Workers estimate over 100 UPS warehouse workers in Greensboro walked off the job on Thursday in response to the death of a coworker presumed to have died of COVID-19. The worker had been showing symptoms before taking sick leave and ultimately dying, setting off a wave of fear in the facility which employs over 2000 people.
The Greensboro facility takes in and ships out packages from across the country and around the world, and UPS is one of the most profitable companies on earth, making over $74 billion in earnings in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for shipping consumer, medical, and business items as retailers around the world close their doors to prevent the spread of the virus. Upon scratching the surface, however, it is clear that instead of reducing the spread of the virus, the increased demand for delivery is having a negative effect on workers.
Center for Disease Control recommendations for essential workers, like the workers at the UPS hub in Greensboro, include taking your temperature before work, using personal protective equipment including masks, and maintaining a safe social distance at work where possible. Very few of these precautions are in place: many tasks like transporting heavy boxes require multiple workers to work in close proximity; workers were each allocated one single-use N-95 mask weeks ago without being instructed how to safely use it multiple times; there has been no deep clean of the facility despite multiple workers on different shifts showing signs of illness. Even where precautions are followed, their enforcement varies shift to shift, putting all workers at risk.
UPS workers like the ones at the Greensboro hub are the glue holding the fragile COVID-19 response system together: they deliver crucial medical equipment, personal protective equipment, household necessities, and more that help people fight the pandemic in hospitals and at their homes. However, shipment of some items like, say, vintage car parts, furniture, and novelty items put an unnecessary burden on workers already burdened by unsafe working conditions and increased demand for the essential items keeping people alive.
Across the United States, essential workers and workers in sectors deemed critical infrastructure by the Trump Administration are starting to take action in response to the growing pressures of the pandemic economy and the lack of safety protections. Amazon workers in Detroit and New York have staged walk outs to protest lack of proper safety equipment and inaction by the company in the face of a growing number of COVID-19 cases among workers. Nurses in San Francisco and across the country have staged protests at the lack of PPE for frontline medical workers. Employees at Instacart and Whole Foods have staged national strikes to demand protective equipment and better policies towards workers who get sick. In this pandemic, the lives and health of essential workers have been sacrificed in the name of massive profits. But essential workers are fighting back and it is critical we back their struggle.
Although the workers who walked off the job Thursday did so spontaneously, they have set an example for essential workers everywhere. Their health comes first, and it is wrong for one of the richest companies on the planet to make people work in unsafe conditions. By taking a stand they are also protecting the entire community. It may appear to the public that the UPS drivers are the only cog in the machine, but any given package goes through many hands in warehouses before reaching your doorstep. By demanding their own safety, the Greensboro UPS workers are also demanding our safety. The healthcare workers saving people’s lives across the country should be confident that the equipment they need has not been contaminated all because UPS, FedEx, or Amazon were unwilling to protect their own workers.
Stand with UPS workers in Greensboro and stand with essential workers everywhere! Call on massive corporations like UPS to stop putting profit before human lives. We will update this story with any concrete actions you can take to support UPS workers in Greensboro.
This report was produced by members of the PLR Editorial Collective