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N4T Investigators: COVID-19 concerns

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TUCSON - Gabe Hernandez says United Parcel Service workers at its south side distribution center were forced to stand elbow-to-elbow while removing packages from a conveyor belt.

With his hands two feet apart, Hernandez said, “There would be a person right here and one right here. I mean you were so close.”

Hernandez was hired last month to work as a UPS driver for two to two and a half-months. He quit on May 23, after three days; his claims pertain to that time.

“They weren’t testing people,” he told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. “Like wellness checks when you go get a haircut. Like [asking] ‘Have you had a cough?’ They weren’t taking your temperature or anything like that.”

The 25-year-old Marana resident also says the distribution center had no sanitizing stations except in bathrooms. And that litter wasn’t properly thrown out.

“There are wrappers, there’s old, like the center parts of packaging tape, just kind of strewn about the floor. There’s remains of people’s lunches, like potato chip bags,” he claimed.

Another former UPS employee, who did not want to be identified for privacy reasons, said, “It was almost inevitable to not work elbow-to-elbow.”

She too worked as a temporary driver at UPS last month and also quit after three days. She says she felt unsafe in the building.

“It is complete chaos and it is really, really, really gross. It is just unsanitary,” she said.

As News 4 Tucson’s Eric Fink first reported last month, there was a COVID-19 outbreak among workers at the distribution center. More than 40 tested positive for the coronavirus. UPS didn’t disclose that; the employees union did.

We asked Gabe, “If you could talk to the powers that be at UPS, what would you say?”
“I would want answers,” he replied. “I would want to know why they didn’t inform people that they had had such a massive outbreak, why they didn’t tell people about the risks of it?”

The head of the workers union, Local 104, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that she thinks the building should be closed until there’s mandatory testing for all employees and contact tracing. That is, tracking down people who employees have had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious.

A spokesperson for UPS management told the News 4 Tucson Investigators’ that mandatory testing is being done. Matthew O’Connor declined our interview request. He instead sent us a statement. Here it is in its entirety:

“We have offered testing to all of the nearly 500 employees at the facility, which is in addition to public testing available within the community. Every employee on every shift receives required temperature checks administered by an outside vendor, and we have provided every employee with their own thermometer to use throughout the workday and/or to take home.

“If there is a need to disclose a positive case to the news media for public health reasons, that disclosure will come from local health departments or other responding authorities.

“We do not assume, and neither should others, that cases of infection occur as a result of the work environment, especially when there is a community spread.”

The former workers we interviewed claim UPD shorted their paychecks by more than a thousand dollars each and it took them almost three weeks to get paid.

Both said they wouldn’t have taken the job if they were aware of the outbreak, because they felt “unsure and unsafe,” according to the woman. She said, “That added to the ultimate decision of needing to walk away from the job.”

If you have a story you would like us to investigate, email or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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Matthew Schwartz

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