Investigations

UPS employees say one of Louisville’s largest private employers is violating city and state rules intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus by not enforcing social distancing. They also say the company is not providing adequate protective gear.

Concerns are heightened after an employee at the UPS Worldport, the Louisville-based global shipping hub, died over the weekend. 

WDRB first reported the employee’s death on Monday, and said several employees and a family member confirmed he had been diagnosed with coronavirus. UPS said it would not confirm cases of coronavirus due to “medical privacy laws” — and employees say they haven’t been given any information, either.

Three employees who work at two different UPS facilities said they first heard about the death on the news. 

“I don’t even know what my risk is, because I’m not being told anything,” said one Worldport employee, who asked not to be named to protect her job. 

This employee said her whole job is done from a computer, and she has asked to work from home, but has been told that is not possible. In an email, UPS spokesperson Jim Mayer said that everyone who could work from home has been doing so for some time now, and that has allowed the remaining employees to spread out to an appropriate social distance. 

But this employee said her workspace is not the concern so much as the congregating that happens when people are waiting for shuttles, at the security checkpoint, in the break areas and throughout the facility. 

Mayer said the company has been educating its employees about social distancing, but it’s “a shared responsibility. We ask that our workers use good judgment to avoid grouping as they come and go.”

That’s nearly impossible, employees told KyCIR, considering the demands of the work they do. There’s insufficient hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, they say, and they have not been provided with gloves. Mayer told WDRB that the company would be providing masks starting this week. 

“How bad does it have to get?” the employee asked. “Big companies are making changes, small companies, the mayor, the governor, even the president are saying to take this seriously. But it just feels like business as usual at UPS.”

Another employee asked the same question: what does it say if one of Louisville’s largest employers isn’t following orders? 

“It’s a slap in the face to the city,” said this employee, who also asked not to be named to protect his job. “The least the city of Louisville should expect from a partner is that they will comply with the orders of the mayor, and the governor.”

Louisville’s health department visited the Worldport at the end of March and ordered the company to comply with social distancing regulations “ASAP,” according to a copy of the order provided by city spokesperson Jean Porter.  

Mayer told WDRB, which first reported the inspection, that this was a “minor” situation involving some employees that were not distancing properly, and that the inspector returned a few days later and saw no further issues. 

“Even if they’re just all about staying in business, I still don’t understand why they aren’t taking more steps,” the employee told KyCIR. “They would have to shut down, they could be put out of business if an outbreak happened.”

UPS announced this week it is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help transport and distribute medical supplies to coronavirus hotspots around the country. 

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

Eleanor Klibanoff is a reporter with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.