Dozens of United Parcel Service workers holding signs that said "People Over Packages" demonstrated outside the UPS Customer Service Center in Springfield Gardens, Queens April 28 to protest the firings of 10 co-workers for leaving their jobs roughly an hour early.
Vincent Perrone, the president of Teamsters Local 804, which represents the 110 workers at the customer-service center, insisted that the employees—two of whom were pregnant—had simply done what was standard practice for "months upon months" after their shifts were extended from a maximum of four hours to as much as six hours because of increased demand during the pandemic: left a bit early.
No Objections at Time
Their reasons for the early departures varied, he said. Besides two pregnant employees, one of whom is in her eighth month, those who left roughly an hour before their 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. shifts ended included a man with a special-needs son and other employees who had second jobs because they couldn't survive financially on the 20 hours or less at $15 an hour that had been their schedules prior to the pandemic.
"It was known to management that these members left after five hours" most mornings, he said, but there had been no complaints because their work had been completed by 8 a.m.
The difference on the morning of April 13, he said, was, "That day, there was too much volume in the building" to have finished all the preparation work so that packages that had come into the center were all ready to be shipped. Nonetheless, Mr. Perrone contended, "Not one supervisor said, 'You have to stay.'
"They're blaming the union for telling them to walk out," he said, "when there was no one from the union who was there."
But the following morning, he said, when they reported for work shortly before 3 a.m., management ordered security guards to confiscate the 10 workers' ID cards, and they were told they had been fired.
A call to the service center's operations manager, Anthony Salerno, was relayed to UPS's corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. Senior Manager for Media Relations Matthew O'Connor responded in a statement, "Our employees can ask to leave early for personal reasons during their scheduled shift, but in this situation, some part-time hourly employees walked out without asking to leave early. By walking out, these employees created delays for our customers."
His statement continued, "Under our collective-bargaining agreement with Local 804, a walkout is grounds for termination of employment. We had reached an agreement for these employees to return to work, which was later withdrawn by Local 804. We are open and willing to continue our dialogue to resolve this situation."
Mr. Perrone said the union had balked at management's demand that the 10 employees serve suspensions before they could be reinstated because they had done nothing improper that warranted their being off the job. He said UPS officials had declined the union's proposal that the situation be submitted to an arbitrator for a ruling.
Speaking through a bullhorn outside the Springfield Blvd. service center as vans drove into the facility, he directly addressed management, saying, "You put pregnant women on the street and took their health care away."
Support From Garcia
The rally attracted several candidates for various city offices, including mayoral hopeful Kathryn Garcia, who said the workers were "getting arbitrarily fired...for no good reason and need their jobs back. All they want to be able to do is to work and support their families."
Noting that Ms. Garcia, a former city Sanitation Commissioner, has the endorsement of two other Teamster locals, the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association and Local 813, which represents private sanitation workers, Mr. Perrone told his members, "There's other Teamsters that get treated with dignity and respect by their employers."
He added, "We are here for the duration. We don't believe in the working poor. We don't believe workers should be on the street."
But, he said, while UPS referred to its staff as "essential workers," it did not treat them that way. "It's 'essential' to their bottom line—that's all they cared about," he said.
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