Economy Health

The pilots’ union for UPS Worldport in Louisville claims the parcel service offers limited testing for COVID-19 even as a growing number of pilots contract the virus.

Between the end of March and late October, UPS union members with the Independent Pilots Association reported 100 cases of COVID-19, but in the last month that number has doubled to 200, said Brian Gaudet, public affairs director with the Independent Pilots Association, which represents 3,000 UPS pilots. 

Despite a growing number of transmissions, Louisville’s UPS hub is only testing a small number of pilots flying out of Louisville on international flights, not inbound or domestic flights, he said.

The Independent Pilots Association shared an email with WFPL News from UPS in November that explicitly states the company expanded testing to pilots only for outgoing international flights. To qualify, UPS employees had to be within 24 hours of an international trip, according to the email.

Gaudet said Louisville residents should be concerned because of the number of flights coming and going from the city everyday. 

“There are 380 flights in and out of Louisville everyday. There is now testing available only for international pilots, but not inbound pilots who are coming in from flying from all points of America and the globe,” Gaudet said. 

UPS Worldport in Louisville is the largest automated package handling facility in the world, capable of handling more than two million packages per day. 

Gaudet said the union would like to see UPS pilots tested when they leave their homes and again when they return to ensure the health and safety of everyone. In addition, the union would like to see UPS offer more consistent contact tracing.

As of now, Gaudet said, if a pilot tests positive, UPS isn’t consistently telling the other crew on the flight whether they should be in quarantine. 

In an emailed response from UPS, spokesman Mike Mangeot said the company discusses “exposure with other employees as part of our contact tracing process.” 

Mangeot said UPS does provide free, rapid-testing for pilots, but did not answer multiple follow-up questions about which pilots are tested. 

“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 provided our pilots with free, rapid COVID-19 testing and expanded the availability of that testing,” Mangeot said in an email. 

UPS declined to confirm the number of positive COVID-19 cases at the Worldport citing medical privacy laws. However, other institutions including businesses and state governments have consistently disclosed similar information without violating medical privacy laws. 

In April, KYCIR spoke with UPS employees who said the city’s largest private employer violated health guidelines intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The holiday season would normally be the peak season for the parcel service, but Gaudet said pilots have been operating at holiday-peak levels for months because of pandemic-induced demand. 

“Our pilots are happy to do it, they are keeping commerce running for America and the world, but when they do that they are exposed in hotels, dining facilities, airplanes, airports to COVID-19,” he said. 

While UPS does consider its employees “essential workers” it doesn’t provide hazard pay, Mangeot said.

The parcel service does offer paid leave for employees who have been diagnosed as positive with COVID-19 or require quarantine due to an exposure, he said. 

The company has also enhanced cleaning measures and provides pilots with facemasks, gloves, hand sanitizer and thermometers, Mangeot said. 

 

 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.