UPS Drivers Demand AC in Trucks Following Heat Wave: ‘It’s Like Walking Into Hell’

Yves here. Those dark delivery trucks are already bake ovens. And in a place like New York City, the buildings and pavement also radiate heat. The article describes heat-induced driver hospitalizations and even a death. How long will this continue before UPS and Fedex and Amazon are forced to change? It won’t come voluntarily. Workplace conditions have been at the bottom of their list of priorities.

By Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Samantha Maldonado. Originally published at THE CITY on July 27, 2022

A UPS worker delivers packages in the Financial District, July 27, 2022. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

UPS workers are turning up the heat on their employer after their union said at least six package delivery drivers in the New York City region experienced heat-related illness on the job during last week’s heat wave.

Chris Cappadonna, 26, says he sought emergency care for heat exhaustion an hour into his shift Thursday morning in Brooklyn. With outside temperatures nearing 100 degrees, he started experiencing difficulty breathing and cramped hands, he told THE CITY.

He said he was moving heavy furniture in Mill Basin and was “about to pass out” when two city sanitation workers, who apparently noticed he was struggling, stopped him and came to his aid.

They let Cappadonna sit in their air-conditioned truck to cool off, and he later went to an urgent care and then the emergency room at Mount Sinai Kings Highway, he said.

“I’ve been working for two years and I’ve never felt heat like that. That was crazy,” Cappadonna said. “It’s just not a good situation for anybody to be working in that heat.”

He and other workers say UPS management is not taking needed measures to protect them from the heat, whether that’s ensuring their trucks have fans or air conditioning, or giving them adequate breaks during heat waves.

They’re steamed that the company has invested in new automation technology, drones, surveillance cameras and tracking devices — but not its employees’ comfort One worker told THE CITY a supervisor reprimanded him for taking a 47-second pause for a sip of water — because it was stealing company time.

UPS workers represented by Local 804 and Teamsters Joint Council 16 will protest outside the company’s Foster Avenue warehouse in Canarsie, Brooklyn, on Thursday morning, demanding that the company provide air-conditioned trucks — something many drivers for Amazon, FedEx and even the U.S. Postal Service can take for granted.

Their call comes as New York state and federal regulators are taking a closer look at how to protect vulnerable workers from the ever-growing threat of extreme heat.

Atlanta-headquartered UPS remains the largest private parcel delivery company in the United States, with 450,000 delivery drivers.

A company spokesperson says UPS pays attention to keeping its workers healthy in the heat.

“The health and safety of our employees is our highest priority. UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather,” UPS spokesperson Matthew O’Connor said in a statement to THE CITY. “Preparation, rest, hydration and maintaining good health practices are key to working outdoors.”

‘I Can’t Take it Anymore’

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause serious health complications and even death. Emissions from burning fossil fuels cause average temperatures to rise, with scientists predicting that heat waves will become longer and more frequent in the future.

“Workers need protection with or without climate change, but climate change is definitely making everything more urgent,” said Juanita Constible, senior climate and health advocate with National Resources Defense Council’s healthy people and thriving communities program.

Last Thursday afternoon, Brooklyn UPS worker Angelique Dawkins, 50, sought respite at a nail salon after she started hyperventilating while driving her truck down 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights. Exhausted, she said fell asleep for 20 minutes before continuing her shift.

“We’re told to cool down, drink water, sit in the shade — when the temperature’s that high, there is no shade,” she later said in an interview. “You get to the point where you say, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’”

This month in Pasadena, Calif., UPS driver Esteban Chavez collapsed in his truck shortly after making his final delivery of the day and was later pronounced dead. His family told local media they suspect the 24-year-old died of heat stroke.

Two more UPS workers, one on Long Island and another in Brooklyn, say they were rushed to the hospital with symptoms of heat exhaustion on Thursday and Friday.

Nick Gubell, 26, had delivered more than 200 packages on his route spanning central Long Island by the time he fell ill at around 8 p.m. Thursday, near the end of his shift, with a headache and clammy hands.

He was “panting like a dog,” Gubell told THE CITY.

Paramedics called onto the scene ripped open his shirt and covered him in ice packs, he said. He remained in the hospital until 2 a.m. and missed work that day.

Gubell is also the worker who had been scolded for the water break.

And on Friday, a UPS driver in Red Hook who declined to be named out of fear of retaliation, was rushed to urgent care and later to the emergency room by an off-the-clock co-worker and a supervisor after experiencing a dizzy spell while working that afternoon as the temperature reached 95 degrees.

“When it’s hot out, those trucks…. It’s like walking into hell,” he said.

“This is a company that in the past — forever — has always insisted on performance on how fast their drivers and warehouse workers could work,” Vincent Perrone, president of Teamsters Local 804, which represents the region’s UPS workers, told THE CITY on Wednesday. “It’s just production-driven. That’s what it is.”

O’Connor, the UPS spokesperson, said in a statement: “We never want our employees to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.”

From Hot to Not

Under the ​​federal Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must provide workplaces free from hazards that are likely to cause death or physical harm. Still, nearly 400 workers across the country died from heat exposure between 2010 and 2020.

“We know it’s a pretty basic equation in terms of how to keep people safe, and if someone dies on the job because of the heat related illness, it typically was a preventable death, and it’s tragic,” said Rachel Licker, a principal climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program, who has done extensive research on heat’s dangers to workers.

O’Conner, the UPS spokesperson, said the company had several practices in place to protect workers from extreme heat, including a program developed with OSHA promoting best practices to deal with heat, as well as daily briefings on the day’s forecast.

He also added that the company has “studied heat mitigation with our vehicles and installed forced air systems with venting to create air flow around the driver, changed the roof of vehicles to minimize heat in the cargo area, and insulated the roof of the cab.”

He also said the company provides fans to drivers upon request. Perrone, the Local 804 president, said that approvals for the fans are in fact “very rare.”

OSHA in October began a rulemaking process to create a possible federal workplace heat standard in an attempt to protect people who work in agriculture, construction, factories, warehouses, kitchens and delivery.

A workplace heat standard could mandate workers take paid work breaks as well as have access to sufficient shade and drinking water.

But it may take years for a standard to be created — absent federal legislation to speed up the timeline — and subsequent administrations could overturn or change the standard, Licker said.

States can take the lead on instituting workplace protections related to heat, but New York lacks specific protections. A bill introduced in the state Senate would’ve required employers to keep their employees safe from extreme heat, but it did not pass.

Still, the federal rulemaking is “shaping” New York’s creation of state-level actions and regulations on worker safety during extreme heat, according to a state report of interim recommendations to prepare for extreme heat, released Saturday.

“To really protect workers, we need a statewide temperature standard that sets restrictions on dangerously low and dangerously high temperatures for workers,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

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24 comments

  1. playon

    UPS’ and Fedex’ lack of care for their drivers is truly disgusting. I have a young friend who does farm labor here and they are given the afternoon off because of the heat. It’s going to be 106 today in central WA (in the shade) — I don’t know how the drivers can work under those conditions.

    Reply
    1. Michael Ismoe

      Excuse me? Where the hell is the Teamsters’ Union in all this? You want to know why people don’t join unions? I think we have an answer. Do something for these schmucks you take union dues from every payday.

      Reply
      1. chuck roast

        Indeed. What, is the wildcat strike extinct? The local union leader discussing “maybe fans.” Where is Mike Quill when you need him?

        Reply
      2. aj

        People wonder why the unions got co-opted by the mobsters. Because those mobsters actually had the ability to make sure their union members got taken care of. Imagine how quickly all the Amazon trucks could get A/C if Bezos woke up with a horse head in his bed.

        Obviously, I’m exaggerating for effect but you get the point.

        Reply
      3. GF

        The Teamsters Union is one of the most corrupt unions in the country and has been since the Jimmy Hoffa days. They only care about the money coming from their members and they stay very close to what the company wants when they negotiate new contracts – a symbiotic relationship.

        I was a UPS driver in Arizona for ten years late 70’s early 80’s after they went nationwide. The pay was three times what I was making delivering plumbing supplies so I had no beefs with the union.

        In Arizona it gets hot. How the driver adapt is that the temperatures gradually increase from April through summer so the body (at least in my case) was able to “adjust” somewhat. And being in that hot climate one learns how to work with heat stroke and heat exhaustion a known possibility.

        The worst time I remember was three days in a row with temperatures 115 or higher. After five years I transferred to a cooler part of the state and then a few years later I decided to go back and finish my college degree. Stayed long enough to get vested in the union.

        Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    Amazon could care less about those drivers. It was not that many years ago that they refused to install air-conditioning in their warehouses. So many workers, like here in this article, were collapsing with heat stress that the local ambulances stationed themselves outside those Amazon warehouse waiting for their next “customer.” The best that can be hoped from UPS would be a YouTube link-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUKY-RVDSIc (3:13 mins)

    Reply
    1. Questa Nota

      Home Depot controlled store AC regionally, according to store personnel. Customers pointed out that ambient temperatures could vary by 10-20 degrees across the local region, so one size didn’t fit all. They took their business elsewhere, for example to Lowe’s, to sweat less.
      That led to a minor refinement with greater comfort.
      It shouldn’t be that difficult.

      Reply
  3. Terry Flynn

    Having UK/Aussie citizenship courtesy of years living down under I really get why certain places are “awful” even if the outside ambient temperature may not be objectively excessive. A big part of what makes these vehicles and indoor spaces in the UK and vehicles in various places unbearable (to the point of dangerous) is humidity.

    Too few people understand the wet bulb test. On earliest trips to Sydney from UK I had Singapore stopovers and indulged my desire to “walk it” so as to really get a better feeling for the area etc. Bad idea. Quickly learnt how to use the “underground city” – completely air-conditioned – to get anywhere. That’s how you stay alive.

    Recent heatwaves here in UK beat the 45 degree heatwave (objectively hotter) I experienced one time in Sydney, due to humidity I never got in Sydney. I think we’re far closer to “unliveable” in far more places than we reckon.

    Reply
    1. digi_owl

      Yeah, humidity is not to be ignored. It also makes colder temps sting that much more.

      And from a recent podcast interview Steve Keen had, apparently the Nordhaus economic model ignores humidity/rainfall…

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      We need a word for this. It takes heat to evaporate water into water vapor, and water vapor caries that ” latent heat of vaporisation”. I bet there is more overall heat-energy in a chunk of air a 90 degrees and a hundred per cent humidity than there is in a same-sized chunk of air at 110 degrees and zero per cent humidity.

      I would suggest the word ‘ heaty ‘ for this aspect of very moist air at a high temperature. ‘Hot’ could refer to the actual temperature. 95 degrees and 95% humidity? Man, that’s heaty!

      Reply
      1. Huey Long

        HVAC Pro here: The word you’re looking for the phenomenon you describe is enthalpy expressed as BTU/LB.

        Modern HVAC controls calculate enthalpy and use it to control whether or not to use outside air to cool a space and exhaust the air in the room or to recirculate the air back through the A/C unit.

        Works wayyyyyyyy better than dry bulb.

        180 deg F at single digit humidity is a sauna; at 99% humidity you’ll literally cook.

        Reply
  4. lyman alpha blob

    This could use a little clarification –

    UPS workers represented by Local 804 and Teamsters Joint Council 16 will protest outside the company’s Foster Avenue warehouse in Canarsie, Brooklyn, on Thursday morning, demanding that the company provide air-conditioned trucks — something many drivers for Amazon, FedEx and even the U.S. Postal Service can take for granted.

    Are they saying that Amazon, etc. do provide air conditioned trucks? And if so, what percentage of them? Seems like UPS is being singled out here, and one thing I know that Amazon and FedEx do not have is a union for their employees. Presumably UPS drivers have more recourse than those at other companies, so why is UPS taking most of the blame here?

    UPS trucks are pretty bare bones vehicles. I worked briefly for UPS for a few weeks about twenty years ago and I don’t remember the trucks having heat either, and this was in December in Maine. My job was to do the “last mile” and deliver packages by hooking up a garden cart to a bike and pedal through the snow (!) – no temperature control whatsoever in that arrangement. I do know that UPS has gone more towards the Amazon model with tracking employees movements and delivery times, etc., and they may have changed for the worse in other ways too. When I worked for them though I know for a fact that the average UPS driver was paid significantly higher than their FedEx counterparts. I got paid pretty decently (can’t remember the exact hourly wage) and those few weeks of decent pay from UPS kept me in an apartment when I was in a rather precarious situation. I also received a completely unexpected bonus once my temp job was up which added a few dollars per hour to my overall pay – it was given for simply showing up every day. The bike broke down on my last day of the job too and they never asked any questions about it.

    So yes the unions should step up here and make sure the drivers have what they need to keep from suffering from heat exhaustion. But we should also remember that UPS does have a union for now at least, and they at least used to and hopefully still do take care of their employees better than most companies because of that union. Sorry for the long and somewhat rambling post, but going after unionized companies for what is a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things while largely giving competitors who treat their employees like crap a pass gets my hackles up.

    Solidarity, people!

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      Here in Tucson, the Amazon vans are indeed air conditioned. I’m pretty sure that the Fedex trucks are too.

      UPS and USPS? Nope. No AC for them.

      Reply
  5. Carla

    I sent a note of appreciation to the reporters and included this suggestion:

    “I suggest that every expose like this of unbearable working conditions and mistreatment of workers would be even MORE effective if it included: The annual salary and benefits packages of the president and the CEO, and the corporation’s stock price in, say, 2017, 2020 and 2022.

    That would highlight why the corporation cannot afford to provide better working conditions for rank-and-file employees.

    In the case of this particular article, it wouldn’t have been bad to include the salaries of the Teamsters union spokespeople. Doesn’t seem the Teamsters have done much for UPS drivers in recent years.”

    Reply
    1. ChrisPacific

      Perhaps senior management could be required to use a UPS van (with default fit-out) for any local travel to meetings, conferences and the like – while wearing their suit or whatever they plan to wear at the destination.

      Reply
  6. Polar Socialist

    There’s also the consideration that a delivery truck (when the driver is constantly jumping in and out of the vehicle) can’t have too big a difference between outside and inside temperature – it’s a health hazard too. When it’s really hot, the only remedy is to take a break often and hydrate properly. Like ten minutes every hour or so.

    Reply
  7. Matthew G. Saroff

    It would not cost UPS that much.

    If you had a 5000 btu/h air conditioner you would get decent cooling and de-humidification, though it would take a while to get there. (By comparison a Prius is around 15000 BTU/h)

    Reply
  8. cnchal

    They’re steamed that the company has invested in new automation technology, drones, surveillance cameras and tracking devices — but not its employees’ comfort One worker told THE CITY a supervisor reprimanded him for taking a 47-second pause for a sip of water — because it was stealing company time.
    . . . . .
    A company spokesperson says UPS pays attention to keeping its workers healthy in the heat.

    “The health and safety of our employees is our highest priority. UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather,” UPS spokesperson Matthew O’Connor said in a statement to THE CITY. “Preparation, rest, hydration and maintaining good health practices are key to working outdoors.”
    . . . . .
    “This is a company that in the past — forever — has always insisted on performance on how fast their drivers and warehouse workers could work,” Vincent Perrone, president of Teamsters Local 804, which represents the region’s UPS workers, told THE CITY on Wednesday. “It’s just production-driven. That’s what it is.”

    UPS management considers it an outside jawb when a considerable time is spent inside the cooker driving to the next stop, which might be seconds to minutes away. Seems like management’s “crap built on lies” deprtment is earning their keep, exploitees be damned..

    Furthermoar, the automation, drones, surveillance, tracking is going to be used to intensify the exploitation. Hmm .. too bad their excess profits from running a monopoly can’t be taxed away so they couldn’t invest in making the world a living hell.

    What was that? Higher wages and a speed limit to how fast the work pace is? UPS has lots of fat profits to throw at digital crapola. Exploitees, it is your duty to grab those fat profits for yourselves because you have earned it and the bonus would be that it would slow your own digital immiseration at the hands of UPS management.

    Reply
  9. Sue inSoCal

    How many products they’re delivering are pitched because they’re melted? This isn’t just a US Southwest issue anymore. I don’t believe they give a rat about workers; they are disposable, as many point out. (Whither are work comp laws?) But how much product is returned destroyed? Just wonderin’…

    Reply
  10. dao

    Low level employees never get air conditioning. Once worked at a plastics factory. 100+ degrees on the workroom floor. They handed workers a sweat towel before their shifts. Upper level employees in the offices were wearing sweaters because the AC was too cold.

    Another factory job where it only got to 80-90 degrees in summer. Company bought a robot. Robot had to have temps below 75 degrees so they constructed a bubble around it and it had it’s own air conditioning unit installed. One lucky human was assigned to tend the robot inside the air conditioned bubble.

    Reply

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