July 25, 2011

Reporter learns the ins and outs of a UPS driver's job

Maine at Work: Lots of little routines are designed to shave a second here or a minute there, but safety comes first.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH - Wearing the iconic brown uniform of UPS -- including shorts as well as socks with a UPS emblem -- I was eager to see what sort of looks I'd get from folks as I made my rounds.

click image to enlarge

Reporter Ray Routhier, right, delivers a package for UPS with driver Peter Jacques.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

THIS WEEK'S JOB

TITLE: Driver, UPS, based in South Portland.

WORKER: Peter Jacques, 39, of Portland.

HOURS: 8:50 a.m. until his route is done, usually around 7 p.m.

SALARY RANGE: About $30 an hour straight time, plus time and a half for over eight hours in a day.

DUTIES: Delivering packages -- up to 150 pounds -- to businesses and homes on time; being responsible for the safety of the truck, and driving safely; dealing with customers and solving problems.

SURPRISING FACTS: The iconic UPS uniform includes little UPS emblems on the socks; drivers have more than 300 "methods" to follow while working, many for safety reasons; there is a strict no-beards policy for drivers, but they let it slide for me -- for one day.

PERKS: Lots of exercise, no need to join a gym; all the bottled water you can carry; being your own boss, somewhat, because you're out in the truck all day long; getting to wear the brown uniform, including the shorts.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

MAINE AT WORK takes an interactive look at iconic, visible or just plain interesting jobs done by folks in Maine. Reporter Ray Routhier shadows a worker or workers, reports what he sees and tries his hand at some of the job's duties.

IF YOU'D like to suggest a job to be explored in this feature, email rrouthier@pressherald.com or call 791-6454.

But I quickly learned there was no time to worry about, or be proud of, how I looked. That's because a UPS driver's day is all about time management -- time management on steroids, to be precise.

The day I tagged along with him, driver Peter Jacques made about 175 deliveries between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. I was only with him for the morning, but saw that he was constantly thinking about time.

Jacques followed lots of little routines designed to shave a second here or a minute there. For instance, he told me that when I entered any business with a package, I should call out "UPS delivery" right away, instead of hunting for the right person. That way, the right person will find me.

You want to be polite, ask where they want the package placed, things like that. But you want to display a "sense of urgency" and not necessarily stand around making small talk, he told me.

Sometimes, keeping such a tightly wound internal clock can be tough, he said.

"I'm a dog person, so when I see a dog on the route I'd love to stop and play with him," said Jacques, 39, as we rode along Route 1 in Scarborough. "But that would take roughly 45 seconds. So if I stop to play with five dogs in a day, that's about five minutes of lost time."

From the beginning of my morning with Jacques, I got a strong sense of what UPS -- the worldwide package delivery business -- is all about. Dozens of drivers were assembled in the South Portland warehouse, where trucks were being loaded. The drivers were stocking up on free bottled water (it was about 90 degrees) and getting instructions from their supervisors, including cautions to look out for bicycles and motorcycles.

Within minutes of these meetings, trucks were pulling out of the warehouse. In the parking lot, each truck stopped so the driver could do a safety check. Jacques walked around his truck, showing me how he looked at the windshield (for cracks), the tires (for punctures), the doors, the license, the truck's ID numbers and several other things.

With everything in order, we got in the truck and headed for Route 1 in Scarborough, where Jacques would be delivering. As a "cover driver," Jacques has different routes on different days, covering routes for drivers who are on vacation or sick. That means he sometimes spends valuable minutes finding an address, or the right door to enter.

As I sat in the truck, both doors were open. It was a little disconcerting to be motoring down Interstate 295 with no barrier between myself and the outside. But Jacques explained that on a hot day like this, with no air conditioning, it's important to have the doors open.

"People ask if I have air conditioning in the truck and I tell them I have 250 air conditioning," he said. "Open two doors and go 50."

We made our first stops of the morning at Maine Medical Center's Scarborough campus. On the five-minute drive there, Jacques had filled my head with rules and procedures. The one he repeated the most was "three points of contact."

This means that whenever entering or leaving the truck, you should have one foot on the truck's bottom step, one foot on the ground and a hand on the truck's outer handle. If you don't do this every time, Jacques told me, you're bound to slip and possibly get hurt over the course of 175 stops -- or some 350 trips into and out of the truck -- during any given day.

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