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Teamsters protest at UPS after workers suffer from heat-related illness

By Kristen Hackbarth

Members of Teamsters Local 533 today rallied outside UPS headquarters in Sparks to protest working conditions of delivery drivers who are suffering in the northern Nevada heat. 

Union members are demanding UPS provide air conditioners in its trucks to keep drivers from overheating during their shifts. 

“Heat exhaustion, even death, has been a big issue at UPS this summer,” said Gary Watson, president of the local Teamsters chapter.

In July a UPS driver in Pasadena, California, died of what his family suspects was heat stroke and a number of other drivers across the country have sought medical attention or experienced symptoms of heat-related illness during their shift. 

Watson said one local UPS driver was in the emergency department twice this week with symptoms of heat exhaustion. He said not only did UPS refuse to provide the driver safe transport home from the hospital in Yerington, it asked him to drive the truck back to the local distribution center despite a doctor’s order to stay out of the heat. 

A spokesperson for UPS said this is one of many topics that are part of negotiations with the Teamsters.

“UPS and the Teamsters have worked cooperatively for almost 100 years to meet the needs of UPS employees, customers and the communities where we live and work,” they said. “We have built UPS into the world’s leading package delivery company together, which has also bolstered Teamsters membership over the years. We believe we’ll continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that’s good for everyone involved.”

Temperatures across northern Nevada have been in the mid- to upper 90s for much of July and August, with several days topping out at more than 100 degrees. July 28 and 29 saw record highs in Reno with temperatures at 103 and 104 degrees respectively.

This year isn’t unique in terms of heat-related illnesses for package delivery workers. The New York Times reported this month that more than 270 UPS drivers have experienced heat-related injuries in the past seven years. 

In June, Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidance for Nevada businesses related to the Heat Illness National Emphasis Program (NEP). The federal program was launched to help protect workers from heat illness and injuries sustained on the job. 

As part of the NEP, Nevada OSHA established heat priority days, which are any day when the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. On those days, the agency said it would work with high-risk industries and inspect alleged heat-related incidents. 

OSHA also recommended employers consider using air conditioning, increasing ventilation, providing cooling fans and providing shade. A training and consultation program was also launched to help employers prevent heat-related illness and injuries on the job. 

Teamsters also protested outside of UPS in January of this year over proposed pay cuts for some part-time workers.

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