Simone Martin says her work as a UPS delivery truck driver was especially difficult on July 21, during a heat wave in NYC. In the summer months, Martin often dips a cooling cloth into a container of ice that she keeps in her truck and wraps it around her neck. But during that recent heat wave, nothing she did kept the discomfort at bay.
“That was the worst day for me,” she told Earther. “I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to keep stopping and reapplying the ice thing to my neck and to my head.”
Martin fears for her health as she delivers boxes around the city. “I feel sluggish on some days. So sometimes, I couldn’t, I couldn’t actually move. I had to really just stop and stand under a tree,” she said. “Once I go back in the truck, I start feeling exhausted. I’ve gotten headaches from the heat.”
This has been a dangerously hot summer, and multiple US cities have broken temperature records. UPS delivery drivers have to work their 10-hour shifts in trucks that do not have fans or air conditioning. As a result, many drivers have reported feeling sick, and some have even been hospitalized. “Something is different this year. It’s a lot more people,” Jeff Schenfeld, a union steward in Dallas and longtime UPS employee, told NBC News.
Drivers and Teamsters union leadership, who represent about 350,000 UPS workers, are angry that the company has not taken swift action to improve summer working conditions. They have demanded that UPS places fans in every truck, extended breaks on hot days, and that the company provides water for workers. UPS has not responded to a request for comment on these conditions and the company’s response to them.
Union leadership has criticized UPS for not providing ways to cool down trucks, despite the company raking in billions of dollars in profit off of drivers’ labor. “UPS executives sit inside their air-conditioned, C-suite offices all day while UPS Teamsters endure some of the most intense weather conditions imaginable, and this corporation needs to own up for what it is or is not doing to protect these workers,” Teamsters general president Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement this week.
According to the statement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited UPS “for heat-related injuries and occupational hazards” 16 times since 2011. OSHA does have heat standards for worker safety, but updating current OSHA standards or adding new ones could take years, the Washington Post has reported. The union isn’t willing to wait that long.
Just last week, UPS workers rallied with union leaders outside of the UPS Customer Center in Brooklyn, demanding better conditions. They were also angry over the death of 24-year-old Esteban Chavez Jr., a UPS driver in California who passed out in his truck on a day when temperatures were reported above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. He died in late June, and although the official cause of Chavez’s death is still unknown pending a coroner’s report, Chavez’s family believes heatstroke killed him.
Also in July, footage from a Ring doorbell in Arizona showed a UPS driver collapsing after delivering a package, fueling more anger about worker conditions. “UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and for the effects of hot weather. Our employee used his training to be aware of his situation and contact his manager for assistance, who immediately provided assistance,” UPS said in a statement about the video, 12NEWS KPNX reported.
Aside from protests and organizing unions, workers have also taken to social media. A recent Twitter thread from a worker whose Twitter bio describes him as a “Teamster since 2011” discussed the dangerous conditions, including how the temperature in his vehicle was about 122 degrees Fahrenheit this past week. “UPS Corporate’s solution: drink water, eat honeydew melon, and take a break under a tree,” Anthony Cantu tweeted. The Teamsters for a Democratic Union Twitter thread from this week showed photos of thermometer readings reportedly taken inside trucks, with temperatures well above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius).
Martin emphasized that so much of her job makes her feel overheated, but the worst part is locating and collecting packages in the back area of her vehicle. “Those three minutes feel like hell in the back of the truck,” she said.
According to Martin’s recollection, before the death in California and the video of the collapsing delivery driver in Arizona, workers usually had to get their own water, but workers are now provided water and Gatorade on the job. “[UPS is] under pressure, and there’s eyes on them now because it’s out there in the public,” Martin said.
Martin hopes that she and her colleagues don’t have to wait years for fans or working ice machines. She wants the growing public pressure to motivate UPS to invest in worker safety. She says delivery drivers and union reps are not asking for a lot.
“We are hard workers, we go out there and we do our jobs,” she said. “The company should look at it this way—they’ll get more out of us if we’re comfortable.”