Union urges action as coronavirus cases rise among UPS pilots

By Rachelle Harry

UPS pilot unions are warning that a spike in Covid-19 cases amongst members could impact the company’s performance during peak season.

It is believed that more than 100 UPS pilots have recently contracted the virus.

Following UPS president Carol Tomé expressing concern about a spike in Covid-19 cases among the company’s pilots during an investor call, Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), has written an open letter suggesting how the situation could be managed.

In his letter to Tomé, Travis — who is also a UPS A300 Captain — called for: expanded pilot access to testing (both before and after flights) and improved assistance of crewmembers who have tested positive for Covid-19 while abroad.

“While, at our urging, the company has offered limited testing, what is being offered currently is woefully inadequate, and leaves the pilot group exposed to the rampant transmission of the virus while at work,” Travis said in his letter.

He also called for more transparency in UPS’s contact tracing (track and trace) efforts.

“At a minimum, the company’s actions in this regard lack transparency, and therefore generate no confidence among pilots that UPS is acting in the best interest of their health and safety,” he said.

“Has the Company hired an outside vendor to conduct contact tracing as some cases may indicate? Again, management has been unable to confirm or deny this basic fact.”

Travis concluded the letter by highlighting the critical role that UPS pilots will play when coronavirus vaccines are transported globally. In light of this, he said the company must ensure that pilots health and safety be prioritised.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. UPS pilots daily move a significant portion of commerce on which the US and world economy depends,” he said. “When there is a vaccine, it will be those same pilots that form an important link in the logistical chain to deliver the vaccine. It is therefore critically important, as you [Tomé] implied yesterday, that the pilot group be kept safe and healthy”.

Following publication of Travis’ letter, UPS released a statement in which Mike Mangeot, airlines strategic communications director, said: “These union claims are baseless. As part of UPS’s culture of safety, we have gone to tremendous lengths to keep our pilots safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have equipped crewmembers with face masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and thermometers, educated them on social distancing on health protocols in areas where they fly, and enhanced cleaning protocols for our buildings, vehicles and aircraft.

Mangeot added: “We have allowed our pilots to request alternate flight schedules, provided them with free, rapid Covid-19 testing, and worked with government entities to ensure our crews’ safe and healthy transit through nations around the world.

“As essential workers, our pilots have been heroes during the pandemic, operating flights that are saving lives and livelihoods all over the planet. We are proud of their efforts and we remain confident they will continue flying a safe, reliable and on-time network in this era of need.”

Travis’ letter to Tomé followed a conference call that Tomé attended with investors. Commenting on the spike in coronavirus cases at UPS during the call, she said:“We’re just watching this very, very closely”.

Established in 1992, the IPA union represents UPS’s 3,000 pilots.

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