Business & Tech

Teamsters rap UPS’s plan for increased holiday hours for drivers

The union says long holiday shifts cause dangerous fatigue; the company says its plan works elsewhere.
David Goldman/Associated Press/File
The union says long holiday shifts cause dangerous fatigue; the company says its plan works elsewhere.

The holiday season just got more hectic for UPS drivers.

On Friday, United Parcel Service announced that drivers around the country, including in the Boston area, could be scheduled to work up to 70 hours during an eight-day period, up from the typical 60 hours they work over seven days at this time of year, because of record shipping volumes.

The union that represents drivers in New England ripped in to the company on Monday, accusing it of putting “profits before people.”

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“They have the ability to hire as many people as they want during this time and they choose not to, and they choose not to because it would cost them money,” said Sean O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25 and principal executive officer of Teamsters Joint Council 10 New England. “They try and squeeze that orange as much as they can, to the detriment of their regular employees and the general public.”

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The added hours could lead to driver fatigue, O’Brien said, which could result in injuries and put the drivers, as well as the public, at risk. The union held rallies with drivers before their shifts started Monday morning and threatened to file grievances to stop the company from implementing the rule.

UPS hired 95,000 seasonal workers, the same number it added last year, to help handle and deliver an expected 750 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — up 5 percent from last year, said company spokesman Steve Gaut.

The 70-hour rule, which will be in effect through early January, complies with Department of Transportation regulations, Gaut noted, and drivers are entitled to a 34-hour rest period before the next shift begins. UPS first implemented the 70-hour rule in select markets last year, but this is the first time it has applied to drivers in Massachusetts. Actual hours for drivers will vary depending on local delivery volume.

“UPS appreciates the exceptional effort of all employees during our peak holiday shipping season, when daily delivery volumes are near double the normal level,” the company said in a statement.

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UPS has approximately 75,000 delivery drivers on staff nationwide, and 2,100 in Massachusetts.

Representatives from FedEx did not provide details on holiday hours. The US Postal Service said its carriers have an “uptick in overtime usage during our peak season” but did not provide specifics.

The 70-hours-in-eight-days maximum is more suitable for truck drivers, who also fall under the DOT regulation, O’Brien said, because they aren’t climbing in and out of vehicles and going up and down stairs carrying heavy packages. The union is aware that e-commerce is increasing the demand for deliveries, but doesn’t want the burden to fall on drivers.

Joe Foti was a UPS driver in Somerville, Watertown, and Chelmsford for 24 years before he went to work for Local 25 a few months ago. A regular work week is physically exhausting enough, he said, and the holidays are especially difficult. Foti said he would be afraid to drive 70 hours in eight days.

“A fatigued driver is not something you want to know is in your neighborhood during Christmastime,” he said. “All we’re doing is pushing the envelope over a company’s failure to plan well enough for peak season volume.”

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No other locals have protested the 70-hour regulation, Gaut said. “This is the only place in the United States where we’ve heard pushback.”

Local 25 has generated its share of controversy over the years. Five members were charged with attempted extortion in 2015 for harassing the crew of the television show “Top Chef” for not hiring union drivers when they were filming around Boston. One of them pleaded guilty, and the rest were acquitted in August.

Earlier this year, O’Brien was appointed to oversee the nationwide collective bargaining agreement with UPS, which is currently in negotiations, but was fired from that post in September. O’Brien sent an angry letter to James Hoffa, head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, stating that he would “not tolerate working in a bureaucracy geared for failure” and has since said he was considering challenging Hoffa to run the Teamsters.

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.