May said the center hires 60 to 80 seasonal employees each winter.

The holiday season may come without tags, packages, boxes or bags, but UPS hired 100,000 seasonal employees nationally to ensure its customers’ gifts arrive before the winter holidays.

UPS National Chief Operating Officer Jim Barber said the company expects to hit a record peak this year. He said package deliveries nearly double over the holidays from their average of 20 million per day. Walker May, an operation management specialist at the closest UPS distribution center to JMU in Fishersville, Virginia, said the distribution center is packed with 40% more brown boxes over the holidays than normal, which makes for a “hectic, but exciting,” shift.

“It’s something new every day,” May said. “You never know what you’re going to walk in to.”

May said the center hires 60 to 80 seasonal employees each winter. Their positions range from seasonal personal delivery drivers who distribute packages out of their own vehicles, driver helpers who ride in the truck with a full-time truck operator and run packages to houses, and office staff. May said personal drivers are especially valued because they run last-minute packages on tight deadlines that are outside of a driver’s daily route, but the majority of seasonal staff are driver helpers.

Dylan Danelson, a junior history major at JMU, is a seasonal driver helper in Toms River, New Jersey. He’s spent the last two winters running packages for UPS for $14 an hour when he returns home for winter break. Danelson said the job is “fast-paced.” He said he makes between 250 and 300 delivery stops during his 12-hour shifts, running between 500 and 600 packages to customers’ doors.

“It’s a long, cold day,” Danelson said. “It’s a testament to how hard these guys really work. Moving forward, when I see my UPS driver, I’ll be more appreciative of the work that he is doing because I saw it firsthand.”

May said the explosion of online retail has further intensified UPS’s holiday schedule.

“Amazon provides a lot of guarantees on two-day and one-day shipping, so we are pressed to meet a lot of commitments,” May said. “We just have to send them out — bang, bang, bang — and hope that we get them out in time.”

Danelson said his assigned driver told him that seasonal driver helpers are typically either “retired grandfathers” or college students looking to scrape together extra income while on break. Through UPS’s Earn and Learn program, seasonal student employees who work for three months of continuous employment can earn up to $1,300 toward college expenses in addition to their hourly pay. Danelson said the job’s flexibility and pay makes it a “great job” for students.

To be a seasonal employee at UPS, Danelson said new hires must watch a two-hour safety training video instructing them on how to properly exit and enter the delivery vehicle and how to lift boxes in a safe manner.

John Mansour, the manager at Harrisonburg’s UPS store, said that while UPS distribution handles the physical delivery services, stores like his manage packaging, printing and shipping. Mansour said training for an in-store position takes three to six months to complete. Because of that difference, he doesn’t hire additional staff to alleviate the holiday rush, but he sometimes asks returning local college students who have worked there previously to come back and help.

“We understand how frustrating it is to not get their stuff on time, but we are doing our best and working long days to make sure everyone has a happy Christmas,” Mansour said.

Over the last three years, 35% of seasonal package handlers at UPS were later hired in a permanent position when the holidays were over, and nearly a third of UPS’s current U.S. workforce started in seasonal positions.

Danelson said one of his favorite things about working for UPS is the “tight-knit community.” He said the drivers are all on a first-name basis and often spend time together after their shifts. Danelson said the drivers are “down to earth” and “hardworking.” Last year, he worked with the same driver for the entirety of his seasonal employment and said the pair developed a friendship. This year, he’s worked with a new driver each day.

“I learn a little about their lives,” Danelson said. “They learn a little bit about my life. They’re good company.”

UPS seasonal employment begins in November and phases out one week after New Years Day. May said that while some seasonal workers only work for one day, UPS’’ seasonal employees are the “backbone” behind their holiday magic, both in the delivery vehicles and in stores like Mansour’s.

“It’s sometimes hectic but a lot of times rewarding,” Mansour said. “Whenever we get to tell people it’s guaranteed delivery before Christmas, people’s faces light up.”

Contact Brice Estes at estes2ba@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.