L&I officials have trouble getting UPS information

TheNewsTribune, Tacoma, WA

State Labor and Industries officials say shipping giant United Parcel Service Inc. is resisting efforts by state inspectors to investigate a crash that badly injured a local UPS worker last year.

The state Attorney General’s Office recently sued in Pierce County Superior Court, asking a judge to force UPS officials to turn over records inspectors think would help them determine what caused the wreck.

The company has refused to release the records despite numerous requests and the issuance of an administrative subpoena, the lawsuit states.

“The department properly issued and served a subpoena duces tecum upon UPS in order to support a lawfully authorized investigation of risks to the safety and health of the concerned workers,” Assistant Attorney General Robert Hatfield wrote in his pleadings asking a judge to force the company’s hand.

UPS is not providing the information because the accident was investigated by local police and L&I lacks “appropriate jurisdiction to revisit the matter,” spokesman Dan McMackin said Friday.

“UPS remains open to discussion with the Attorney General’s Office,” McMackin said.

The crash occurred Dec. 14 after a UPS driver and his co-worker parked their delivery van on a steep hill in Federal Way. The driver later told L&I inspector Ann Benson that when he was ready to leave he buckled his seat belt, released the emergency brake and tried to start the van using its keyless ignition system.

The van failed to start and the driver’s attempts to use the brakes were futile, state records show.

“The package car gained speed until it struck a tree at the bottom of the hill, severely injuring the co-worker,” Benson wrote in an affidavit submitted as part of the recent legal action.

On Dec. 22, L&I received a complaint from Teamsters Local 174 reporting “problems with the keyless start system used in UPS package cars,” Benson wrote. Some drivers reported the brakes did not work if their vans weren’t running, she said.

Benson said she later talked to other local UPS drivers who expressed similar concerns.

Union representative Matt Webby told The News Tribune last week that he has not fielded any complaints since the initial reports made to L&I.

UPS last year installed keyless start systems in many of its vehicles as an efficiency measure. The system controls the ignition and unlocks a bulkhead door that gives drivers access to packages.

UPS Chief Operating Officer David Abney told The Wall Street Journal in September 2011 that the automatic door-opening system would save 1.75 seconds per stop or about 6.5 minutes per driver per day.

“We’re obsessive about efficiency,” Abney told the newspaper.

Benson wrote in her affidavit that she asked officials at the UPS facility in Pacific for documentation related to “written procedures for use of the keyless start system; UPS’s training documentation on the use of the keyless start system; and any information related to what to do if the package car stalls on a hill and how to get the vehicle started.”

Benson said she was told the company would not turn over anything without a subpoena. She delivered a subpoena to the company in March, but no records have been turned over, she said.

At least three state officials tried to negotiate the release of the documents with UPS attorney Carla Gunnin, but she declined to turn over the materials, court records show.

“On May 7, 2012, Ms. Gunnin emailed me to communicate that UPS believed (L&I) had no jurisdiction to investigate the issue of the keyless start system,” assistant attorney general Robert Hatfield wrote in an affidavit.

The state then decided to go to court.

“Based upon Ms. Benson’s investigation, the department has reason to believe that the keyless start system may have played a role in the workplace accident,” Hatfield wrote. “As the records requested by the department are essential for the department to fully conduct its safety and health inspection, the department now seeks judicial enforcement of its administrative subpoena.”

A hearing before Judge Thomas Larkin is scheduled for September.