Rank-and-file Teamster's grievance stops illegal UPS low-wage golf cart delivery
Jacksonville, FL – On Jan. 3, UPS abruptly discontinued its seasonal golf cart delivery program in Florida, after a worker filed a grievance on management for breaking state statutes. UPS management continued assigning normal golf cart delivery assignments to workers after Dec. 31, which violated state regulations on golf carts and placed its workforce at risk.
“UPS management put their workers at risk by assigning them duties that were against the law on Jan. 2,” said Dave Schneider, the UPS golf cart driver who filed the grievance. Schneider is a member of Teamsters Local 512 in Jacksonville. “Management was either negligent and didn't know about the statute or they hedged their bets to get a few more days of low-wage delivery work from golf cart drivers. Either way, they put us at risk, and I can't afford a huge traffic ticket making $8.50 an hour.”
During the holidays, UPS hires a large seasonal delivery workforce to handle the higher volume of packages. In southern states like Florida, management hires workers from the warehouse and off the street to deliver packages in unshielded golf carts for $8.50 an hour. These workers operate golf carts in large residential areas and deliver packages that the company drops off in portable storage units daily.
“Driving a golf cart on residential streets doesn't make it any safer,” said Jared Hamil, a UPS golf cart driver and a member of Teamsters Local 89 in Tampa. “In fact, it just means that you are driving unprotected on small streets in close contact with cars and trucks that don't necessarily obey traffic laws. They speed and often run stop lights or stop signs. I've almost been hit many times.”
UPS hires golf cart drivers instead of adequately staffing its normal delivery operations or hiring enough of the seasonal package drivers who drive the iconic brown trucks. For UPS management, this means lower labor costs and cheaper equipment. For UPS workers, though, the golf cart program means lower wages – $8.50 per hour, less than 50% the pay rate of seasonal delivery drivers – and higher risks on the job.
Although golf carts are generally illegal for any commercial purposes in the state because of safety concerns, UPS successfully lobbied the Florida legislature to amend state statutes several years ago to allow seasonal golf cart use for package delivery companies with over 10,000 employees in the state – a requirement that only applies to UPS and FedEx.
However, the statute places clear limitations on the time golf carts can be used for delivery.
Florida statute 316.2126, which regulates “Authorized use of golf carts, low-speed vehicles, and utility vehicles,” states that “Seasonal delivery personnel may use the following vehicles [golf carts]...from midnight October 15 until midnight December 31 of each year.”
While UPS was closed on New Years Day, management assigned seasonal golf cart drivers normal duties on Jan. 2.
“When management talked to me on Jan. 2, they told me that they planned to run the golf carts until Jan. 15, the last day of peak season according to the contract, to deal with the higher volume,” said Schneider, who also works in the Jacksonville warehouse. “I worked that day, despite the all-day rainstorm, and it wasn't until after the shift that I realized UPS had put me at risk by breaking the law.”
Schneider said he went straight to the Teamsters 512 office after his shift on Jan. 2 and filed a grievance after talking with several union officers. He filed the grievance under Article 18, Section 1, which states, “Under no circumstances will an employee be required or assigned to engage in any activity...in violation of a government regulation relating to safety of a person or equipment.” The remedy Schneider sought in the grievance was to “Immediately discontinue all golf cart-related seasonal activity in violation of Florida state statutes and the collective bargaining agreement.”
Within hours of being filed, UPS complied and abruptly discontinued the program for the remainder of peak season. When Schneider showed up to work on Jan. 3, his supervisor informed him that the company was discontinuing the use of golf carts because of Florida state statutes.
Jacksonville wasn't the only Florida city affected by the grievance.
“In Tampa, UPS used golf carts to deliver thousands of packages on Jan. 2,” said Hamil. “I delivered a few myself. They expected me to deliver on Jan. 3 as well and I was told golf carts were going to be used until Jan. 15. But when I went to work Friday morning, all of the PODS [portable on-demand storage units] had been discontinued with no explanation from management.”
Hamil and his co-workers, though, knew exactly what had happened. “I knew the reason why,” he said. “They had been caught breaking the law red-handed.”
After talking with Schneider about the golf carts on Jan. 3, his supervisor informed him that he would receive a documented verbal warning for misloaded packages the day before. Schneider immediately asked for a union shop steward and told the supervisor that it sounded to him like harassment.
“I told them I knew what they were doing,” said Schneider. “UPS broke the law and, when rank-and-file workers put a stop to it, management tries to strike back with harassment. If we stand together and know our rights, their attempts at intimidation don't work.”
Schneider's supervisors briefly looked for his requested steward and returned in about a half hour to inform Schneider that he would not be receiving a verbal warning.
Bejamin Dictor, a labor lawyer in New York City familiar with the golf cart issue, said, “Protecting workers from hazardous conditions and unsafe work environments is one of the original objectives of collective bargaining. Even where it is a single worker who engages in activity to enforce a contract provision protecting them against dangerous, or in this case, illegal orders from management, the action is considered protected and concerted as it affects not only the individual worker but everyone one who is subject to the collective-bargaining agreement.”
In Jacksonville, UPS management moved the packages planned for golf cart delivery onto normal brown trucks and brought in cover drivers to handle the higher volume, according to Schneider.
“This is what UPS should do year-round,” said Schneider. “We need more warehouse workers trained as cover drivers to make sure UPS can meet all of its service commitments and handle the volume, not more low-wage golf cart schemes.”
The period from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15, called 'peak season' by UPS, are the busiest and most profitable months for the giant logistics corporation, which reported fourth-quarter revenues of $14.57 billion in 2012.
“Teamsters need to know that there's power in the union,” said Hamil. “We have a contract that gives us protections, and the rank-and-file workers on the box line, driving trucks or driving golf carts need to know their rights at work.”