Somebody call Santa. America’s shipping system needs help delivering all those packages we’re buying online.
Consumers feel the pain.
They’ve lashed out through social media to chide FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and Amazon for late deliveries. The crush was so big at UPS around Black Friday and Cyber Monday that the company extended arrival dates by a day or two on some deliveries.
Shoppers may not realize it, but workers feel the pain, too.
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Some crew members inside Amazon’s newly opened fulfillment center in Kansas City, Kan., have been running under mandatory overtime hours. One employee said overtime reached the company’s maximum 20 hours in one week during the days after Thanksgiving and remained at 16 hours last week.
UPS, as part of its keeping-up plan, triggered rules allowing a 70-hour week on many package delivery drivers, the ones who get the box to your door.
“This is my 42nd Christmas down here and I’ve never ever seen this before,” said J.D. Graham, a feeder driver for UPS in Kansas City, Kan., and head steward for Teamsters Local 41. “It puts a tremendous strain on the body. We’re only human.”
The nation’s delivery system, which struggled at times to keep up last year, is straining harder under what Adobe Digital Insights says is a 14.7 percent jump in shop-and-ship commerce this holiday season.
Online spending since the start of November has topped $1 billion every day and exceeded $65 billion by Dec. 5, said Adobe’s last online shopping recap report until January. We’re set to spend a record $107.4 billion, it said.
Where’s my box?
Siobhan Foley stood in the FedEx center in New Jersey, angry but helping another woman tape up a box. She didn’t have to stay, the workers said. When the driver arrived, they’d get her missing box.
She wasn’t budging.
“If I have to go into the truck and get the package myself, I will,” Foley said she told them.
It was her wedding ring, overnighted via FedEx by the California company that made it. The maker had even set a delivery window from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m. on a Tuesday, Foley’s birthday.
The driver knocked; no answer. Left a note on the condo door and headed back to the truck. That’s the driver’s story, denied by fiance Kevin Power, who was waiting inside.
Rescheduled for the same time, next day. Same outcome. A note on the door, though Power again was waiting.
“The driver actually said to me, ‘Maybe your fiance stepped away to go to the bathroom and didn’t hear me knock,’ ” Foley said of their meeting late that second day.
“I find it very difficult to believe that in our 700-square-foot condo on two consecutive days on the one minute when you knocked on our door he stepped away to the bathroom,” Foley said she told him.
Foley said she got her ring and an apology. The wedding’s next Monday.
Late deliveries may be part of the game during peak season. Foley’s ring was one of about 380 million to 400 million packages FedEx expects to deliver this holiday season.
And in that crush, Mondays rank as FedEx’s busiest day, with the company expecting three Mondays in the season to more than double average daily volumes, said Heather Wilson, senior communications specialist at the company. She said the company is positioned to handle those deliveries.
UPS has worked through its surge and is back to normal shipping times, said Steve Gaut, the company’s head of public relations.
The Postal Service also has gotten called out on late deliveries, including one customer who said she was told she also couldn’t get a refund on her late delivery.
The post office said it has not had unusual delivery problems.
“The United States Postal Service is running current on our deliveries,” said Stacy St. John, strategic communication specialist at the service’s Kansas City offices. “We clear our delivery units daily. Any delays before they arrive at USPS facilities we would not be able to address.”
Amazon’s taking online heat, too. In the Atlanta area, customer Mark Paterson complained about two late deliveries in a row to his residence. He’s resorted to shipping to a local Amazon locker.
UPS turned to the 70-hour week for many of its package delivery drivers after seeing its expected demand for deliveries increase by 40 million packages this holiday season. All told, that’s 750 million packages.
“There might be 250 million households in the United States,” Gaut said. “So we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of three packages to every household in the United States. It’s a big number.”
UPS had hired 95,000 seasonal workers for sorting facilities and as driver assistants, Gaut said. Still, it wasn’t enough to handle the surge of shipments around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, leading to some extended delivery times.
Normally, package car drivers would expect to work 60 hours during this peak season. UPS triggered the 70-hour week at 200 of the company’s 1,000 delivery centers, including in the Kansas City area.
Gaut said that only means drivers could be asked to work that much, it doesn’t mean they necessarily are working that much.
Labor responded harshly.
“I don’t know how many are being forced to do it,” said Ken Paff, national organizer for Teamsters for a Democratic Union. “Everybody’s mad about it.”
A grievance filed by International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 41 in Kansas City asks “UPS to cease and desist using the 70 hour in 8 day” rule allowed under the U.S. Department of Transportation “as well as forcing the drivers to work a mandatory 6 day work week.”
Local 41 president Ralph Stubbs said area UPS drivers last week were scheduled for five-day weeks, but that wasn’t covering the work.
“There is work for six days a week right now. We are short of help and have been for quite a while,” Stubbs said.
In New England, several Teamsters locals actively protested moving to 70 hours.
At one point, 650 drivers at one UPS center each requested 10-hour days on the coming Monday — instead of the 13 they have been working — as a way to say “no more,” said Teamsters Local 251 business agent Matthew Maini.
“They had threatened to implement (a 70-hour week) on us, but they backed off. We took a lot of action against them,” Maini said, adding that UPS made the extended schedule voluntary.
Gaut denied that UPS had rescinded 70-hour weeks in any territory.
Kansas City, Kan., is experiencing Amazon’s peak season firsthand this year with the opening earlier this year of a fulfillment center there.
Announced as providing 1,000 jobs, the center has 2,500 on the payroll now, and the company said those are full-time permanent employees. No seasonal help.
“Even with careful planning ... overtime is sometimes required,” said Shevaun Brown, a regional operations public relations manager for Amazon.
She said that when overtime becomes mandatory, the company tries to spread the burden around. But it also follows shipping volumes, and Kansas City, Kan., may see more overtime partly because it is new.
Brown acknowledged mandatory overtime but did not offer how many hours were involved in Kansas City, Kan.
“It definitely can’t go over 20 hours” in a week for an individual, she said.
Mandatory overtime for some hit the maximum 20 hours in Kansas City, Kan., around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said one employee who asked not to be identified for fear of reprimand. Last week, the employee said, the schedule felt “slowed down” at 56 hours in five days.
“This week we’re doing two 10s and three 12s,” the employee said, referring to the number of work hours in each of the five days.