Chapel Hill News

UPS drivers to protest bias, working conditions at Monday rally

Robert Campbell
Robert Campbell mschultz@newsobserver.com

UPS employees, some with more than 20 years on the job, will rally Monday against what they say is a culture of discrimination, harassment and unfair, unsafe working conditions across the Triangle and the state.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the NAACP will join the workers, their families and friends from 4 to 8 p.m. in the Eubanks Park and Ride lot, next to UPS’s offices on Eubanks Road. They want fair and better working conditions for UPS workers statewide, the Rev. Robert Campbell said.

UPS workers from Durham and Morrisville plan to join them, said Campbell, president of the local NAACP branch. All are doing more work in fewer hours, while UPS cuts drivers to save costs, more than a dozen workers said last week.

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.

Triangle workers are planning a class-action suit against UPS, Campbell said. They have evidence to back up their claims, he said, pointing to piles of folders and paperwork.

“When you put stress on workers, it affects their lifestyle, it affects their social gatherings, it puts undue stress upon you, and you sometimes act different with your family and your friends,” he said. “How do we go about restoring people back to their normal (life)? Well, you really can’t, but you can make life a little easier by making sure that the workplace that you leave ends up being much better but also get a resolution as you move forward.”

Triangle UPS workers interviewed said black and Hispanic workers are common targets of abusive language and over-supervision. One longtime worker said mutiple supervisors would follow him as he made his rounds, looking for violations. Another worker produced certified letters sent over a two-year period informing the worker of several discharges.

More than one worker mentioned being fired multiple times – some for bringing up problems – and being re-hired after being “punished.” Many refused to give their names and said they are concerned about retaliation after the rally.

Dianne Edwards, a 28-year employee, said she’s filed dozens of complaints and been discharged 33 times. Her July 28 complaint states senior employees who talk to her are facing retaliation “to break their spirits.”

The latest grievance was filed after she refused to sign a contract prohibiting workers from having cell phones, bluetooth devices or ordering food on the clock, she said. She writes in the grievance, filed Aug. 12, that she was reading a phone text to a white co-worker when she noticed a supervisor watching her. She told the supervisor it was the other woman’s phone, and he walked away, she said.

“It is clear to me that the white employees can and do use their bluetooths and cell phones at work and the African Americans (Dianne Edwards) can not,” she wrote in the complaint.

While many UPS workers belong to Teamsters Local 391, they said union representation hasn’t been much help. Local 391 Vice President Richard Armstrong and President Mike McGaha did not respond to requests for comment.

Campbell met a few hours Friday afternoon with UPS area human resource manager Ronald Palmer and Michael Smith, the business manager for the Chapel Hill UPS center. Company representatives contacted Campbell this week to find out if the rally could be avoided.

Both men asked to meet with workers to hear their concerns, Campbell said, and Smith mentioned changes he has made to the local center. Campbell said he made it clear to them that the group’s goal is to gather information “about who’s at fault (and) where do we draw the line.”

“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.

The workers rejected the request to talk, he said. UPS officials declined to answer questions but issued a statement Friday.

“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.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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