Given the state of today’s economy, it has become commonplace to hear about companies trying to cut corners, to stretch every dollar, and maximize their workers’ responsibilities. However, UPS workers are raising questions about what cost these continual raised expectations have on workplace safety and employee health.
Like many companies across America, UPS employees are under pressure to increase productivity; however, at the same time UPS is pushing employees to reduce workplace injuries and workers’ compensation claims. These two goals seem contradictory, a point that is being made by both UPS employees and union officials who affirm that the longer hours and increased expectations has in fact resulted in more workplace injuries.
The local Chicago union is making a point to emphasize that their request to reduce employee workloads does not come from a desire to shirk their duties; rather, many UPS employees are committed to the company and applaud it as a good place to work. Take for example 45 year-old Joe Korziuk – he’s worked for UPS for over 20 years, performing a wide range of jobs, including driving tractor trailers, delivering packages, and even washing trucks. However, even this model employee has suffered work injuries, sustaining a concussion after a heavy box fell on him, and is experiencing the wear and tear of twenty years on the job in the form of knee and back pain.
The case of Joe Korziuk reminds us that over the course of a twenty-plus year career work accidents can happen, even in the case of the most careful employee. In response to this argument, UPS points out that they have made safety a top priority at their company. All UPS workers are required to memorize and know the various safety rules, even to the point where they can recite them on demand. However, knowing a rule and following a rule are two different things.
While employees might be aware of what the rules are, if the work environment is not structured in a way which allows them to follow the rules and procedures, then what good is knowing them? This goes to the heart of the union’s argument that UPS workloads need to be reduced. Currently, the average UPS driver picks up and delivers around 500 packages a day, which breaks down to around 20 customer stops an hour. Add on top of this that most UPS drivers are required to handle packages that can weigh up to 70 lbs. and you have a precarious work environment.
Likewise, the tractor trailer drivers each have an extensive safety checklist that they are expected to perform before each drive. While this is an excellent way to help minimize potential accidents, the problem is that the UPS drivers are not given nearly enough time to properly perform the lengthy inspection. Each driver is allotted just under 37 minutes to perform over 100 tasks that range from testing brake lights, checking brakes, and testing the connection between the tractor and trailer. Numerous UPS drivers have confirmed that it is almost impossible to fulfill all the required tasks in the time allowed, which tends to cancel out the effectiveness of the safety checks.
Given the hands-on nature of the job, it is expected that most employees will experience at least one work injury over the course of their tenure at UPS. However, there have been complaints that the management is less than sympathetic to this reality. If an employee is injured, he or she is required to meet with a health and safety specialists and undergo extra safety training. One UPS worker reported being in trouble with company officials as a result of the various work injuries he’s suffered during his almost 30 years on the job. However, he attests that most of his injuries were the result of being pushed so hard to complete his work, which led him to cut corners.
It is situations like this one that have motivated many employees not to report work place injuries in order to avoid being singled out by their supervisors. UPS workers receive relatively good wages and benefits, which many fear they risk losing if they become injured at work. In today’s economy, the threat of unemployment is too severe for many workers to risk standing up for better treatment. Therefore, it is up to the unions to band together and work towards more reasonable work expectations.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois truck accident lawsuits and Chicago workers’ compensation cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Vernon Hills, Waukegan, Bridgeview, Maywood, Blue Island, and Alsip.
Karl Lydersen. “U.P.S. Workers Demand New Approach to Safety.” The New York Times. May 5, 2011.
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