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No safe water, no fans. Wisconsin Teamsters struggle heats up

By staff |
June 26, 2022
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Elm Grove, WI - You might know UPS for their slogan, "What can Brown do for you?" For their employees, the answer is "Not much!"

At the Elm Grove warehouse located just outside Milwaukee, working conditions have never been great. Now with the recent heat wave and a dirty water system, they are noticeably worse. For nearly a month the warehouse has had no potable water safe for humans, meaning workers hope there is enough bottled water to last them through their shift or bring their own water. The bathroom sinks are out of order, with only hand sanitizer to use. This is unsanitary and stands in violation of the Teamster union contract.

While the heat wave rages, there are no functioning fans in most of the warehouse and the trucks have no ventilation. Workers get overheated and pass out during their shift. In many cases, workers who report symptoms of overheating are told to drink water and keep working. Even in a regular Wisconsin summer, fans in the warehouse would significantly improve the working conditions, and possibly improve retention rates.

Given a decaying situation and a lack of management action, there was a growing sense of worker frustration. Last week, two rank-and-file union members decided to act. Lana Akindes and Rory Donovan handed out flyers to coworkers to let people know that there is an avenue to improve working conditions. 

"Every warehouse has a safety committee who is responsible for hearing grievances related to safety hazards. So, we can use this ourselves, and encourage our coworkers to use it as well," said Akindes. "We don't have to suffer just because management is trying to reach a bottom line."

While handing out flyers, some of their coworkers strongly agreed with them, and some were indifferent, saying “It's always been this way.” Management, however, was less than pleased.

"The manager was upset that we didn't talk to him about it first. Our goal was to raise general awareness of the existence of the safety committee, so we're really doing him a favor. But he seemed more concerned with the overall image of UPS our coworkers would get from the flyers," Akindes continued.

The manager said they could come to the safety committee to discuss it but has made little effort to communicate when they meet. 

"It just goes to show that management always has different interests, different bottom lines than the workers do. We just want to be safe while we work, and we will keep up the struggle until we win," Akindes emphasized.