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Sixteen Days in August and Other UPS Stories

-by Greg Hoots-

Author’s note:  I spent more than thirty-three years as a package car driver for United Parcel Service, working from the Topeka, Kansas center. I made many good friends while I was a UPS driver, and I was left with some good memories.  I’m sharing some UPS stories with my readers, and I am also presenting a gallery of photographs associated with the Topeka’s UPS facility. If any of my readers have stories or photos to add to the mix, please email them to me.

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Greg Hoots is seen at the wheel of this 2003 Freightliner Sprinter.

 Sixteen Days in August: The 1997 UPS Strike

I was hired as a UPS driver at the beginning of August in 1979.  A guy named Bill Powers, a manager in the personnel department from Kansas City, hired me after conducting a very short interview in a room in the Ramada Inn in downtown Topeka.  The main question Powers had was, could I get a haircut before the following Monday?  I assured him that it was a top priority for me. After giving a set of my fingerprints in ink, I was hired. Powers then mentioned one more thing, he said that all of the drivers at UPS were Teamsters, and that someone from the union would be contacting me about joining.

Although I had worked in the small-package delivery industry for three years, I had never worked in a union shop.  I was excited to become a union member, primarily because of the excellent wages and fabulous benefits that the job offered.  I soon learned that the union provided so much more than that which money could buy. Perhaps the most important function of the union was to negotiate a contract under which we worked, defining all of the rules that both the company and labor would obey. The next most important function of the union was to guarantee that the company followed the rules agreed in the contract.

On June 17, 1979, six weeks before I was hired as a UPS driver, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters signed their first National Master United Parcel Agreement.  Prior to that time, Teamsters in individual regions and states had separate contracts with UPS, and while there were UPS strikes, they only affected certain states which were embargoed during the strikes. The 1979 Master Agreement, a three-year contract, was a win for both sides. The Teamsters had a new-found negotiating power, the ability to speak for workers at every UPS terminal in the nation with a single voice. For UPS, the stability of having to negotiate a single contract, nationwide, was a huge advantage when compared to the numerous contract agreements that the company had to wrangle in the past.

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Package car driver, Greg Hoots stands at the front of his 1979 Ford Econoline package car. The time card visible in the left shirt pocket and the Masonite delivery-record clipboard date this photo 1982.

On July 1, 1980, the National Motor Carrier Act was signed into law, and it changed everything for UPS and the trucking business. Prior to the deregulation, UPS was severely limited in its access to certain states in the transportation of packages. For example, prior to 1980, there was a fifty-pound limit on any UPS package, and a cumulative 100-pound limit on multiple-package shipments from a single shipper to a single consignee on a single day. (As incredulous as it sounds, if a driver, sorter, or loader discovered a package in the system that weighed 51-pouinds, for example, the package would be returned to the shipper.) In Kansas, one could not ship nor receive packages to or from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, or western Missouri. The same was true across the country. The implementation of the Motor Carrier Act in the summer of 1980 meant that customers could ship packages by UPS to and from every address in the United States.  Business for UPS immediately doubled and doubled again. Many, many new drivers were hired as business growth seemed unlimited.

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A long row of P600s and P800s is lined along the north side of the Topeka package center in this 1988 photo.

The company’s growth was so enormous that the 1980s saw new UPS centers constructed in Lawrence and Lenexa, Kansas.  Despite losing many jobs to those new centers, growth continued unchecked in Topeka. With the deregulation of trucking, UPS saw new opportunities in the transportation of heavy packages.  First, with deregulation the weight restrictions for a single package were increased from 50-pounds to 70-pounds.  While it may not have seemed like a huge change in business, for the sorters, loaders, and drivers who handled the packages, it was very significant.  Then, in 1994, the weight limits were more than doubled to 150-pounds per package.

On February 6, 1994, Ron Carey, the former UPS driver from New York who was elected as Teamster President in 1991, called for a nationwide one-day strike to protest the doubling of weight limits of single packages. While in some parts of the country, the northeast in particular, drivers walked off the job, in the Midwest, virtually all of the locals worked, but local union representatives instructed workers to refuse to handle any overweight packages without a second Teamster being present to assist in the lifting and delivery. Carey’s strike was a one-day event, and the company promised that drivers could ask for assistance, and that a second Teamster driver would be provided any driver who requested help.

In reality, Carey’s one day strike was meaningless. More and more overweight packages continued to enter the system, and the guarantee by the company to provide lifting assistance from another Teamster was an unrealistic and disingenuous promise. In the end, it was figuratively and literally left in the lap of the package car driver to make the overweight packages disappear. The incidence of damage, loss, and injury from the transportation and delivery of over-70-pound packages were huge, but so were the profits.

An even more grim reality was the impact of the President of the Teamsters calling a strike in which 70% of the locals refused to participate.  It weakened the union in the eyes of UPS, and it weakened Ron Carey’s position as head of the union.

Another pivotal change in the UPS business plan was the tiering of wages. Such changes limited part-time workers’ wages, forcing all part-time workers hired after the 1982 contract to accept an $8.00 per hour wage. Those new part-time workers could never achieve the salary enjoyed by part-timers hired before 1982 who were doing the same job.  From 1993 to 1997, UPS hired 46,300 new workers, and 83% of that number worked four-hour-a-day jobs, earning $8.00 per hour. The expansion of the use of part-timers, coupled with the new lower wages for new-hires became a very effective tool used by the company to reduce labor costs.

In 1996 Ron Carey faced reelection to his post as the head of the Teamster Union, and this time, his opponent was none other than James P. Hoffa, the son of the longtime leader of the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa.  The senior Hoffa had been convicted in 1964 on Federal charges of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud. He was sentenced to thirteen-years in Federal prison in 1967, yet Hoffa continued in his role as leader of the Teamsters from prison.  It was not until 1971 that Jimmy Hoffa resigned his position as President of the Teamsters in an agreement with the Department of Justice, linked to a commutation of his sentence by President Richard Nixon. Part of the agreement barred Jimmy Hoffa from participating in any union activities until 1980.  Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975.

James P. Hoffa not only had enormous name recognition among Teamsters, he also had the entire Teamster old-line organization behind his candidacy for the leadership of the union.  United Parcel Service corporate leadership, itself, favored Hoffa in the election, after having developed considerable animosity between themselves and the Carey administration. Carey had been humiliated and weakened in 1994 when he suddenly called a one-day strike in which the vast majority of the membership refused to participate. Now, Hoffa was calling Carey’s leadership and strength into question.

One of the major issues used by the Carey forces in the 1996 Teamster election was to emphasize the role that Carey and his leadership would play in the upcoming 1997 contract negotiations with UPS. While the implicit endorsement of Hoffa by UPS might seem to be an asset to his candidacy, in reality it may not have served him well.  Among the ranks of many UPS employees, there was a sentiment that Carey’s animus toward the company was an asset.  It was a close contest, but when the ballots were counted, Carey was victorious, winning 52% of the vote.

Immediately, Carey began building a strategy for the negotiation of the 1997 contract with UPS.  Ron Carey saw this as a defining moment in his role as leader of the union. The union began a year-long campaign directed at UPS workers and Teamster locals, defining the issues fundamental to the new contract.  The one issue on which the union chose to build its campaign was the UPS’s increasing reliance on part-time workers and the structuring of low pay scales for the same employees.

At the 1996 Teamster convention in Philadelphia, a booklet, Countdown to Contract was released which defined the objectives of the union along with a month-by-month schedule of organizing activities for locals to engage in an effort to unify their membership. The booklet outlined a step-by-step initiative which cumulated on July 31, 1997, the day that the contract with UPS was set to expire.

In late 1996, the Teamsters sent a survey to every UPS member’s home in an attempt to determine the issues that were important to rank and file members.  90% of the part-timers who responded to the survey cited the need for more full-time jobs as a top priority.

Early in 1997, the Teamsters published a new booklet titled, Half a Job is Not Enough, which cited the statistics relative to UPS hiring. It noted that while UPS volume had grown by 8% in the prior three years, and revenues had grown by 26%, part-time jobs grew by 43%.  During the life of the 1993-1997 contract, UPS had made $4 billion in profits, yet UPS proposed adding only 200 new full-time jobs, nationally, in the 1997 contract.

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Longtime union steward, Jimmy Figgs sits at the wheel of his package car in this view from 2008. Figgs always had the back of his fellow employees.

The union instructed all locals to establish “member-to-member” communication networks within the ranks, and a monthly contract bulletin was sent to every household of all of the 185,000 rank-and-file members.

Contract negotiations officially began on March 7, 1997, but the Teamsters had been busy organizing their ranks for months prior to sitting at the table with company negotiators. Four days later, the sides exchanged items for negotiation, and as expected, UPS demanded widespread concessions from the union on pensions, health care, and subcontracting. While contract negotiations were suspended for three weeks beginning April 22nd, when they resumed, no progress had been made on any issues. UPS felt emboldened by the perceived division or rift between locals lead by former Hoffa supporters and the Carey leadership. UPS negotiators recalled distinctly that Carey had called a strike in 1994 to which the majority of locals refused to participate. In response to this perceived rift in the membership, Carey issued a directive on May 14th, ordering all locals to “implement and carry forward the policy and plans of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee with an emphasis on membership involvement and participation.”  The union was on a direct collision course with UPS management, and of that, no one had any doubt.

As late as the middle of May, an impasse was brewing between the negotiating parties. UPS still demanded the company’s complete takeover of the health and welfare and pension funds, a seven year contract, no increase in the starting pay of part-time workers, expansion of Article 40, the air-operations section of the contract which would allow part-time workers to do all of the air freight work while creating no full-time jobs, and provisions that would require UPS drivers to cross picket lines of other Teamster-authorized strikes. When UPS refused to budge on these issues, Ken Hall, co-chair of the Teamster negotiating committee, led a walkout of the negotiations by the union representatives.

In July of 1997, union locals across the nation conducted strike votes, and the reported results indicated that 90-95% of the respondents voted in favor of a strike authorization. Also, in July the Teamsters acquired an audiotape created by UPS negotiator David Murray which was distributed to UPS management in March of 1997 in which Murray allegedly said that $8-an-hour wage was not only an adequate part-time wage, but that it would be “a fine full-time wage” in many parts of the country.  In the Teamster-produced answer to Murray’s tape, titled, From the Horse’s Mouth, revealed Murray’s remarks along with rank-and-file workers responses to his take on family economics.

Enraged that his secret audiotape had been publicly released by the Teamsters union, UPS made a written demand to Ron Carey, saying, “We demand that your union provide us with a written undertaking by the close of business on Friday, July 18, 1997, that agrees to 1) cease and desist from creation and distribution of your union’s audiotape; 2) deliver up to UPS for destruction all copies of the audiotape in its possession; 3) provide us with a list of the names and addresses of the individuals to who you have distributed the infringing tape; and 4) delete any and all references to the tape in your newsletters, website and any other communications in which it appears.”  Carey and the Teamsters did not respond to Murray’s demands.

The tension between the two sides of the bargaining table had never been higher.  As the July 31st expiration of the contract loomed, Federal mediators requested a meeting with both sides to the dispute. When the last day of July arrived, Carey announced a four-day postponement of the walkout as bargaining continued.  UPS refused to budge from their position on any of the fundamental issues of the contract negotiation. The company placed their bet that Carey would back down from his call for a strike, and if that did not happen, then UPS was convinced that rank-and-file workers and the old-line Hoffa Teamsters would not support Carey’s strike, and that it would be the greatest victory for UPS in the history of labor negotiations and the greatest defeat for the Teamsters, ever. UPS stood their ground, saying that it had made its “last, best, and final offer.”

Carey issued a public response to the company’s position on Sunday, August 3rd.  He told reporters that if UPS did not address the fundamental issues of the contract dispute, “I assure you at 12:01, we’ll be on strike.” At 10:00 pm, Carey met with union leadership, emerging before midnight to announce that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was striking United Parcel Service.

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Teamster Union strikers picket the United Parcel Service building at Topeka in this view from August of 1997.

As a driver, I had worked through a handful of contract negotiations throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and in cases when it seemed that a work stoppage might occur, UPS had ceased accepting new shipments during the week before the contract expiration, so that millions of packages would not be trapped in the system in the event of a strike. Although the volume of packages lessened in the final days of July, primarily due to publicity generated about the possibility of a strike, no formal embargo of new packages was instituted.

While I had no special knowledge concerning the possibility of a strike, in December of 1996 when UPS drivers were required to declare all of their vacation weeks for the coming year, I thought it was prudent to choose the last week of July and the first two weeks of August.  I expected a package embargo to begin the final week of July, and if a new contract could not be reached, I thought that a strike might last as long as a couple of weeks.  I believed that the impact of the strike would be less financially painful, personally, if I had three weeks of vacation pay in my pocket before the weeks of uncertainty even arrived.

I was on vacation in the Ozarks when the phone call came to my home early on Monday morning.  They left a message: “Hooter, this is Jimmy…we’re on strike, come on down.”  I had called home to get my messages (this was before the days of cell phones, well, for me), and I headed back to Kansas when I heard the union steward’s message.

United Parcel Service’s Topeka center is located on Crane Street between Madison and Jefferson Streets. The former Montgomery-Wards warehouse could accommodate about sixty package cars at full capacity; however, forty delivery vehicles fit more comfortably. The primary belts where packages were unloaded from trailers were located along the west side of the building, and trucks entered and exited the building from the east.

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Spouses and children joined their Teamster family member on the strike lines in front of the Topeka UPS center in this view from August of 1997.

When I arrived at UPS on Monday evening, there was an encampment of strikers at the northwest corner of the building, and a second contingency of picketers were positioned along the street on the east side of the building. In the hot summer evening, it seemed almost like a party at the lake, without the water or sand. Quite a few families had joined their UPS family members on the strike lines, and friends and strangers had brought trays of food for the striking workers. While there was a stark seriousness about what was happening, it was tempered by the strong sense of brotherhood and community which seemed to be a common thread throughout the strike.

Topeka UPS workers stayed on the picket lines 24-hours a day, every day. There was a schedule for workers to walk the picket lines, but the vast majority of striking workers spent far more time on the lines than their designated shifts.  As the strike stretched longer into the week, the crowds of picketers and supporters grew.  Midway into the strike, a rally was held on the parking area on the northwest corner of the building.  The event drew a large crowd, including newspaper and television reporters.

There were only two workers among all of the full-time and part-time employees in Topeka who did not honor the strike lines. One driver and one mechanic crossed the picket lines every day throughout the strike.  For the first couple of days, the driver in question and brown-suited supervisors rolled out of the building each morning in package cars, delivering the remaining straggler packages that had been trapped in the system.  In two or three days, the trapped freight had been delivered, and no new packages arrived to the building.  UPS was shut down, nationally.  While the loss of a paycheck was traumatic for Teamster workers and their families, the cost was massive for the company.  UPS was losing 30-million dollars every day that the strike continued. Additionally, UPS was losing business, and most importantly, it was losing customer support and respect.

One key ingredient that UPS leadership had never considered when leading their company into the strike was the public sentiment that was expressed favorably with the workers at the expense of the corporate giant. Television stations visited the strike lines almost every day, giving voice to the workers on the picket line.  UPS was seen as a greedy corporate entity who made enormous profits by forcing single mothers and heads of households to work part-time jobs for $32 a day. James Kelly, the Chairman of the Board of UPS, recognized the problem and was quoted as saying, “If you were to pit a large corporation against a friendly, courteous UPS driver, I’d vote for the UPS driver, too.”

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Teamster picketers gather along Crane Street in Topeka along the north side of the UPS building during the 1997 strike.

Teamster Local 696 in Topeka worked tirelessly during the strike to support the workers and their families. President of the local, Bill Moore was a solid rock, providing support, guidance, and friendship to the strikers. He was on the picket lines every day.  All of the Local 696 union staff worked tirelessly in providing support for striking families.

There were no confrontations between the strikers and management nor the two employees who crossed the picket lines during the sixteen-day work stoppage.  UPS center manager, Rod Ruggles attempted to maintain a cordial relationship with the workers on the picket lines, even as the strike moved into its second week.  Throughout the entirety of the second week, the picket lines remained strong, as large groups of workers and their families continued the strike at UPS.

A second weekend passed on the picket lines. On Saturday, striking employees grilled hamburgers and snacked on chips as their vigil at UPS continued with no end in sight. Still, no freight moved by brown trucks, anywhere in the country, and the company’s fleet of aircraft sat grounded.

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News crews frequented the strike lines in Topeka during the 1997 UPS strike. In the foreground, UPS center manager, Rod Ruggles (wearing a tie) speaks with a striker.

On August 19, 1997, the word finally came that a tentative agreement had been reached between the Teamsters Union and United Parcel Service. UPS agreed to create ten-thousand new full-time jobs from part-time positions and give those jobs to existing part-time workers.  The contract included the largest wage increases in the history of UPS, and the company agreed to cease its efforts to subcontract work. UPS also abandoned their attempt to gain control of the pension and insurance funds by simply moving that issue down the road to future contracts. We returned to work on August 20, 1997.

The strike was costly to both the Teamster workers and to UPS. For two and a half weeks, UPS families lived with no jobs and no paychecks, and they lived with the uncertainty of their futures.  Working for UPS was a career, and to put one’s career on the line was an exhibition of courage on the workers’ part. The animosity that was created between management and labor at UPS by the strike would be a long time in disappearing.  Few people who stood on either side of the strike lines forgot those sixteen days in August.

 

You’re Fired!

I started working as a “package car driver” for United Parcel Service in Topeka in August of 1979.  For the next thirty-four years I delivered packages for a living, and the package-delivery business saw many significant changes in the five decades over which my career spanned.

One thing that remained the same throughout my time at UPS was the tendency of the management team to fire drivers and other employees with some frequency.  I recall the first time that I heard a driver was fired was just after Christmas of ’79.  As the “last hired” driver, I expected a short layoff right after the Christmas season, and I was delighted when the boss took me into the office and said that he would need me for a week or two after Christmas, after all.  He was going to fire someone, he explained, and he needed me to run their route.  I was taken aback.  That’s real planning, finding a substitute for a driver that you intend to fire, even before you tell the doomed employee.

So, the day after Christmas, I started working on the terminated driver’s route.  It was a very rural route, and I learned the area quickly. In fact, I hoped that the route would just become mine.  Then, a week or so later, the boss called me to the office again, saying that the “fired” driver would be returning the following week, and he had another assignment for me as a substitute for a driver who was undergoing a medical procedure.  The boss didn’t elaborate as to the status of the formerly fired driver, but I made some inquiries in the break-room, and I discovered that firing workers and then bringing them back to work was business as usual at UPS. In fact, a veteran driver confided to me, “everybody has been fired once or twice, but they always come back.”  The grizzled delivery veteran explained further, “everyone hates this job, but remember, ‘the only thing worse than working for UPS is not working for UPS.’”  The old man was right. Mainly, one gets mighty used to the paycheck.

My wife was astounded at the UPS version of job termination.  In the field where she worked, a fired employee was immediately escorted from the property by security officers, never to return to their desk. But with extremely rare exceptions, that was not the case at UPS.

Lots of UPS drivers find a route that is suited to their style, personality, and ability, and once they acquire the route permanently through a “bidding” process, they often remain on the same delivery area throughout their entire career. Drivers develop close relationships with their customers, and often, drivers buy a house and move their families to live within the boundaries of their route. Such is not the case with managers.  Supervisors and managers move from UPS center to UPS center with regularity, certainly if they wish to be promoted within the company.  In management, the kiss of death for one’s career, is to decline a promotion or a transfer to another UPS location.  So, unlike drivers who remain on the same route for decades, with a few exceptions, supervisors and managers come, and they go.  So, it isn’t too difficult for managers to fire an employee, as unlike drivers who developed strong ties to their customers, most center managers build few personal relationships with anyone under their supervision.

Some new managers lack good communication skills, making their job even more difficult.  Such was the case at the Topeka package center in the late 1980s when a new center manager arrived. For the new center manager, Topeka was one more stepping stone in their career.  They had started with UPS as a driver and quickly made the transition to “on-car supervisor”, the first step in the package car management pyramid. The next step from on-car supervisor was “center manager,” and as the Topeka center had two on-car supervisors and several part-time supervisors, the center manager was a job that required the ability to command respect from the middle and low-level supervisors, as well as the drivers, sorters, loaders, and mechanics.

This new center manager had yet to tangle with any drivers personally, but on one Monday morning, the opportunity presented itself. The day had started poorly with several drivers calling-in sick and others scheduled off-work. As the morning planning session was underway, a problem arose. There was a particularly undesirable delivery area whose driver was absent, and of the handful of unassigned cover-drivers, only one had ever been on the route.  That driver, however, was the most senior of all of the cover-drivers, and he wanted to work on a much more desirable route. It was the past practice in the building for the cover-drivers to select their assignments by seniority. The center manager, asserting their authority in the meeting, simply said that the most senior driver would go to the nightmarish route, period. When the drivers arrived at about 8:00 am, this particular senior cover-driver noticed his assignment on the route to which he had sworn to never return.  He was outraged.

The driver told his on-car supervisor that a mistake had been made in the assignments, and that he, as the senior cover-driver, had chosen another area.  The on-car supervisor had no good answer but to take the driver into the new center manager’s office. The driver was adamant, rules were rules, and everyone was going to follow them. The center manager insisted that UPS could do anything they wanted as conditions required, and that the assignment would stand. The driver was unwavering, insisting that he would not deliver the route in question. Now livid, the new center manager addressed the cover-driver, “You will do this route, or you go home.”

The cover-driver seized the opportunity in an instant, saying, “I’ll go home, good bye,” as he exited the office. As the driver’s wife was off work on Mondays, the couple went out and bought a new Dodge. Back home in the afternoon, the driver was surprised by a phone call from Bill Moore, the President of Local 696 International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “What’s going on down there?” Moore wanted to know. The driver expressed his puzzlement, saying that he didn’t know, as he had gotten the day off. Moore replied that the center manager had called saying that the driver had been fired for failing to follow directives. The driver protested, quoting the center manager, verbatim, “You will do this route or go home.” “They gave me the choice,” he continued, “do this route or go home, and I went home.”  Moore advised the driver to return to work the next day.  Moore made one more quick phone call, and it was decided that the whole affair was just a communication failure, and the driver returned to deliver another day.

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UPS feeder manager Lester Fields offered rides in a UPS tractor during a 1989 open house in Topeka.

Founders’ Day

United Parcel Service was founded as a messenger and delivery service on August 28, 1907.  For as long as I worked at UPS, every year on August 28th, the management staff would hold a birthday party for UPS.  Sometimes, the parties were lavish with prizes and favors for the workers, along with a giant cake. Other times, the parties were far more subdued.  Regardless of the size of the party, one can always count on enthusiasm from the workers for a nice slice of cake at 8:00 am.  Hell, lots of us went back for seconds.

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UPS managers and staff prepared for the 1987 Founders’ Day celebration in Topeka, awaiting the arrival of Congressman Jim Slattery.

The most extravagant Founders’ Day party ever held in at UPS in Topeka happened on August 28, 1987 on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the company.  A huge banner hanging over the driver sign-off area proclaimed, “1987 FOUNDERS’ DAY KANSAS DISTRICT CELEBRATES 80 YEARS OF SERVICE”.  United States Congressman from Kansas, Jim Slattery was a special guest of honor, and in addition to the giant Founders’ Day cake, UPS provided a birthday cake for Congressman Slattery who had celebrated his own 39th birthday on August 4th. Anytime a dignitary visited the UPS center, their presence also generated a visit by division and district level managers from “Kansas City,” and the 1987 shindig was no exception.  Teamster Local 696 President Bill Moore also attended the event, a frequent visitor to the Topeka building.

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Congressman Jim Slattery speaks to UPS employees during the “am meeting” on August 28, 1987.

Congressman Slattery arrived at the Topeka center at about 7:15 am, and after visiting with the management team, Slattery was escorted around the building, viewing the preload operation which unloaded 10,000 packages from trailers, placing them in very specific locations on shelves inside forty package cars in four hours. The Congressman also visited with drivers throughout the building and in the break-room.

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U. S. Congressman Jim Slattery cuts the first piece of cake at the 1987 UPS Founders’ Day party at the Topeka UPS center.

Then, around 8:00 am, Congressman Slattery cut the first piece of cake from his cake decorated with a bald eagle. As preloaders were ending their shifts, they stopped for refreshments before heading for home. At 8:30 am, the “am meeting” was called, and Congressman Slattery was introduced to the drivers, and he made some brief remarks. A couple members of the management team made some comments, and then there was a last wave of drivers grabbing a second piece of cake before heading to their package cars. The party was over, and withing minutes, a long wave of brown trucks snaked out of the building, horns tooting as trucks passed through the double doors on the east end of the building.

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UPS package car drivers, Tom Shehi (back to camera) and Jim Figgs speak with Congressman Jim Slattery at the Topeka center. To the far left is UPS manager, Bill Perry, and Teamster Local 696 President, Bill Moore stands behind Slattery.

A far less festive Founders’ Day was barely acknowledged on August 28, 1997.  That Founders’ Day fell only eight days after UPS reopened after a bitter sixteen-day strike.  While in Topeka, the relationship between management and labor remained cordial during the work-stoppage, there is little doubt that there was messaging from corporate as to how the self-proclaimed holiday would or in this case would not be celebrated.

Finally, there was one Founders’ Day that went without fanfare in Topeka because of a disaster which struck the center on the night of August 27th, persisting throughout the early morning hours.  There was a City of Topeka water main that apparently ran along the north side of the building, and for reasons unexplained, it ruptured, sending a torrent of water shooting under the northwest corner of the UPS building, quickly eroding the sandy Kansas River soil under the concrete. Within a short time, water was pushing into the building through the floor, and by the early morning hours of the 28th, the building was flooded.  Because of the flooding, the electric motors which powered the buildings’ conveyors could not be used, and trucks were loaded by hand.

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The Topeka UPS center was flooded on Founders’ Day, August 28, 2012 by a ruptured water main.

As luck would have it, this author had the day off, and I wasn’t part of the preload bucket brigade.  Damage to the building seemed enormous when the water receded.  Rumor had it that the building would have to be demolished, but that wasn’t the case.  The city water department repaired the main, the UPS building was cleaned and dried, and things returned to normal within a few days.

Since a party was planned and the cake had been order, I believe that it was served in the parking lot because of the building’s flooded state.

 

Rogue’s Gallery

United Parcel Service moved into Kansas in 1971, establishing their Topeka package center and feeder hub at 126 NE. Madison Street.  There were many men and women who spent their lives working for UPS in Topeka. Hundreds of feeder drivers, package car drivers, loaders, sorters, car-washers, mechanics, janitors, and various levels of management personnel worked hard, every day.  The job wasn’t easy. Even the easy days were hard.

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Clarence Banks, left, Mike Garrett, center, and John Avery, Topeka feeder drivers, share a few moments along the primary belts inside the Topeka center.

Despite the toughness of the job, virtually all of the drivers loved their job while they were doing it. There was a lot of pride exhibited in working for UPS and driving a brown truck. UPS drivers have always been considered the finest in the industry.  UPS put well-maintained trucks on the street.  In the early years, every package car was repainted on a schedule every two years. Personally, because of the nature of my very rural route, I almost always drove the newest trucks. Every truck is washed every night.

Over the years, I’ve collected photos of my work and of my fellow workers.  Below, you will find a large group of photos that you can click to view in a gallery or full-screen format.  Several of these photos were given to me by Topeka feeder driver, Mike Garrett, and I’d like to express my appreciation to Mike for collecting and sharing the photos.

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Topeka feeder driver, Mike Garrett pauses for a moment for a photo from the cab of his tractor in the UPS center.

If anyone has any stories or photos of UPS in Topeka and would like to share them, just email your item to flinthillsspecial@gmail.com.  The minimum width of a photo should be 1,000 pixels in size, and if you can provide any caption or identify anyone or anything in the photo, please do so.

Click on any image below to view in a gallery format or as a full-screen image.

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