Monday December 11, 2017
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UPS imposes 70-hour work week

Commentary by Kas Schwerdtfeger |
December 3, 2017
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Kas Schwerdtfeger.
Kas Schwerdtfege. (Fight Back! News / Staff)

Milwaukee, WI — As the critical month of December rolled in, the United Parcel Service mandated nationally new work rules for package delivery drivers, increasing the workweek to 70 hours for the duration of the holiday, or peak, season.

Year after year, management at UPS has failed horribly to accurately predict and plan for the increased volume that comes with the holidays. It is a common belief among workers that their failures have been intentional, forcing their own management team, including dispatchers, direct on-car supervisors, upper level managers, and even salespeople onto trucks and into the warehouse to deliver even larger corporate profits during Christmas. Management employees who do the work of union personnel stop jobs from being created, putting money directly back into the pocket of UPS, and rob workers across the U.S. of an opportunity to make money for the holiday season for their own families.

Rather than hire enough employees to competently do the work, UPS relies on pushing its current staff to the absolute breaking point and beyond, with drivers pushed to delivering to homes past 9 p.m.

An 11-year package car driver in Wisconsin, speaking on condition of anonymity, talks about his day, saying, "I get up at about 6 a.m. to get ready for work, and go grind it out until about 10 p.m. That's our curfew, which is another way of saying that's what time they expect us to work until. When I come home, I barely have time to wash my clothes and take a shower before I pass out from sheer exhaustion. This company is only motivated by making money, by any means necessary."

Workers once fought battles with business owners to demand the eight-hour work day. In my own state of Wisconsin, it culminated in what became known as the 1886 Bay View Massacre, in which 14,000 workers staged a citywide general strike in Milwaukee, demanding an eight-hour day with raises, so that there would be no reduction in pay. Wisconsin's governor sided with the companies and against the eight-hour day, and ordered state militia to confront Milwaukee's workers. The standoff ended when the state militia fired into the crowd, leaving seven dead and others injured, including children and the elderly.

The sacrifice of those people led, in part, to the creation of the eight-hour day, the weekend and overtime regulations, which were designed to stop the abuse of workers and allow for us to spend time with our families year round, not just when it is convenient for our employers.

Workers at UPS will need to stand together with their union to enforce their rights this holiday season, and look to demand improvements from the company in the contract negotiations next year. The Teamsters at UPS have the largest private sector contract in the U.S., and, together, have the strength to set the tone for the entire U.S. labor movement, and improve the lives of workers not just at UPS, but across many different companies and industries. A weak contract should be rejected, and it will be up to every rank-and-file member to hold UPS accountable for its treatment of its employees, including a national strike, if necessary.

Solidarity to all, and be safe out there.

Kas Schwerdtfeger is a package car driver at UPS and a proud union steward for Teamsters Local 344 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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