A UPS Worker's Day From Holiday Hell On its busiest day of the year, we visit a UPS sorting station outside Chicago that's believed to be the world's largest package handling facility. We'll meet the people who sort through all those boxes of Kindles, iPads, books and cookies making their way to American homes in time for Christmas.
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A UPS Worker's Day From Holiday Hell

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A UPS Worker's Day From Holiday Hell

A UPS Worker's Day From Holiday Hell

A UPS Worker's Day From Holiday Hell

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On its busiest day of the year, we visit a UPS sorting station outside Chicago that's believed to be the world's largest package handling facility. We'll meet the people who sort through all those boxes of Kindles, iPads, books and cookies making their way to American homes in time for Christmas.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

That Kindle you ordered as a Christmas gift may be on a truck right now. And if it's being shipped by UPS, there's a good chance it passed through the hands of some very busy folks outside Chicago. The UPS plant in Willow Springs, Illinois, is considered the world's largest package sorting facility.

Ashley Gross of member station WBEZ observed the mayhem on the plant's busiest day of the year.

Unidentified Man: You're good, Dave.

ASHLEY GROSS: Imagine a building the size of a football field. Now, imagine 26 of them stuck together. That's how utterly enormous this place is. Inside are 65 miles of conveyor belts. On December 16th, the busiest day, trucks and trains are hauling 10,000 trailers into and out of this place, carrying 2.3 million packages.

John Cason is one of more than 6,000 people who work here.

Mr. JOHN CASON (Transportation Manager, UPS): Virtually, from Thanksgiving on, it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week nonstop, just to get the packages out.

GROSS: Cason is the transportation manager here.

Mr. CASON: When the railroads were built in the U.S. hundreds of years ago, all rails met in Chicago. So, we'll get packages that come on the highway from the East Coast as well as on the train from the East Coast. We can unload them and sort them and put them on trains that then disperse throughout the country.

GROSS: And it's not just the East Coast, these packages come from all over the country. On one side of the building, people hoist boxes out of trailers and heave them onto conveyor belts.

Ms. NATALYA BROOKS: I'm Natalya Brooks from Area 105 but I came to 101 today to help them out.

GROSS: Brooks is an unloader. Usually, she unloads two boxes a minute. Today, she aims to do three or four a minute. Computers do a lot of the work here, scanning bar codes on the boxes and sending them to the correct conveyor belt. But none of it would be possible if people weren't there to make sure the boxes are in good shape and properly displayed.

Ms. KIMBERLY BROCK: I'm Kimberly Brock.

GROSS: So, how long have you worked here?

Ms. BROCK: Thirteen years now.

GROSS: Brock manages a steady stream of boxes and packages tumbling out of a chute. I asked her what the strangest thing she's seen is.

Ms. BROCK: I don't know. I've maybe seen, like, some X-rated material. I guess something had fallen out of a package and, you know, just kind of out there, like whoopsie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Darletta Scruggs is a supervisor here but says when she was loading boxes, she'd sing to pass the time.

Ms. DARLETTA SCRUGGS (Supervisor, UPS): I would kind of hum a little tune or sing a song when I was in there. It makes the day go by quicker.

GROSS: Can you give me a little bit?

Ms. SCRUGGS: You want me to sing? Oh my god. (Singing) The closer I get to you, the more you make me see.

GROSS: Just something to think about the next time you get a box delivered by UPS. There's a whole chain of people who played a role in moving it across the country to you, some even singing along the way.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Gross in Chicago.

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