Why UPS Won’t Bother To Improve Service

My recent terrible customer service problem with UPS (an overnight letter, containing my children’s birth certificates, that was supposed to be delivered on January 29th still hadn’t arrived on February 16th…) led me to Google the news on UPS, just to see what other bad things they were up to.  It didn’t take long to uncover UPS’ clandestine efforts to change legislation that would achieve only one thing only: target their largest competitor, Fed Ex.  According the (caveat: the campaign is run by FedEx):

UPS lobbyists have buried a short 230-word legislative “bailout” [NOTE: my quotation marks] deep inside the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 currently before Congress. It’s worth billions to “Big Brown” at the expense of today’s American economy that thrives on next-day commerce, competitive shipping options and ready access to markets around the world.

Why should we care? Because UPS’s service sucks compared to FedEx’s. FedEx argues that those of us who rely on overnight-deliveries – medicines, paychecks, critical replacement parts, essential inventory, and the like – will pay the cost if the legislation occurs. In my case, UPS hasn’t even attempted to deliver the package in 6 days—crying adverse weather. Thank god I’m just waiting for birth certificates (which I need to enroll my kids in public school). If it was medicine I’d be dead. The last thing we want is to give UPS more power than it already has.  Remember: Customer Service is the tangible evidence of its service. Both stink.

I believe in Diane MacEachern’s Big Green Purse concept. So I generally patronize the lesser and the greener of all evils in what I buy. Therefore, I’m generally an advocate of trucking over air freight in terms of sustainability. But, in this case UPS is only marginally more sustainable than FedEx. According to Newsweeks’ 2009 Green Rankings UPS ranks number #85 to FedEx’s #93. They are pretty much equal in terms of sustainability. Which when you think about it is appalling since a trucking company should be far more sustainable than an air company.

In terms of social and economic measures, FedEx seems the better company. Consider that for 12 out of the last 13 years FedEx has landed on Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” I don’t think UPS has ever made the cut.

FedEx is ranked 91st overall and was recognized specifically for its ability to manage through the economic downtown by taking proactive steps to minimize layoffs and reinstate salary increases and 401(k) match, which the company suspended last year in the midst of the economic downturn.

All in all, it all smells kinda…brown.  I say we vote with our pocketbooks, switch to Fed Ex and act now to say no to taxpayers helping UPS unfairly compete.  Let’s see UPS compete on service.  Then maybe they won’t need a legislative fix.

Photo: anshu mishra at

Written by Jennifer Kaplan

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .


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  1. Hi Jennifer:

    I’m Debbie Curtis-Magley with UPS Public Relations and I’d like to address the concerns you’ve raised in your blog.

    I agree that the delivery delay of your express package is unacceptable. While weather can impact any shipping company’s delivery network, the wait you experienced is unreasonable. I want to offer my sincere apologies for this experience and assistance to get your concerns resolved.

    You raised questions about claims FedEx has made about UPS through its “Brown Bailout” campaign. You’ll be glad to know that UPS has never asked for a bailout. Instead, the campaign has been used to confuse people about legislation being considered on labor laws that govern shipping companies. The issue is whether employees who do the same work should be covered by the same law. Out of the hundreds of companies in the delivery industry, FedEx Express is the only one whose drivers are covered by a different labor law. FedEx and UPS have airlines, offer similar services and our employees perform the same work. Both and The New York Times addressed FedEx’s misleading claims.

    UPS has also demonstrated leadership to minimize the impact of shipping operations on the environment. I think we stack up pretty well against FedEx. Take a look:

    • In 2008, UPS became the first global shipping, delivery and logistics company to join the EPA Climate Leaders program, committing to set aggressive emissions-reduction goals using EPA approved carbon reporting.

    • UPS won the 2008 and 2009 SmartWay Excellence Awards, which recognize freight industry leaders that have made significant contributions to protecting the environment. While FedEx participates in the SmartWay program, it has not, to date, been recognized as a SmartWay Excellence Award recipient.

    • Climate Counts ranked UPS first in its “consumer shipping category” in 2009 with a score of 69. Climate Counts scores the world’s largest companies on their climate impact to encourage corporate climate responsibility and conscious consumption. FedEx was ranked last in the consumer shipping category.

    • The Carbon Disclosure Project annually surveys companies’ reports of environmental impact, including 82% of global 500 companies. Based on its score of 82, in 2009 UPS was named to the top-50 companies on the global “Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index” and to the Carbon Disclosure Project S&P 500.

    Again, my apologies for the frustrating customer service experience you’ve had. Please contact me at if I can provide further assistance.

    Debbie Curtis-Magley
    UPS Public Relations

  2. I already posted this on the disgustingly biased “Brown Bailout” website but this site seems more impartial and a better place for this kind of thing:

    I happen to work for UPS, and this provision is not just a “bailout” for them. In order to work at a UPS facility you MUST pay into and become a member of the local teamsters union. I get health benefits, college tuition assistance, and all sorts of other benefits that make what is an otherwise backbreaking job bearable. This is all just for working part-time – and UPS has full-time employees who receive the same benefits I do. Because FedEx is regulated under air labor laws, employees are limited in their ability to organize which DEFINITELY both gives the company an unfair advantage and also ensures that their employees are treated worse than us at UPS and have no recourse when they are.
    Because of the economic times, I am in serious danger of losing my job – I only started in June, and newer employees go first if they are forced to make layoffs, which my hub has already had to do. Because of my union, however, even if I am laid off I will be first on the list for a callback when the company is hiring again. This is a benefit FedEx employees don’t see. I also doubt that FedEx has received awards such as these:

    2009 World’s Most Reputable Companies -Forbes

    Best Places to Work for 2008 -Human Rights Campaign

    50 Best Places to Launch a Career -BusinessWeek

    50 Best Companies for Minorities -FORTUNE

    100 Best Places to Work in Information Technology – ComputerWorld

    Top 50 Employers 2009 – Woman Engineer

    Corporate 100 for Providing the Most Opportunities for Hispanics -Hispanic

    America’s Most Admired: Top 10 Most Socially Responsible Companies
    Jimm says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    The fact that this movement is run by FedEx should tell it all – of course they don’t want their employees to unionize because they would have to “waste” resources on improving their jobs and lives. Don’t be fooled by the propaganda; they are taking advantage of the economic climate and peoples’ attitudes towards government bailouts by classifying this as something it is not. It’s not a bailout for UPS because it affects FedEx only by requiring them to comply with the same labor laws as UPS – both companies use trucking and air shipping and I know because I have had to deal with both.

    Also, for all of you who have these service complaints and say that UPS is a horrible company because of it – you have no idea what the inside of a UPS facility is like. Imagine a sprawling, 16-acre labyrinth of conveyor belts, slides, scanners and trucks. You are required to move as many packages as you can as fast as you can, and if ANY package ends up facedown on the wrong belt, that package becomes untrackable. There are a million ways for one of the hundreds of thousands of packages we deal with daily to slip through the cracks, and finding them is not as simple as you would like to believe. The fact that they are able to do so at all is impressive. As much as a company is about providing service for the customer, take into consideration that as important as your package may be it is to us one in a million, and the world and service industries do not, in fact, revolve around you.

    I am not a “pawn” of the UPS company, nobody told me to come say all these things. This is a matter that affects me personally and affects all the workers of FedEx much more so – this is an act which is designed to benefit them in the interest of fair competition and fair treatment of laborers. Calm down and don’t jump on the bandwagon before you can really tell who’s driving and where it’s headed.

  3. Debbie – I agree that the service I received was unacceptable. And then I was forced to pay another $6.00 to have my package rerouted to a viable location. You can refund my $6.00 if you want to help.

    Jimm – My post is not about the merits of unionization. Its about bad customer service. You are not correct to say that FedEx has not won awards for how its treats its employees. Both UPS and FedEx have strengths and weaknesses as companies. That said, FedEx’s service record far outweighs UPS’. My point is that UPS should focus on improving customer service which in turn would improve market share and likely profitability. And don’t kid yourself, if UPS didn’t have to provide the union and you employees those benefits they surely wouldn’t. UPS should focus on changing their own business, not that of their competitors.

  4. Wow, Jennifer, where to begin? Your post became about more than “bad customer service” when you introduced entirely unrelated topics- what does the Newsweek Green Rankings and labor legislation have to do with customer service? Way to dismiss perfectly legitimate counterpoints with your circular reasoning. I bet you’re an O’Reilly fan, too.

    That said, what enormous company doesn’t have occasional service issues? That’s an area that every company strives to improve upon, and you just happened to be the 1 in umpteen-millionth package shipped that day that happened to fall between the cracks. How many companies do you as vehemently rant/rave because of a good experience? Just another blogger looking for something to complain about on their soapbox, using unrelated and biased sources to make a point, though I’m not sure what the point is other than obviously you don’t like UPS. I like that you bring up award rankings as evidence of your “point” but dismiss and ignore the ones your commenters brought up. Have you ever considered a career at Fox News? I’m sure they’d be delighted for someone of your caliber to be on their research team. And the Fortune “Best Places to Work” ranking is not the only (nor even close to the best) source to compare economic and social measures across companies. Did we fail Journalism 101 or just miss the day when discussing the proper use of credible sources and corroborating information?

    You complain about a lack of service, and meanwhile a genuine offer of customer service, complete with a person’s NAME and CONTACT INFORMATION, is shrugged off with a snooty remark. If I were you I’d drop the hostility and assess my karma… negativity begets negativity.

  5. Puh-lease Jimm I just wanted to share an observation. Employees of Fedex have all the ben-ees you list ie. health benefits,tuition reimbursement, pension ,and they dont have to pay the union dues you have to. You can argue about what company is better, offers more benefits or is greener for the planet until the cows come home. The real argument is that one company operates under one peice of legislation and one company operates under another and if you change that now it would be an unfair advantage. This is all sugar coated but the fact is special interest, ie the union and private corp are seeking to change something that Fedex has built a sustainable business on. Dont get me wrong I am not anti- union or private business I just think they should stay out of politics in cases like this. Oh and for the record Jimm, Fedex treats there employees GREAT I know I am one, and I am a front line working grunt like yourself.

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