LOUISVILLE, Ky. – On a typical day, Chris Cross makes about 70 stops on his route as a FedEx driver. He jostles from house to house, delivering everything from medicines to furniture that weighs more than himself, with the goal of getting home before dark to spend time with his friends, his wife and his instruments.
But during the peak season, which started last week and continues until Christmas, that all changes.
âHigh season, for me, means put on your boots and get ready because it’s about to go crazy,â Cross said on a rare day off.
Across Kentucky and nationwide, workers in warehouses, distribution centers, and delivery trucks spend long days processing countless packages during the busiest time of the year. This is the time of year when holiday shopping is causing e-commerce orders to skyrocket and there won’t be a slowdown in 2021.
Online sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 are expected to hit a record $ 207 billion this year, according to Adobe. That’s a 10% increase from 2020, when the pandemic turned online shopping more than a matter of convenience.
Cross, who works six days a week during the peak, already sees the bump. Last Sunday, he had 180 packages to deliver to 130 homes. âI didn’t expect it to happen so quickly after Black Friday, but it was the most I’ve ever had at FedEx,â he said.
This is not Cross’s first peak season. He spent several years driving for Amazon before joining FedEx last summer. One of the lessons he’s learned is that social engagements and high season don’t mix.
âI have no life during the high season. I’m not planning anything, âhe said. “When I get home I’m tired and want to go to bed.”
Many large employers in Kentucky, including UPS and Amazon, ask more of their workers during peak season. They also bring more. UPS announced plans to hire more than 100,000 seasonal workers this year to meet the demands of the holiday rush. Amazon brings more than 150,000, including 2,500 in Kentucky. Neither company responded to questions about what a typical high-season schedule looks like for their employees.
The influx of seasonal workers does not alleviate the pressure on those who, like Caren Lamblin, were already there. Lamblin works in a warehouse in Danville which ships several brands of clothing. Her high season schedule allows her to work seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Long hours take a toll.
âThe fact that we are exhausting ourselves is clear from the number of people who are falling ill with colds, sinus infections and COVID exposures and infections that are now part of our normalcy,â Lamblin said. âAll of this is more difficult to overcome when we are physically exhausted. “
The high season has its advantages, however. Lamblin receives a bonus of $ 4 an hour during peak season and his company provides a free lunch three days a week. When asked if she thought peak season was a good thing because of the money, or exhausting because of the hours, she replied that it was “somewhere in between”.
âThis money is going to help me buy a new car that I desperately need, but it’s hard to get my 11-year-old daughter to understand it,â she said.
The high season also brings out customer anxiety, Cross said. As a delivery driver, he got to know many people on his route. Some of them felt pity when he dropped parcels at their homes on Thanksgiving Day and offered them food. Others are less nice. Last week he was reprimanded for bringing a package to a customer who was expecting three. He is often suspected of stealing packages instead of delivering them, which he says is extremely rare. And someone got mad at him recently because he didn’t have his UPS package.
âPeople forget that we are human,â he said. âWe get tired. If we don’t go as fast as you want, sorry. We are working hard at the moment.
Cross said guests expect perfection and are generally ruthless when the people who make their vacations possible make mistakes. He asked for more understanding this year, which he says is different from all previous years.
âWe have a lot to deal with,â he said. “It’s not just peak season, but on top of that you’ve got pandemic stuff. We don’t just deliver gifts, we deliver groceries, dog food, cat litter , all kinds of everyday things that people went to Walmart for. People should understand that we are not robots. “