“They work you to death” say some about Central Ohio’s warehouse work culture
UPS working conditions

The reasons why a loved one takes their own life is an agonizing question a bereaved family has to deal with for the rest of their lifetime. But if a person decides to take their life at their place of employment, it’s a distinct possibility the stresses of the job played a role.

On the Westside of Columbus, sandwiched between Upper Arlington and Hilliard, is a mostly industrial area where one of the region’s largest employers – the United Parcel Service or UPS – has a massive hub. A 90-acre packaging distribution center to be exact, which employs roughly 800 full-time and part-time workers, and processes over 60,000 packages an hour. The hub’s address is 5101 Trabue Road and can be seen driving west on I-70.

Late last December, a full-time UPS employee, believed to be an assistant manager, took their own life at the hub while on the job. A large Columbus police presence showed, and according to several UPS workers there that night, the incident was severely traumatizing.

These same workers told the Free Press that the person who took their life – a male believed to be between the age of 25 to 35 – said the demands of the job may have taken him over the edge. No doubt, the end of December is a critical and challenging time for UPS.

UPS in 2018 invested nearly $200 million in the facility at 5101 Trabue Road to expand and further automate so to create “the latest sorting, processing and data capture technology…to efficiently route packages through a maze of belts and conveyors.”

E-commerce was accelerating pre-pandemic. Now for many, shopping online is their foremost way to shop. “I have to have it immediately” is the consumption-crazed American way. And getting an uncountable number of packages to homes on time is a monumental task, especially during the holidays and amidst an era short of workers.

The Free Press is not divulging the name of the UPS employee who took their own life. A UPS media spokesperson said the family wants privacy. The Free Press made a formal request to see the Columbus police incident report, but it has been several weeks since then and several follow-up emails have also not been answered.

What the Columbus police incident report might reveal is why the deceased took their own life. Were they being bullied by upper management, as was the case with Kroger’s Evan Seyfried? Were they being overworked to the point they took their own life so their co-workers could witness the tragedy?

UPS director of corporate communications Matthew O’Connor said, “The well-being of our employees is always our first priority.”

“We are deeply saddened about the incident involving one of our employees, and we have offered our full support to his family, friends and co-workers,” said O’Connor. “Every UPS employee receives access to mental health resources from their first day of employment that includes confidential counseling sessions from licensed third-party professionals, which extends to members of their household. Confidential counseling services, and information about these services, are always available to our employees for their personal and professional lives. When this incident occurred, we immediately arranged for counselors to be available at the facility.”

The local UPS union, Teamsters 413, did not want to speak to the incident. The Free Press had to repeatedly ask a belligerent Teamster’s 413 President Tony Jones for a statement. He finally admitted that, yes, a tragedy, “did occur”, and he hung up.  

As mentioned, the family wishes for privacy – at least this is what UPS told the Free Press. But co-workers wanted to speak to his death, albeit without revealing their identity fearing retaliation.

What they told us is something the Free Press has heard before about Central Ohio’s warehouse work culture, which employees thousands locally. While the pay and benefits are decent, the work is nonstop for many due to quotas. It is also physically strenuous and mind-numbingly tedious. Whether driving a forklift or pick-packing (placing product in cardboard box), some local warehouse workers have told the Free Press, “They’re working us to death.”

Columbus over the previous two decades has become a growing mecca for distribution. Nearly 60 million square feet of warehouse space has been built here since 2012, for a total of nearly 300 million square feet. The metro area is a one-day drive to 45% of the US population. Rickenbacker International Airport on the far southside is a top-10 Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) in the US.

The suicide at the Westside UPS hub was no outlier. In October, a pregnant woman who worked for UPS took her life at their hub in Louisville, Kentucky. “The working conditions are tragic,” a UPS worker who knew the woman told the Guardian.

In September of 2019, at the Amazon warehouse in Etna (just past Reynoldsburg), 48-year-old Billy Foister died of heart attack while on the job. He laid there for 20 minutes before anyone realized something was wrong, which is disturbing considering many of these warehouses have hundreds of cameras watching workers every move. 

Foister’s brother, Edward, told the Guardian: “How can you not see a 6’3” man lying on the ground and not help him within 20 minutes? A couple of days before, he put the wrong product in the wrong bin and within two minutes management saw it on camera and came down to talk to him about it.”

The pandemic was a boon for UPS and Amazon. UPS’s gross revenue for 2022 was $102 billion.

The Free Press has said it before – Central Ohio is a playground for a small number of white men over 50-years-of-age who became insanely rich off the backbreaking work done by the unskilled and immigrants who toil in our warehouses. Les Wexner, for example. Four of the nations’ top-country clubs (golf courses) are located here and some of these over 50-years-of-age white men belong to all four.

But at what cost to become rich beyond the average warehouse worker’s wildest dreams? And what does the local UPS suicide say about American consumers? As long as the package arrives on time, many Americans wouldn’t give it a thought.

As Billy Foister’s brother told the Guardian, “It seems Amazon values money way more than life. If they did their job right, I wouldn’t have had to bury my little brother.”