Delivery drivers share what it’s like to deliver in the dangerous smoke of wildfires

Delivery drivers share what it's like to deliver in the dangerous smoke of wildfires

new york under yellow smoke

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Package delivery drivers worked through smoke from wildfires in New York City on Wednesday, even as air quality became “hazardous” in the afternoon and clouds of pungent yellow smog descended on the city. The drivers said that despite the outdoor conditions, UPS did not change their schedules or take any precautions to protect them from the smoke, including providing masks.

“Normally during lunch, I open the back door, lay down. But today, the overwhelming smell of smoke literally kept me coughing awake,” said Dave Carew, a UPS driver with Teamsters Local 804, the union branch responsible for New York City, Long Island and parts of New Jersey. “I have allergies too. So in the last couple of days my allergies have gone off the charts. I’ve been talking to other drivers all day, they’re all coughing.”

Carew had been on the road since about 10 that morning, when air quality was classified as “unhealthy” by the US government, due to smoke from rampant Canadian bushfires drifting south. At that point, Carew and other drivers confirmed, management had given them no guidance to protect themselves from smoking or to make their trips more comfortable. He added that trucks driven by UPS couriers lack adequate air conditioning or any form of air filtration and are usually driven with their doors open to speed up the delivery process and help cope with the heat.

As a result, he had been inhaling smog all day. “[The other drivers] they’re all doing the same thing I do,” she said. “We’ll have a normal conversation, and one of us will have a coughing fit, or we’ll both have a coughing fit.” Here, Carew broke off and coughed vigorously.

Reddit is also full of posts from Amazon delivery men who say they are concerned about working through smoke, which has made New York City the most dangerous air in the world. The posts show that Amazon also put drivers in Canada to work through the fires. An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Visibility is also decreased due to smoke, which poses a particular risk to drivers. “It looks like I’m driving in fog,” Carew said. “And when it goes down enough for the sun to show, it always seems to be sunset. The shadows are all orange.

A UPS spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement that, “We are closely monitoring this rapidly developing Canadian wildfire smoke situation affecting air quality in parts of the United States. The well-being and safety of UPS employees is our number one priority.” They said the company was working on “a series of immediate actions,” including distributing masks, and was monitoring the situation.

“[Management] sent the message about 10 minutes ago which said, “Wear a mask if you don’t feel well,” Carew said, laughing, at around 3:45pm “They don’t care.”

Anthony Rosario, a former UPS driver who now works with Local 804, said management at his location had simply told the drivers they were waiting for directions from the company to decide whether to bring them back.

“One of the supervisors said [a driver], ‘This is no different than a snowstorm. We’re just waiting for the company to tell us to bring you back,’” Rosario said. “What? They’re comparing the toxic air to a snowstorm. It’s pretty awful.

Rosario said that since there was no effective way to keep the smog out of trucks, UPS could have done nothing to protect its drivers other than providing good masks, the most effective option being N95s.

“Drivers should get some kind of risk allowance for that,” Rosario said. “It’s like working during the pandemic. You’re out there, you’re risking your life, there’s a virus out there that’s killing people. Now, it seems, New York has become the worst city in the world for air quality. They are telling the elderly to stay home and young children to stay home. These workers are out there doing their jobs and nobody is telling them to go back.”

“There are guys that will be out there 12, 13 hours,” Carew said. “It’s not bad enough that he literally can’t breathe. But it’s not a good day.”

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