UPS denying to install fans in trucks when requested. The Teamsters’ contract with UPS mandates that fans be installed upon request. The driver said that the first year after the contract, their facility had put in requests to have fans installed in all the trucks, and they got none. The second year, they still got none.
“We finally get these fans, and it's just one little fan all the way in the left hand corner on the dashboard, pointing at your left elbow,” they said. “Once you get to 95 degrees, this is blowing hot air.”
When asked previously for comment about the fan denial, a UPS spokesperson said it “should not have occurred,” and that they had “taken steps to address it.” It’s unclear whether the requested fan has yet been installed.