I’ve always wanted to work for UPS. Specifically, I’ve always wanted to be the guy running packages from truck to porch.
So last November, I applied for a seasonal job as a driver helper.
I was hired for the peak holiday season. I wanted to know what to expect, so I googled to see if anyone had written up their experiences. All I could find were quick snippets. So I wrote up my experiences for future generations of driver helpers.
First off, let’s be realistic. I thought the job was going to be eight hours a day with lots of overtime opportunities. It wasn’t. For me, it was more like 6 or 7 hours a day with no overtime. Luckily I was able to shift my photography gigs to weekends and mornings so I had a second source of income. If you’re planning on getting rich, being a UPS driver helper is not the way to do it. More on that in a bit. My typical workday started at 11:30 am and ended anywhere between 6 pm and 8 pm with an unpaid hour break in there. Also, the job is really only until Christmas even though UPS will tell you there’s a chance to work that final week of December and possibly into January. That is true, but not for all driver helpers, and if you continue into January, it likely won’t be the route you had during peak season.
It all starts with a UPS orientation day. That was the easiest four hours I earned from UPS. Basically, it involved filling out paperwork and listening to a lot of HR lectures that could be summed up in one sentence: Show up sober and don’t steal stuff. Oh, and don’t play fantasy football on the job. They went on for a while about that. Then trainees had to practice getting in and out of a UPS truck which was actually useful. As a driver helper, you gotta jump in and out of that truck hundreds of times a day, pull down the jumpseat, buckle up, and not catch your elbow in the door between the truck cab and the cargo area. And you gotta do it fast because the driver is usually waiting on you. Orientation provided a few key tips for making that process safe and fast.
There was also a useless “training” session on using old-school DIADs – the handheld computer used by drivers to record deliveries and packages. The training was so quick there’s no way you could actually learn to use one. But I was really, really lucky and my driver never made me learn how to use the DIAD. I got to just be physical labor -which is what I wanted.
I started the week of Thanksgiving. We were told at training someone would call us on that Monday. We were given a number to call after 9:30 am if that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen so I called the number and was told to call another number. Did that and told them I was ready to start working. They didn’t give me a job that day but I credit that call to getting two days of work that week because the next day, at 7 am, UPS called and told me to be ready for work once a driver called me. Tip #1 – don’t wait around for UPS to call you. Show interest and you might get a couple extra days work.
On my first day, a driver called me. It turned out I live right on his route – like it was perfect. My house was right where he would be mid-day everyday when he needed me. So every day he’d pick me up at my house then drop me off at the end of the day. This is unlikely to happen to you, but it if does, it’s great. Not having a commute really helped make the job more enjoyable. Besides, not many people can say a UPS truck picked them up and dropped them off for work. BTW: UPS calls their trucks “package cars”. The “cars” have duallys on the rear, a diesel engine, and a massive cab and cargo area, so of course, everyone else calls them trucks including me.
My first day I wore actual workboots – leather boots with a vibram sole. They were far too much for the job and I tried to put them on the next day and my right ankle was so sore I had to put on a different pair of shoes. These were a pair of shoes I had that were allegedly for postal workers. Only they started falling apart an hour into the day. Seriously, the soles started falling off! I had to get a pair of running shoes from home and those mostly served me the rest of the time on the job. Footwear is key and you’ll have to figure out a mix of comfort, practical, and durability. For me, running shoes worked best.
Those first couple of days, I didn’t talk much. Just did what the driver told me to do and tried to figure out his system. He usually put packages for the three or four upcoming stops in the cab. So I quickly learned to look over those package labels and start looking for the addresses as he drove.
I ended up with a really cool driver. His name is Evan and he’s worked at UPS since he was 18 years old, including 11 years as a driver. Evan is 6’8″ with a massive arm span so he handled most of the big packages with ease. Anyway, those first few days, just keep quiet and do your job. Once you get the hang of it, then you can talk. But trust me, your driver doesn’t want to hear your life story on that first day. Make it easy on them – you’re there to help – and it will pay off. More on that in a bit.
HOW TO DRESS
UPS will provide pants and a jacket and stocking cap. The rest is up to you. My job happened to be during the wettest December on record for Portland, Oregon. Now I grew up here so I’m used to rain. Good thing too. It rained every single day I worked. One day it rained 2.42 inches. In one day! Your UPS uniform won’t cut it in that kind of rain. So here’s what I did – I always brought a pair of rubber shoes with me. I wore running shoes when it wasn’t dumping rain, and wore rubber shoes when it was pouring. My rainy day outfit consisted of rubber shoes, rain pants over my UPS pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, a light shell jacket over that, a raincoat over that, the UPS jacket over that, and a Seattle sombrero rain hat. And for gloves, I found neoprene scuba gloves were the best in really rainy weather.
A quick word about gloves – I don’t usually wear them and I spend a lot of time outdoors. I didn’t wear gloves at all my first week on the job. But when I got home one night and had trouble getting my key in the door because my hands were numb, I started wearing gloves. I settled on a pair of fleece biking gloves with leather palms. These worked well for me but work gloves from a hardware store is what my driver preferred. You will definitely want gloves though.
This is basically an outdoor job. Yes, you have a truck for brief shelter but the doors are open 99-percent of the time so be ready for that. One day the high temp in Portland was only 37F. Be ready for that – I wore long underwear that day. You will also want a headlamp. My driver didn’t use one but it was essential for me. I was working at least two hours a day in the dark and that headlamp was the only way I could read shipping labels, see stairs, porches, curbs, etc. It also lets people know you’re on their porch or walkway. You’ll be working a lot in the dark.
While the pay isn’t great (more on that, I swear), you will get so much exercise you will be able to eat anything you want! No kidding. For an entire month, I didn’t watch my diet at all and I still lost weight. This is a very, very active job and you’ll burn calories just staying warm. Pack snacks and food for work everyday. You will want to eat about every hour during your shift. No kidding. I found myself thinking about food constantly. If you’re not in shape, you will be by the end of the job! That was the best part – I essentially got paid to workout. In fact, my first week I was so tired at the end of my shift that I had to drive my dog to the park to throw a ball for him. I was seriously too tired to walk him. I can’t stress this enough – if you want a job where you will be outdoors and active your entire shift and you want to come home and pig out on food – this is definitely the job for you! That was truly the best thing about being a driver helper. It was the first holiday season I ate and ate and ate with no regard to watching calories or anything. I still lost weight.
A couple of interesting facts – there are a surprisingly lot of people who don’t have their addresses on their houses. You’ll just have to trust your driver – if he tells you to deliver to a house with no numbers on it – just deliver the package. Also, a lot of people have “no soliciting” signs on their front doors. However, they will be happy to see you. Mostly. Sometimes you drop a package on a porch, knock, and as you head back to the truck, someone will come to the door, open it, look at the package without picking it up, then close the door and leave the package on the porch. Weird but true. Also, most doorbells don’t actually work where I was delivering so get ready to knock on doors a lot! My driver showed me a cool trick for smaller packages where I would open the storm door, knock and sort of toss the package up in the air and shut the storm door before the package fell completely thus sandwiching it in between the storm door and front door.
You’re probably going to be slightly dehydrated most of the working day too. I like to drink a lot of water which means I pee a lot. Well, there’s not many opportunities to pee on the job – a random gas station delivery or maybe an outhouse at a construction site – those are often your only options. So you’ll find yourself rationing water to accomodate the sparse bathroom opportunities. This may seem weird to write about but it’s an issue you will face as a driver helper. Hydrate at night and mornings to help make up for the work shift.
Finally, sometimes the truck is so full that they send another driver to help. If you ever have seen two UPS trucks backed up against each other, that’s what is happening. Packages are being unloaded from one truck to the other. We had such a busy route this happened a lot. Unfortunately as a driver helper, when this happens it means your hours are going to be less that day than if you didn’t have help! But still – a couple of times that help got us home before 8 pm and that was nice. It does start to get weird on dark rainy nights when you’re knocking on doors after 8 pm.
Now if you made it this far, you must be wondering about the pay. It sucks. $10/hour. Pretty much minimum wage. And not forty hours a week either – more like 30 hours. However, if you do a good job, most drivers will tip you out at the end of the job. My driver gave me $100 for each week I worked. UPS also says they give a $500 bonus if you work every shift you are asked to work. I’m not sure how or when that is paid since I haven’t recieved my last paycheck yet and I’ll update this when I do. But the gist is this: expect only about $2K gross for a months work including bonuses. With taxes, your take home pay will be more like $1500. I was fortunate to have another source of income (photography) during the time I worked at UPS or I couldn’t have pulled it off. ** UPDATE: ** it took a while and several phone calls to get my final paycheck. While I was employed by UPS, they issued paychecks weekly. But for some reason, the final check took 12 days to arrive after my final workday and I had to call them several times to get it. I asked about the bonus and was told no one was sure when that would arrive – perhaps in a month? Once again, I’ll update if/when that bonus arrives. *** UPDATE #2 *** The bonus check was issued January 22 but no one at UPS notified me. I called on January 25, left a message with HR, no one called me back. I called again the next day and was told my bonus check was ready to be picked up or I could wait until the following week and they’d mail it to me. I went down and picked it up. Net pay was only $416 after taxes. Like I said at the beginning of this post – you won’t get rich being a UPS driver helper.
However, I did get in fantastic shape over the holiday season which is more than I can say for every other year of my life! It’s a fun, active, outdoor job and even though the pay is a bit dismal, I still very much enjoyed it.
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© 2016 Pete Springer
Pete Springer Photography Portland, OR