UPS employees drew the attention of management, union reps and passersby this week to their call for a safe and fair working environment.
“We are here today to find the truth in the light of allegations of violations in the workplace, and we stand with workers and former workers who have filed complaints and grievances,” the Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, said at the demonstration Monday outside the UPS center in Chapel Hill.
In interviews last week, some black and Hispanic employees in Chapel Hill, Durham and Morrisville said they have been called names and cursed at, worked through required breaks to meet performance demands, and had managers supervise them for days at a time – sometimes more than one manager – looking for mistakes. One worker’s complaint noted finding a supervisor hiding in the bushes on his route.
The employees, most refusing to give their names for fear of retaliation, said they were suspended or fired multiple times – often for errors, such as not turning on their flashers or honking, holding boxes incorrectly or having a late delivery. Others said they have been fired for pointing out problems or “stealing time” when health problems, changes in their daily route or other issues, such as traffic or a long wait to get a signature, reduced their performance.
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UPS officials issued a statement Friday after the meeting, rebutting the workers’ allegations.
“Any claims of discriminatory practices related to terminations in our Chapel Hill facility are false and completely without merit,” UPS spokesman Dan McMackin said in an email. “The terminations in question were due to workplace misconduct which included dishonesty and violations of the UPS Professional Conduct and Anti-Harassment policy. UPS does not tolerate discrimination and it follows disciplinary procedures outlined in its contract with the Teamsters union. UPS welcomes a formal meeting with representatives from the NAACP to discuss this issue.”
UPS workers who encounter a problem or are disciplined can file a complaint with the shop steward, a union representative who negotiates with managers to get a resolution or the worker’s job back.
If that fails, the union business agent steps in to negotiate with managers and, if necessary, with upper management. Resolutions can include reducing a discharge to a suspension or time served for when an employee was out of work.
The workers don’t get back lost pay or it can affect benefits and retirement, they said. The process also can have a chilling effect on other workers’ complaints, they said.
The workers say they could find other employment, but they like the job and it pays well. Season delivery drivers can start at $18 an hour, according to online sources. Full-time drivers start at $18.75 an hour, according to their contract, and can earn between $30 and $32 an hour within four years.
Dianne Edwards, a 28-year employee, said she’s not backing down after being fired 33 times and filing dozens of complaints, including for harassment, vacation pay that was 11 weeks late and being denied bathroom breaks. She has UPS documents showing that a manager contacted the company doctor who signed off on her physical fitness form in 2014 and, a month later, had him mark through the approval and disqualify her.
A recent complaint alleged senior employees who talk to her are facing retaliation “to break their spirits.”
More than 100 grievances have been filed in Chapel Hill, many for harassment and discrimination, Campbell said. A class-action lawsuit being planned now doesn’t have to happen, he said, if UPS sits down with workers, changes policies and holds a racial-equity workshop.
Their complaints echo what UPS workers have reported across the nation, he said. The most recent case was in Kentucky, where eight black workers won $5.3 million in damages for claims that UPS had created a hostile workplace, discriminated against one employee and retaliated against another.
UPS management – with an Orange County sheriff’s deputy – watched Monday’s rally from the parking lot off Eubanks Road. Three UPS officials drove to the parking lot of a neighboring business closer to the rally. Workers said they were recording the protest.
The officials, who did not identify themselves, were holding their cellphones when approached for an interview. They referred questions to a UPS spokesman but said they were there to make sure no one stepped in front of passing trucks.
The state NAACP is working with local officials to investigate the allegations, said the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, field director for the NAACP’s North Carolina branch.
Teamsters Local 391, based in Greensboro and Raleigh, represents 8,500 UPS drivers under a 2013-18 national contract with UPS. The contract summary notes harassment at UPS is “a combination of discipline, threats and intimidation based on technology, 9.5 (overtime protection) requests, retaliation for grievance filing and inadequate staffing.” It specifically targets worker protections related to UPS use of GPS and other electronic monitors.
Local 391 spokesman Brian Lewis said they have handled hundreds of grievances, including about inappropriate language, and acknowledged UPS is “a very difficult company.”
“The contract (with UPS) is very good ... but the company does break the contract,” he said. “They do things that are not agreed upon in the contract, and we have to hold them accountable.”
He encouraged workers to file grievances with their shop stewards and follow up with Local 391 Vice President Richard Armstrong if that doesn’t resolve the problems. Workers also can bring their grievances to the union’s monthly meetings in Raleigh, he said.
While UPS officials did not respond Monday, UPS area human resource manager Ronald Palmer and Michael Smith, the business manager for the Chapel Hill UPS center, met Friday with Campbell. They asked to meet with workers and mentioned changes that have been made to the local center, Campbell said.
“After they began to hear some of the stories and what was happening to Dianne, they saw that there was two things there: She was misrepresented by the union, and she definitely was done wrong by UPS, because she should not have to go through what she went through,” he said.