Standing Up To Big Brown 


In May 2006, a Broward County Circuit Court jury in Florida found that United Parcel Service (UPS), the largest package delivery company in the world, had wrongfully terminated John Thigpen, a twenty-year delivery truck driver. Following a four-day trial, a jury awarded Mr. Thigpen nearly $6 million in damages finding that the delivery company had unlawfully retaliated against him for pursuing workers’ compensation benefits. 


In arguing the case, Thigpen’s lawyers stated that he had been injured on the job on seven separate occasions during his career. They held that the treatment he faced and his termination were based on UPS targeting so-called “injury repeaters.” 


UPS has stated they are considering an appeal of the decision and that the employee’s dismissal was not based on any of his workers’ compensation claims. 


Warm & Fuzzy Reputation as an Employer: 

With revenues of over $38 billion annually, UPS is one of the world’s most recognized corporations, operating a fleet of 268 aircraft, as well as a ground fleet of approximately 88,000 package cars, vans, tractors, and motorcycles and 320,000 employees. 


FORTUNE magazine has ranked UPS among its top ten most admired companies. Brown also consistently ranks high in MONEY magazine’s annual survey of America’s best benefit packages. The have also been noted by the NAACP and HISPANIC magazine for minority recruitment. 


The company also boasts that it is one of only a few companies offering part-time employees full benefits, including medical, dental and tuition assistance. 


But according to leaders of the National Alliance of Brown Employees and Retirees (N.A.B.E.R.), many other employees and retiree have been down the same road as John Thigpen, and they claim that the accolades about the company tell only one side of the story. 


UPS Retirees Begin To Organize:

The organization was put together in 2004 by a group of nine Chicago region UPS retirees and former employees, with the hope of better protecting the interests of retirees from the company. 


Founder Douglas Chapman, worked for UPS for thirty-one years and has seen the N.A.B.E.R membership grow from an original group of nine to about 250, mostly in Illinois in less than two years. 


Chapman says, “UPS has created a squeaky clean image of itself that is unrealistic; hundreds of UPS employees and retirees have voiced their displeasure. All these people can’t be wrong.” 


For Chapman, his group’s mission is a true labor of love. His father worked for UPS for 18 years before suffering a debilitating stroke in 1958, which prevented him returning for work. 


Chapman often retells the stories of his fellow retirees, like Paul Mounts, who he worked with and started N.A.B.E.R. with. In 1980, an on the job accident caused nerve damage to Mounts foot and injuries to his knees. Then in 1987, a fall from his truck ended his time behind the wheel. 


Mounts told American Retiree, “In order to collect my full pension I would have had to work until 62. There was no twenty-five and out rule at the time of my injuries. I was never offered a light duty assignment in order to be able to complete my years of service.” 


This left him no choice, he said, but to apply for a disability pension, albeit one with a payout substantially lower than his expected full union pension. Mounts received a $700 a month, $1,800 less than his anticipated Teamsters’ union pension. But the acceptance of a social security disability pension also zapped him of the full retiree medical package he said his years of service with UPS would have entitled him to. 


With the establishment of the Brown retiree’s organization, the group is hoping UPS and the unions that represent its employees will place greater a focus on making sure the earned benefits of the company’s hourly employees and retirees are honored. 


“Before 1976,” Chapman says, “UPS was much more of a family-oriented business, but times have changed. UPS has become like any other corporation, more concerned with their economics than their employees, but that doesn’t make it right.” 


U.S. Department of Labor Safety Findings:

On their member web site the retirees point to the specifics of the company’s safety record. One example is that according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety website (http://www.osha.gov) UPS has over 200 of the 14,000 workplaces with the highest occupational injury and illness rates in the U.S. 


All of those on the list are employers reporting an average of 6.0 or more injuries or illnesses which resulted in days away from work or job transfer, as opposed to the national average of 2.5. According to information published on the N.A.B.E.R‘s web site, “240 (UPS) facilities are in the 26 states monitored by the federal OSHA agency. It doesn't, for instance, include California. If all 50 states were monitored, UPS could easily have 400 unsafe facilities.”


Workforce Magazine in a report examining human resource issues from the corporate perspective suggests that Brown is significantly improving its safety record. “When the (injury reduction) program began, UPS workers were reporting injuries-mostly sprains and strains-at a rate of 27.2 injuries per 200,000 hours worked. By the end of 2004, UPS got the injury rate down to 10.2 for every 200,000 hours worked. By 2007, the company wants the injury rate down to 3.2." 


Chapman says his group will continue to highlight their member priorities, which have affected retirees and employees alike, and is quite proud of their efforts to date. “It gives you a good feeling when you are able to help others. I think creating NABER is a great way to respect the memory of my dear old dad.” 


Chapman concluded, “We are committed to try to change UPS’ corporate ideology.” 


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To find out more about the National Alliance of Brown Employees and Retirees (N.A.B.E.R.) visit their web site: www.homestead.com/PUPSInc/naber1.html 


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