Who’s to Blame for Safety Problems at UPS?

May 20, 2011: UPS management says workers who don’t follow the proper methods are to blame for most accidents and injuries.

Teamster members are saying no to management’s blame game.

UPS management says that most accidents and injuries are caused when workers don’t follow the proper work methods.

But Teamster members say unreasonable production standards and unsafe working conditions are the real safety hazard at UPS.

The “blame-the-worker” safety culture at UPS is no accident. It’s a part of a national corporate plan to cut down on accident reports (not accidents), reduce workers’ comp costs, and shift the burden of workplace injuries onto members and our union benefit funds.

Teamster members are fed up with management’s blame game—and are calling for coordinated action by our International Union.

Numbers Game

Management is quick to point to the methods when it’s time for a safety quiz or when they’re looking to assign blame for an accident. But when it comes to getting the job done, is your supervisor concerned about the methods or production?

“Management says safety is their top priority, but they’re really focused on numbers, numbers, numbers,” said Rodney Tindall, a hub worker from Sacramento Local 150.

“The company hasn’t hired new workers in our building in a long time. But management pushes us to do the same amount of work with fewer people.”

In a safety survey by New York Local 804, employees listed production pressure as the number one safety problem at UPS. Eighty-nine percent of members reported that stress from excessive work hours and production pressure is harmful to the health of UPS workers.

Avoiding Comp Claims

A key goal of UPS’s blame-the-worker program is to discourage the reporting of injuries and save the company comp costs.

At the Columbus UPS hub, workers on the pre-load shift lose their weekly donut break if a worker reports an accident. Workers who report an injury have to stand up in front of the other pre-loaders and explain they failed to follow the proper safe work methods.

“UPS doesn’t care if you get injured or not,” says Nick Perry, a UPS pre-load steward in Columbus Local 413. “They just don’t want you to report the injury.”

Experts say that discouraging accident reports hides safety problems and perpetuates injuries.

“It’s hard enough to get hazards fixed that we know about,” says Nancy Lessin, the coordinator of the United Steel Workers’ safety program and a national expert on blame-the-worker safety programs. “It’s impossible to fix hazards that we don’t know about.”

Safety Committees

Nationally one of the biggest challenges are company-dominated safety committees that go along with management’s blame-the-worker approach.

Some Teamsters are pushing for change.

“With the backing of our local, we took on the safety committee and used Article 18 to get pro-union workers appointed to the committee,” Perry said.

Other local unions have pulled out of the company’s safety committees altogether—including Boston Local 25 and New York Local 804.

A Union Approach

UPS has a coordinated national strategy to blame workers for safety problems, save comp costs by reducing the reporting of injuries, and divide the membership through company-dominated safety committees.

Our union needs a nationally coordinated response that puts the blame where it belongs: on excessive loads, 9.5 violations, and production harassment both in the hubs and on the road.

“Right now, local unions and individual members are left to fend for themselves,” Perry said. “That’s no way to deal with a multinational corporation like UPS. Our International can do better.”

“We deserve a safe workplace and a real safety program,” said Tindall.

“The national union needs to get on the ball and help members stop the harassment.”

It’s About the Numbers

“Management says safety is their top priority, but they’re focused on numbers, numbers, numbers.”

Rodney Tindall, UPS Inside Local 150, Sacramento, Calif.


We Can Do Better

“Right now local unions and members are left to fend for themselves. That’s no way to deal with a multinational corporation like UPS. Our International can do better.”

Nick Perry, UPS Inside Steward Local 413, Columbus, Ohio

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Teamster Voice