A workers union representing UPS employees issued an alert on Thursday warning that a distribution center in Tucson has suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
The union, Teamsters Local Union Number 104, sent out a press release saying the outbreak has endangered approximately 700 employees and strained the company’s ability to deliver packages.
“Although both UPS and the Arizona Department of Health Services have refused to disclose the extent of the outbreak; we believe at least 36 employees at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, including three employees that have been admitted to intensive care units,” the statement says.
The statement says frontline employees are worried that the distribution center could become an epicenter for spreading the virus and cited a finding from the New England Journal of Medicine that claims the novel coronavirus can live on cardboard for 24 hours.
The union also said UPS transferred workers from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Arizona due to outbreak-related disruptions — generating concern regarding inter-state spread of COVID-19.
When asked about the union’s concerns and requests, UPS issued a written statement saying the company provided personal protective equipment to employees, enforced social distancing and provided cleaning supplies so employees can disinfect work stations and vehicles while following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.
The company also offers up to 10 days of pay for employees who test positive for COVID-19 or if a household member tests positive and needs to quarantine.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our employees and the communities we serve,” UPS said in a statement. “We have been in active communication with Local 104 leaders in Tucson to hear and address their concerns. In any instance where there is a confirmed diagnosis, we immediately contact the Department of Public Health to facilitate a contact trace, fully clean the work area before work resumes, and communicate with potentially impacted employees.”
Union members say UPS isn’t doing enough
Karla Schumann, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said the tactics UPS employed weren’t enough to prevent an outbreak from arising in the distribution facility.
“I believe those guidelines are great for John Q. Public,” Shumann said “But it is not working. We have more and more people are getting infected and there should be some type of responsibility to say what we are doing is not working.”
She said many employees have been forced to work 12 or 13-hour shifts to keep up with online orders that spiked after COVID-19 hit. Many are worried that the long hours could weaken immune systems, thus making it easier for one to contract the virus and spread it to others.
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Schumann said the company agreed to let the union set up a nearby tent and test employees who volunteer to take one.
However, Schumann said the union is requesting UPS implement more drastic measures — such as temporarily closing the facility down and requiring mandatory testing when it’s been cleaned and reopened.
“I do not want to be a meatpacking plant,” Schumann said. “I do not want that stigma. I want this to be the brand that everybody knows and respects. And this is just bizarre to me that they would not take care of this. They claim safety to be of the utmost importance — that means doing more than the minimum.”
Schumann said the union filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and is asking for assistance from elected officials.
When asked what the union planned to do if UPS refused and if going on strike was a possibility, Schumann said anything was a possibility.
“I will tell you — as the principle officer of this local — I’m looking at every option available to me.”
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