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UPS plans to hire 70,000 temporary workers to help with the holiday shipping season, a 40 percent increase from 2003.

UPS estimated Tuesday that it would deliver more than 340 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, peaking on Tuesday, Dec. 21, with about 20 million air and ground packages. That is more than 6 million more than the company's normal domestic daily load.

Last year, UPS Inc. hired 50,000 seasonal workers, about the same as 2002.

The increase is seen as a sign of an improving economy because delivery companies such as UPS are considered bellwethers of consumer purchasing. During the last holiday season, UPS delivered just over 300 million packages, spokeswoman Christine McManus said.

The seasonal workers will include package sorters, loaders and driver-helpers. The company's ground delivery fleet of 88,000 brown package vans, cars and tractor-trailers will increase by 7,000 vehicles, and UPS Airlines will add two dozen jets to its year-round operating fleet, UPS said.

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