As an increasing number of people throughout the United States fall under “shelter-in-place” orders to limit the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of workers at UPS are forced to remain on the job. With a global workforce of nearly 445,000 and revenues of over $20 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019 alone, the corporation is gearing up to make big profits in spite of the pandemic, while placing its workers in harm’s way.
Earlier this month, as the coronavirus pandemic began its leap across the globe, UPS executives were gloating about the business opportunities. “Our planes are flying in and out of China right now … I think we’re trying to position ourselves to take advantage of some pent-up demand [with the end of China’s nationwide lockdown],” UPS Chief Financial Officer Brian Newman told Reuters on March 3.
In a statement last month, Mike Mangeot, UPS’s public relations manager, declared: “UPS has put in place health and hygiene measures that are in line with suggested World Health Organization measures… These include providing masks and hand sanitizer for flight crews, as well as disinfecting the flight decks of our aircraft coming from Asia. We also have a substitution process for pilots who aren’t comfortable operating China flights.”
But his statement made no reference to the plight of UPS’s hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers stationed across the planet whose lives may be impacted by the corporation’s jockeying to meet “demand.”
“There has been no serious talk about this disease” at UPS, a warehouse worker in Baltimore, Maryland, told the World Socialist Web Site. “Cleanliness is pretty much laughable at my building, which is not a laughing matter at all. Just yesterday a supervisor was telling everybody that we had to wear gloves. But there’s no special sanitization of any sort or any other safety measures as far as that [is concerned].
“We’re pretty much just robots [to the company], if you get sick then you just get sick and don’t show up for a couple of days,” he said. The worker expressed worry about his site’s sole “responder,” a worker who handles broken packages and other hazards at the job. “Some of the stuff they have him do, knowing that he doesn’t have any protective gear for this,” he said. “I remember him getting sick handling something [on the job], and he’s the only one we have.”
“Any day, he could be loading car and he has to stop. They have him taking up multiple things. People have no clue what goes on in shipping… 300 odd packages in a car, sent to one place as a bulk stop with multiple packages. Then you have to pull that off, then someone calls in a responder and he has to stop. Then somebody else has to step in. It’s a job in itself,” he said.
A worker in California told the WSWS, “UPS insists that we are part of the ‘essential industries’ category that will not adhere to the state’s [lockdown].” The worker explained that at a work meeting, “fellow employees brought up the need for gloves, face masks… in order to keep ourselves and our families safe.”
“UPS management said ‘no’… It’s astonishing,” they remarked.
UPS workers that become infected will be given ten days of leave from the company. But such policies are little help given that an infected person can go days without symptoms, potentially infecting an entire worksite in the meantime.
This is already taking place. “Terrified’ Package Delivery Employees Are Going to Work Sick,” reported a headline in the New York Times over the weekend.