I was 7-years-old when I learned my uncle was a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service. He had a deep sense of pride in delivering mail, even though folks who do the job are often not given the respect they deserve.
With the world experiencing its hottest days ever on July 3 and July 4, I can’t help but think how difficult it is for mail carriers to be working in climate change-related heat domes — heat that in late June killed 13 people in Texas alone.
Mail carriers deliver packages, but nowadays, United Parcel Service drivers deliver the bulk of what we order online from the comfort of our air conditioned homes. These drivers are among the 325,000 UPS workers threatening to go on strike on Aug. 1. Yes, better pay is a factor, but so is how unbearably hot it is inside the unairconditioned trucks.
Indeed, Teamsters, the union representing workers, has circulated posters that say they’re going to “Make UPS feel the heat.”
As the caption on that tweet notes, drivers last summer were sharing images of “temperature readings from the inside of their package cars? 100 degrees? 120? 140!”
Spending long amounts of time driving when it’s hot can be deadly. Several UPS drivers have died due to heat-related causes. In June 2022, 24-year-old UPS driver Esteban Chavez Jr. died in the Los Angeles area from extreme heat while delivering packages.
In 2021, 23-year-old Waco, Texas, UPS driver José Cruz Rodriguez was found dead in his delivery truck. The cause? Heat stroke.
Black drivers who are still braving the heat have been outspoken on social media about their working conditions. Some are posting photos of thermometers inside their vehicles, and one driver, Greg Alan Mcdaniel, recently posted on TikTok that he’d made a makeshift AC unit for his truck.
UPS driver Rakesha Sanders recently went viral for asking a customer to spray her with his water hose on a hot day.
Sanders may need more customers to hose her down because it’s not likely that temperatures will cool down.
In May, the World Meteorological Organization projected there would be “a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record.”
The first week of July was potentially the hottest period in the past 120,000 years, and climate scientists say extremely high temperatures are only going to become more common.
“We’ve seen the Earth’s temperature increase by 1 degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. We expect the temperature to keep increasing through the 21st century,” says Olivier Pauluis, a professor of mathematics and atmosphere and ocean science at New York University.
“Stay hydrated and avoid heavy activity during warm parts of the day,” Pauluis recommends. But UPS drivers can’t afford to stop working, even if their health and well-being are at risk.
The company says that their “package cars,” which make up 95% of UPS vehicles, will be installed with air conditioning by Jan 1, 2024.
“We have reached an agreement on heat safety with the Teamsters, which includes new measures that build on important actions rolled out to UPS employees in the spring, including new cooling gear and enhanced training,” UPS said in a statement.
“We continue to consult with heat safety experts and sports scientists to inform our approach. We know coming to work rested and staying hydrated are the most effective methods for staying safe in the heat,” the company said.
In the meantime, UPS drivers like Mykol Gummings — who lives in boiling hot Corpus Christi, Texas — are left to roast in, as he put it in a recent TikTok video, sauna-like conditions in their trucks.
“I don’t think people really understand how hot the back of that truck really is,” he said.