UPS strike: non-delivery of healthcare products

If the Teamsters strike when the current contract with UPS expires on July 31, distribution of some pharmaceuticals and medical goods will be seriously disrupted. This disruption will result directly from reduced and delayed deliveries by UPS and from related network congestion slowing and delaying other parcel deliveries. Prior posts have given particular attention to the potential impact on home-delivery of chronic care medications (here and here).

On Friday a letter was delivered to President Biden from a coalition of US business organizations. The letter includes the following paragraph. I have added the bold highlight.

UPS is a vital lifeline for America, moving between 5% and 6% of U.S. GDP, or $3.8 billion in goods, per day. Parcels delivered by UPS include cancer screening tests, semiconductor chips, baby formula, back-to-school kits, critical parts for agricultural, construction, and telecommunications equipment, and the everyday supplies needed to keep thousands of small businesses running.  America also relies on critical medical deliveries enabled by the predictability and reliability of the UPS network, such as vaccines, medical devices, and life-saving medication.  Meanwhile, UPS’s competitors have stated publicly that, in the event of a work stoppage, they do not have the capacity to absorb the 20 million packages the UPS delivers per day. 

Each of the arguments listed are valid. I am especially glad to see the bold sentence included.

One of the signatories to the letter is the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA). The CEO of HIDA has added, “The supply chain relies on small parcel delivery to get supplies to patients in their homes, doctors’ offices, first responders, and clinics… We strongly urge the parties and the Biden administration to avoid a work stoppage at all costs.”

Since my July 12 post raising these concerns I have had substantive discussions with a variety interested parties. I have been interviewed by several major media. Despite my efforts, the healthcare implications of this potential supply chain disruption have not been emphasized. Instead, there has been attention to labor/management conflicts and broad economic consequences. These are certainly relevant, but I wonder why healthcare implications have almost been avoided.

The healthcare implications of the strike involve risks where proactive measures taken by patients and clinicians could mitigate consequences — at least that was the case ten days ago. Mass mitigation actions concentrated over the next nine days carry some new risks of their own. The difference between prudent self-care and self-harming (system-harming) beer-game swilling supply-chain killing explosive consumption typically involves how-much-how-quick and how-well-calibrated with authentic needs. This is seldom compatible with a panicky Fear-Of-Missing-Out.

What was possible on July 12 is less doable and constructive on July 22. If there is a strike, mitigation potential will be even worse on August 2. Especially when dealing with high volume, high velocity complex adaptive systems — such as many contemporary supply chains — sparse actions taken earlier are almost always more helpful than dramatic actions taken later.

For many reasons, I hope next week’s renewed UPS-Teamsters negotiations are successful and a strike is avoided.