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A truck full of sensors

On the surveillance of UPS drivers

A Teamster in Oklahoma City describes how UPS uses new surveillance technology to undermine the union.

Package car drivers are some of the most tracked and monitored people in the country. With the delivery of each bar-coded package, we let our customers know where we are and where their package was left.

Beyond that though, UPS vehicles are full of reporting hardware. This system reports our vehicle location; how many times we back up; and little things like the time between when we kill the ignition and the door opening. Efficiency is the name of the game; we are even instructed on which pocket to keep a pen in. (It’s a cross draw — left-handed folk keep it in the right breast pocket and vice versa).

Most of this sounds innocuous, but Teamsters at UPS are alarmed to find that our hub in OKC is part of a test run by the company to install audio & video surveillance inside our package car cabin.

Driver-facing dash cams began appearing last year around the time the pandemic began. These cameras shoot high definition video and use artificial intelligence to track and analyze drivers movements – from taking a drink, to yawning, to scratching our faces.

Driver-facing dash cams are used in UPS trucks to track and analyze the movement of drivers

These cameras are a ruthless measure designed to squeeze more productivity from the employees — many of us who have been forced into mandatory overtime because of the surge of COVID-related deliveries. Workers at UPS are often forced into driving to the government-mandated cutoff of 60 hours a week. People are exhausted and the company keeps demanding more and more.

The technology isn’t just about tracking us and questioning our bathroom breaks. It’s also an opportunity for UPS to undermine the Teamsters Union, which represents the majority of its labor force. With audio surveillance, companies like Amazon and FedEx look for opportunities to find union activists and fire them. As UPS has admitted to using technology in inappropriate ways in the past, Teamsters have no doubt that the company will similarly look for ways to punish hard working members of its workforce with these new devices.

There are huge privacy implications as well: private conversations, such as between a driver and her doctor, will become part of an employee’s record. If a pregnant driver is not seen as being able to be “productive” enough for the company, how might that affect her treatment or her employment?

How is a steward supposed to talk with his members about their union rights if the conversation is being recorded by the company? A reasonable employee would conclude that these cameras have been placed to monitor our legally-protected union activities. The installation of this surveillance therefore has a chilling effect on the free exercise of our collective bargaining rights. It is a clear violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

In a year with a heated debate about the direction our union should go with the retirement of long-standing president James P Hoffa, we need to hear from candidates on how they will deal with this attack on their members.

We would welcome a pledge of solidarity and support against employer surveillance from both Sean O’Brien of the Teamsters United slate and Steve Vairma of the Teamsters Power slate.

UPS workers must be free to talk to one another and their union representatives about their wages and working conditions without fear that members of management are peering over their shoulders, taking note of who is involved in union activities, and in what particular ways.

Workers deserve dignity and respect. Teamsters should fight for it.

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