Dozens of United Parcel Service truck drivers claim in court that UPS endangers the public and employees by forcing them to drive unsafe trucks with hazardous materials, in a corporate culture of harassment, intimidation and safety shortcuts.
Robert Amaya Sr. and 33 other employees asked the Superior Court for protections and damages for 19 causes of action, including harassment, privacy invasion, wrongful firing, Labor Code violations, retaliation and other charges.
Safety issues are the most pervasive claims in the April 19 lawsuit.
The drivers say UPS supervisors order them to ignore traffic signs and public safety to save time; force them to drive trucks without signal lights, brake lights and even headlights; force them to drive trucks that emit so much smoke they make the drivers ill; and that if they complain they are be written up for not following directions and eventually fired.
Perhaps the most alarming charge is that UPS supervisors ignore laws on transporting hazardous materials, in California and across state lines, fail to note their presence in loads — even to the drivers, and that the materials have spilled, tainting food being delivered to grocery stores and exposing workers to the hazards.
“UPS does not secure any of the hazardous materials it transports. As a result of the failure to secure the cargo, drivers … are exposed to dangerous health risks from exposure,” the complaint states. “Oftentimes, the drums and containers that house the hazardous materials are leaky and would spill around the area where they were stored.”
To hide its malfeasance, UPS has destroyed paperwork that showed the hazardous materials were transported, and supervisors even hid paperwork from drivers so they would be unaware of what was going on, according to the 34-page complaint.
“UPS knowingly delivered food products tainted with poison to stores such as Costco and Smart & Final and failed to disclose this vital information,” the complaint states.
Nor are the hazardous materials properly cleaned up, the drivers say: they are left in the truck or on the ground, covered up with dirt. Because drivers are exposed to toxic fumes and not provided with gas masks, all of the plaintiffs say they suffer from coughing and rashes.
Other shortcuts on safety include the near elimination of a pre-trip vehicle check, which is required of tractor-trailer drivers in California, the drivers say. A pre-trip check of the vehicle and its load that complies with law takes 40 to 50 minutes, but drivers are often allowed just five to 15 minutes, the drivers say.
Drivers must make sure that a load is no more than 31,000 pounds, but UPS blocks them from entering the scales to check the weight, and when drivers are cited, UPS disciplines them and refuses to pay the fine, according to the complaint.
The complaint puts a lot of the blame on defendant Mordea Pearson, a UPS West Coast regional manager. The drivers say his policies were “eagerly implemented” by “Pearson’s cronies,” who are operations managers at various Los Angeles terminals — five of whom are named as co-defendants with Pearson and UPS.
In addition to the safety violations, the UPS bosses “personally carried out daily acts of harassments that permeated almost every aspect of the workplace,” the complaint states, including following drivers in unmarked cars, making them fear they were about to be robbed.
The drivers say Pearson demanded that each supervisor discipline an employee in writing at least three to five times each day, so that baseless charges are made against workers to keep them in fear. No one is allowed to miss a day of work even if they are injured on the job: One employee was hit by a forklift and was disciplined for an unexcused absence after spending three days in a hospital, according to the complaint.
Workers are denied lunch breaks, disciplined for “stealing company property” when they take a bathroom break, and supervisors even follow them into the bathroom, getting so close as to make bodily contact, “looking over their shoulder” while they urinate, according to the complaint.
The hostility and oppression reached a new level in April 2015, when armed guards “with live ammunition” were hired to patrol and keep watch over employees: “This was an intentional policy instituted to accomplish nothing more than to terrorize and intimidate employees, and to foster a culture of fear and discomfort,” the complaint states.
The 34 plaintiffs all live in Los Angeles County. They are represented by James Otto of Northridge, and Regina Ashkinadze in Manhattan Beach, neither of whom could be reached for comment Wednesday.
UPS spokesman McMackin told Courthouse News: “The health and safety of our people and the condition of our equipment are of the utmost importance to us. UPS maintains a safe work environment and one free from harassment, discrimination and retaliation of any kind. We are still gathering facts related to this suit but UPS disputes the allegations made and will defend itself vigorously.”