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The Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the country, reached a tentative agreement to add air conditioning and additional fans to UPS trucks on Tuesday night, in a major step forward in its union contract negotiations with the company. “Air conditioning is coming to UPS, and Teamster members in these vehicles will get the relief and protection they’ve been fighting for,” said Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien in a statement. “The union’s entire national committee and our rank-and-filers should be commended for staying in this fight and making their priorities known to this company.”
The tentative agreement includes contract language that would require UPS to add in-cab air conditioning systems in all large delivery trucks, small sprinter vans, and all of the company’s “most recognizable brown package cars” purchased after next January 1, according to a press release. Motherboard has previously extensively reported on the dangers UPS drivers face from heat, which can reach temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside their trucks. Last summer, a UPS driver in California died in his truck, seemingly from heatstroke. A worker Motherboard spoke to later that summer was diagnosed with heat syncope after working in the heat, and was referred to a neurologist. Because drivers are generally required to turn off their vehicles at every stop, to avoid wasting gas and polluting the air, UPS previously told Motherboard that air conditioning would be ineffective. Instead, it provided drivers with a “Cool Solutions” training program for how to deal with heat, which encouraged them to drink water and eat watermelon.
The press release also states that the tentative agreement would also require that two fans be installed in the driver cab of all package cars, which drivers have been requesting for some time. Motherboard previously reported that workers were allowed to request fan installations, but were in some cases denied access to them. One worker previously told Motherboard that it took two years to get UPS to install a fan inside their van, but that it practically did nothing. “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 at the time. Another worker said that their warehouse had put in requests for fans amid last summer’s heat wave, but that they were “on back-order.” The tentative agreement further says that all newer non-electric UPS vehicles would have exhaust heat shields installed, and that already-purchased package cars would be retrofitted to have air induction vents in the back of the trucks to prevent extreme temperatures from building up, according to the release. Multiple UPS drivers previously told Motherboard that going into the back of the van felt like walking into an “oven.”“We have reached an agreement on heat safety with the Teamsters, which includes new measures that build on important actions rolled out to UPS employees in the spring, including new cooling gear and enhanced training,” a UPS spokesperson told Motherboard. “We care deeply about our people, and their safety remains our top priority. Heat safety is no exception.”Bargaining for the Teamsters’ national contract with UPS continues in Virginia. Their current contract with UPS expires on August 31, and the union has said it will call a strike of its over 340,000 UPS members if no agreement is reached. It has been holding a strike authorization vote over the past two weeks, for which results will be announced on June 16. “Glad @UPS finally came to their senses & agreed to a solution regarding heat & safety,” O’Brien wrote in a tweet after the announcement. “Lot of big ticket items left to handle.” Update: This story has been updated with comment from UPS.