LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Shipping giant UPS will no longer sort its own packages during the day on Fridays at its Worldport global air hub in Louisville, a change that has sparked anxiety among employees about possible changes in their schedules and overtime opportunities.
The move — which the union for employees called “sudden and unexpected”— comes as the international carrier contends with a significant decline in package volume and as UPS enters high-stakes contract negotiations with the union that represents about 70% of its employees.
“I think it’s crazy,” said Jessica Gibson, a parttime package handler at Worldport who has worked a Monday-Friday schedule she was hired 16 years ago.
Gibson worries her schedule will change, though she said employees are “in the dark” about what it means for them.
“No one has told us anything,” she said.
Starting early next month, UPS plans to eliminate “almost all” of the package volume from the so-called “Friday sort” at Worldport, a critical hub in the UPS network where thousands of workers load and unload cargo planes and tractor trailers.
Worldport will still process a small number of packages on Fridays for the U.S. Postal Service, UPS Airlines President Jim Joseph told employees in a recent internal memo obtained by WDRB News.
The packages normally handled during the Friday day shift will be sorted during the Friday night and Sunday shifts, but the company will “maintain our industry-leading on-time service,” according to Joseph’s memo.
Several longtime Worldport employees said they couldn’t recall UPS effectively cutting a shift since it brought its air operations to Louisville in 1988.
Michelle Polk, a UPS corporate spokeswoman, said the company is always making “operational adjustments,” but she was unsure whether the recently announced move has any precedent.
The company has said little to employees, nor to their union, about what the change means for employment and schedules.
“UPS is still reviewing the plan and how best to execute it,” Polk told WDRB News.
She said the company does not plan layoffs as a result of the change.
“As of right now the plan is to manage this through attrition,” she said.
UPS notified Teamsters Local 89, the union representing package handlers and other rank-and-file Worldport workers, of the plan on April 28, according to a memo obtained by WDRB News.
Stephen Piercey, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 89, called the plan “sudden and unexpected.” He said the union is seeking more information.
“We will seek ways to reduce the impact on the lives of our affected members,” Piercey said.
Polk said the move is a result of a nationwide slowdown in the package market.
UPS handled an average of 2.8 million air packages per day during the first three months of the year, down about 17% from the same period in 2022, according to regulatory filings.
“We’re responding to where what the current market conditions are in terms of soft volume,” Polk said. “…And so we are making operational adjustments to really utilize this global, flexible network that we have.”
UPS rival FedEx is also making changes in response to slowing volume. The company has announced two rounds of furloughs and other cuts in its Freight division.
While Polk wouldn’t comment on how UPS employees’ schedules might change, many fear being moved from a Monday-Friday cadence to a week that regularly includes Sunday work.
UPS has often struggled to fill Sunday shifts and offered the highest incentive pay rates to entice employees to weekend work.
Asked what the change might mean for the number of hours employees work, Polk said: “We’re reducing the overtime ask of our employees.”
Gibson, a mother of four, said she would consider quitting if she were forced to have weekend work as a regular schedule.
“Me spending time with my kids is a little more important than having to be forced to come in on Sunday,” she said.
Another question employees have raised is whether the move will result in fewer job openings, particularly for coveted full-time schedules.
Creating more fulltime jobs is one of the primary goals of the Teamsters during this summer’s contract talks with UPS. The union has taken a hardline public posture, saying they will strike if a deal is not reached by Aug. 1.
Some question the timing of UPS’ move given the high-stakes negotiations.
“The cynical part of me says that it could be a play to gain leverage: ‘Look, our profits are down, our revenue is down, our margin is down. Now we have to cut a shift. How can we possibly give you (the union) everything you're asking for when we're going through such turmoil?” said Paul Yaussy, a professional services consultant for Shipware, a company that helps shippers deal with carriers.
In addition to the national agreement governing wages and healthcare, UPS is also negotiating locally specific contracts, including the for its “air region” in Louisville.
Polk said there is no connection between the operational change and the contract negotiations.
“This is purely about what the operation requires, and where the volume is,” she said.