Negotiators for UPS and the Teamsters union have reached a tentative agreement on a crucial issue in their contract talks: The shipping giant has finally agreed to install air conditioning - gradually - in its entire fleet of 95,000 delivery vans.
The union hailed the long-sought agreement as a "major tentative deal." It said the company agreed to equip all larger delivery vehicles, smaller sprinter vans, and all of UPS' most recognizable brown package vans purchased after Jan. 1, 2024 with in-cab air conditioning systems.
There is apparently less immediate relief for drivers of vehicles already in operation. The current fleet will all get two fans per van after the contract is ratified. In addition, there will be air induction vents installed in the cargo compartments to alleviate extreme temperatures in the back of the vehicles. Non-electric vehicles will have exhaust heat shields installed.
Temperatures have been known to exceed 120 degrees in the cargo areas of the trucks, according to the union. It says UPS has received numerous citations and hazard letters from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for heat-related injuries of its members.
Health and safety issue
"Air conditioning is coming to UPS, and Teamster members in these vehicles will get the relief and protection they've been fighting for," Teamsters General President Sean O'Brien said.
The agreement was announced late Tuesday by the union. The issue of air conditioning was a major bargaining goal for the union in the negotiations. The union argues that, beyond the issue of comfort, the high temperatures in vans in the summer pose a significant health threat to members.
The current five-year contract expires on July 31, and the union is in the process of taking a strike authorization vote among the more than 330,000 Teamsters at UPS. The vote is likely to approve a strike starting on August 1 that could have a huge impact on the US economy.
UPS trucks carry about 6% of US gross domestic product, the broad measure of a nation's economic activity. It delivered an average of 18.7 million US packages a day in the first quarter of this year.
While the deal on the AC doesn't necessarily end the threat of a strike, it is sign that the two sides are making progress towards an overall agreement.
The agreement does not require retrofitting the existing vans with air conditioning. But UPS said the installment of AC is not the only measure it is taking to deal with the safety of delivery drivers during times of high heat. Earlier this year it announced it was adding one fan to each delivery vehicle.
UPS is also working with scientists involved in heat safety to provide its workers with new cooling sleeves and hats designed to battle the heat. It is also adding additional vans to its sorting facilities.
"We care deeply about our people, and their safety remains our top priority," said UPS in a statement late Tuesday after the tentative agreement was announced. "Heat safety is no exception."
The tentative agreement on air conditioning is not the only sign of progress. The union said it reached tentative agreements on more than a dozen issues within subcommittees of the bargaining committee on Tuesday.
But there are still major issues to be resolved in the contract talks, including union demands for significantly greater pay, and the closing of pay gaps between different classes of UPS workers that was put in place to allow UPS to start Saturday deliveries in 2019.
UPS profits have nearly doubled during the five-year life of the current contract, adjusted net income of $6.3 billion in 2018 to $11.3 billion on that basis last year, setting repeated records for the company. The surge in online purchases that started during the height of the pandemic drove record package delivery volumes for UPS and other delivery services.
But UPS profits, revenue and volumes fell in the first quarter compared to a year earlier as the company warned it is seeing signs of a slowdown in shipments.
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