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Postal workers complain of poor COVID-19 precautions, lack of contact tracing

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The 2,174 employees of the Los Angeles United States Postal Service (USPS) plant work everyday amid the Covid 19 pandemic on April 29, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. - The Los Angeles USPS plant is the biggest in the US. The plant served 155 Post Offices and 3, 162 delivery routes.In April they processed 14 million  packages vs 10 million last year. Everyday the United States Postal Service (USPS) employees work and deliver essential mail to customers. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Mismanagement at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) endangers more than just the timely delivery of ballots for November’s elections. It endangers the lives of Postal Service workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 10,000 postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 83 have died. But the agency isn’t screening workers for symptoms, testing them for the virus, or doing meaningful contact tracing. Social distancing and mask-wearing are not always enforced, according both to workers interviewed by ProPublica and to many of the more than 250 complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For instance: “The station and the vehicles have not been cleaned and sanitized. Bleach spray bottles were provided at one time but the employees were not provided material to wipe down surfaces and the bottles have since broken,” a June complaint from Houston reads. “Employees in the vehicles do not have hand sanitizer or another method to cleanse hands while away from the station.”

Or in Smithtown, New York: “the air conditioning has not been working properly for the last 3-4 weeks (blowing 81 degrees at the vent) which has made working in the building uncomfortable and may be contributing to employees not wanting to [wear] their masks.”

Workers say they aren’t informed when people they’ve worked directly with test positive for COVID-19.

“They should’ve told anybody who worked with him, ‘You need to go home.’ What is it going to take, somebody to die in the building before they take it seriously?” a St. Paul, Minnesota, postal worker told ProPublica. 

”They have the occupational nurse doing the contact tracing, but sometimes there’s no contact with the worker. And some managers don’t report [the case] to the tracking. Some managers tell people, ‘You don’t sound sick, come to work,’” the American Postal Workers Union’s Omar Gonzalez said.

The risk to workers becomes a risk to democracy as well if too many workers are sick or quarantined when ballots need to be delivered. More than 8% of postal workers have had to take time off related to the pandemic, and in some areas of the country, significant numbers of workers may be out at any given time, potentially compounding the damage being intentionally done by postmaster general and Trump toady Louis DeJoy.

It’s unconscionable to risk the lives of any workers, but when it’s partly happening because of a partisan war on the organization where they work—because the organization has been weakened, left without resources, forced to cope not just with the challenges of the pandemic but with its own leadership’s attacks on timely service—it’s especially disgusting.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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Postal workers are speaking out to save our democracy, this week in the war on workers

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As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy slows down mail delivery to help Donald Trump accomplish his goal of undermining mail-in voting and to continue the decades-long Republican war on the U.S. Postal Service, postal workers have sounded the alarm. “You don’t just go and tell management, ‘Hey, I saw that. That’s not allowed,’ ” Scott Adams, an American Postal Workers Union local president in Maine told the Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz. “At some point you have to hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘I’m telling you, and I have been telling you, you follow the rules. And when you don’t, we’re blowing it up.’”

It’s not just in Maine. Postal workers in other locations are pushing back against DeJoy and Trump’s sabotage, as in the Milwaukee area where workers organized and refused to follow the new rules. With DeJoy having removed many sorting machines, though, it’ll take more than workers doing their jobs—against the rules—to fix things. As American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein told The American Prospect, “Can the union do something specifically about what machines they have or don’t have in the post office? No. Can the union be part of a movement to share with the public what’s really going on and be part of a movement for change? We’ve seen that in the last month.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Postal Service cuts imperil ladder to middle class for many Black Americans

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Postal workers say DeJoy’s policies would make it nearly impossible to cope with sweeping changes that are affecting their jobs every day. 

Jonathan Smith, a Black mail-processing equipment mechanic who joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1988, remembers his grandfather being so proud of his career at the agency that he wore his uniform even when he wasn’t working.

“That job made us part of the middle class,” said Smith, 51, whose aunts and uncles also built careers at the Post Office. For many Black Americans, he said, “The Postal Service is that last symbol of the power of the middle class.”

That ticket to economic security could be in jeopardy now. If President Donald Trump and Congress fail to resolve their fight over Postal Service funding, it won’t just put the agency’s financial future at risk. It could imperil one of the country’s longest-running and most reliable civil service jobs, potentially forcing steep cuts to an estimated 669,000-person workforce that is more than one-quarter Black — a rate more than double that of the national labor force.

The sheer reach of the post office in all 50 states combined with the federal government’s anti-discrimination policies have made employment there more accessible than most industries to generations of Black workers. The agency’s pay and benefits often allowed them to share in the American Dream even when racial discrimination was everywhere in the country. A unionized postal worker can make as much as $75,000 a year, well above the national average income.

To be sure, that dream has been gradually eroding throughout the years as Postal Service career employment has declined by more than 37 percent since 1999. That’s largely because of automation and financial difficulties, including a decline in letter mail delivery with the arrival of email and the agency’s struggle to make package delivery profitable.

But the recent troubles are coming at an especially bad time, with the coronavirus-induced recession hitting Black Americans much harder than white Americans. Black Americans are not only nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19, but their unemployment rate was at 14.6 percent in July compared with 9.2 percent for white Americans.

The Labor Department has projected that overall employment of Postal Service workers will decline 21 percent from 2018 to 2028. And Louis DeJoy, Trump’s new postmaster general, has said the agency would freeze hiring and seek future early retirement authority “for employees not represented by a collective bargaining agreement.” On Tuesday, DeJoy said he would halt some key restructuring efforts until after the election following complaints from Congress.

While the debate during the latest round of coronavirus relief talks has focused on whether supplying emergency funds to the post office is needed to preserve election integrity and ensure package delivery, Smith and other workers like him fear even greater damage from Washington’s inaction: It could undo years of gains in racial equity that the USPS helped make possible.

“One of the things that attracted me was its commitment to diversity,” said Smith, who heads the American Postal Workers Union’s New York Metro chapter. “When you come from a predominantly Black community … you come into a melting pot.”

That was certainly true for his grandfather, for whom the job symbolized the opportunities he had found in the North after fleeing the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South, he said.

Union officials and the USPS have issued numerous statements over the summer reiterating their confidence that the agency can handle mail-in ballots for November’s election. But Trump’s resistance to sending USPS more funds, worker reports of a slowdown in mail delivery, and the mail carrier’s warning letters sent to 46 states and D.C. about mail-in ballots possibly arriving latechallenge those claims.

Congress recognized that the mail carrier’s financial challenges were being exacerbated by the pandemic when it provided the agency with a $10 billion loan in a March stimulus bill, H.R. 748 (116). But unions and Democrats — for whom Black Americans are the most reliable voter bloc — say the aid needs to go further, calling for $25 billion that the agency wouldn’t have to pay back.

Republican critics of the post office argue that the Trump administration has every right to demand an overhaul of the agency, saying the USPS has suffered for years from mismanagement and inefficiency.

USPS “owes it to the American people to improve their operations — this is a fact that even Democrats agreed with when it was politically convenient to do so,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement.

Whereas many other federal agencies are concentrated in specific areas, the USPS — where Black people make up 27 percent of the workforce — has offices across the country. It’s that geographic diversity that, beginning after World War II when Black veterans returned home in search of civilian careers, helped form “the genesis of [USPS] as one of the bulwarks of the Black middle class,” said William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and the AFL-CIO’s chief economist.

“The post office is everywhere,” Spriggs said. “And because it’s less easy to discriminate, it’s an easy route to a federal position.”

‘So you have retirement benefits, you have health care — you have all the things that go with a unionized job.”

Angela Johnson joined the USPS in 1996, working her way up through various mail-processing roles to her current position of general clerk. Now president of APWU’s Northeast Florida chapter, Johnson credits the agency with elevating her and her family to “a better position financially.”

“Many Black families excel through working at the post office,” Johnson, 48, said. “When people first come in, it’s their first job — or their first good job, like it was for me. I was able to do a lot for my kids; it was no longer a struggle for me.”

“It’s going to be a big hit if the post office is not helped. It’s a domino effect for the middle-class Black family who can’t afford that hit.”

For Black workers, that financial security is often more desperately needed than it is for white workers. The net worth of the typical white family is almost 10 times greater than that of a Black family, according to the Brookings Institution — meaning that Black workers rely that much more on their current income than do white workers.

Postal employees “have a secure retirement, secure health benefits — and these are even more valuable to workers of color than they are to white households, who might have inherited money or have other cushions to rely on,” said Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “This is true in general of the public sector, but it’s especially true of the Postal Service.”

“That’s why the fact that these jobs are being undercut right now has repercussions beyond just the workers themselves, for the Black middle class,” she said.

But it’s not just Black employees who could be affected by the USPS’ decline. Spriggs said many Black families live in rural areas only served by the agency — not FedEx and UPS. Black Americans make up 20 percent of the South’s population, compared with 13 percent in the Northeast and 6 percent in the West, according to the 2010 Census.

The inability to guarantee mail delivery would jeopardize thousands of mail-order prescriptions — a lifeline for the disabled and elderly, many of them veterans, who live in places where traveling to a pharmacy could be costly and time-consuming.

“It’s devastating both from the workers’ side and from the community side,” Spriggs said. “A lot of people forget the majority of Black people live in the South, and a lot of them live in rural communities.”

DeJoy’s efforts to reorganize the mail carrier drew criticism from both parties in Congress, responding to constituents who are suddenly more reliant on the post because of the pandemic.

Postal workers say DeJoy’s policies, including the elimination of overtime and late trips, would make it nearly impossible to cope with sweeping changes that are affecting their jobs every day, including the drop-off in letter mail and an explosion in package delivery.

Unable to work extra hours and with many colleagues on leave to take care of themselves or family members, employees report being forced to head home while many packages and other pieces of mail remain undelivered, a trend they say has resulted in the overall slowdown of mail delivery across the country.

“They took an oath of office when they got hired,” said Judy Beard, political director for the American Postal Workers Union. “And now they’re going home [and] leaving boxes — it could be medicine in the boxes, it could be checks in the envelopes — and they don’t feel comfortable about their work anymore.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.

About the Author: Kellie Mejdrich is a reporter for POLITICO Pro Financial Services.


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The Post Office Belongs to the Public. Let’s not Give it to Wall Street.

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On June 15, Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, N.C., began his new job as Postmaster General of the United States.

We are postal worker union activists who also hail from Greensboro (and are now American Postal Workers Union president and solidarity representative, respectively). For decades we have defended the interests of the public Postal Service and postal workers, and we bring a much different perspective than that of multi-millionaire businessman DeJoy. We are concerned that DeJoy, a mega-donor to Republican Party causes and to President Trump, has been tapped to carry out the administration’s agenda.

Trump has shown implacable hostility to the public Post Office. He has called it “a joke” and railed against its low package prices. In late March, Trump and his Treasury Secretary (Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs) blocked the bipartisan Congressional effort to provide funds to the Post Office in the initial 2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief legislative package, despite the Postal Service being so impacted by the COVID economic crisis that it could run out of money either later this year or early next year. 

Trump’s nefarious plans for the public Postal Service are reflected in a June 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget recommendation to “restructure the United States Postal System to return it to a sustainable business model or prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately held corporation.” While the proposal gives lip service to the first option, all the initiatives are concentrated on the privatization path. Indeed, the OMB never mentions anything positive about the current, public U.S. Post Office.

Using the OMB recommendations as a guideline, in December 2018 the President’s Task Force on the United States Postal System called for piecemeal privatization, drastically increasing prices, closing retail outlets, curtailing service and doing away with the collective bargaining rights of the 570,000 unionized postal workers. 

Much of mainstream media presents Trump’s hostility to the Postal Service as a feud with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. This is misleading. The Trump administration has a clear agenda—a dagger aimed at the heart of the USPS. The USPS is the largest and most efficient postal service in the world. It is the low-cost anchor of a massive $1.6 trillion mailing and package industry, relied upon by small businesses everywhere, and is critical to ecommerce. It also holds a special place in rural communities and is cherished by the U.S. people who are its owners. With 91% favorability ratings among Republicans and Democrats (Pew Research), why would a President who wants to get re-elected so clearly oppose the needs and desires of the voters? What drives his agenda?

The answer lies in capitalist power—the marriage between politics and economics—as an op-ed in the May 5 Wall Street Journal, “Phase Out, Don’t Bail Out, the Post Office,” makes brazenly clear. Gary MacDougal, investor, entrepreneur and corporate executive, writes he is afraid that, in an upcoming COVID-19 relief package, Congress might “bail out” the Post Office along the lines promoted by the current USPS Board of Governors. As he feared, the House of Representatives passed $25 billion in COVID-related relief for the Postal Service as part of the “HEROES Act.” The Senate is now taking up the issue of new stimulus legislation, including the question of whether it will include postal relief.

MacDougal served for 34 years on the board of United Parcel Service of America (UPS), a company with over $75 billion in sales and more than 495,000 employees. He has served as chair of the Finance Committee and chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee. UPS is a main competitor of the public Postal Service. Indeed, the Postal Service’s public mission, and uniform, reasonable rates, is a major hindrance to UPS’s corporate profit maximization.

No wonder MacDougal lies in his op-ed, feigning concern about saving taxpayer dollars. The fact is, that since the early 1970’s, the public Post Office has not run on tax dollars. It has operated as a self-sufficient entity that is financed by the purchase of postage stamps and other postal services provided at uniform prices across the United States.

In his op-ed, MacDougal pushes for the complete liquidation of the public Postal Service. He writes, “The bottom line: 13 straight years of losses, almost $9 billion in fiscal 2019.” But those years of losses have all come since 2006, when Congress passed a law that required the USPS to fund future retiree health benefits an incredible 75 years into the future, an onerous financial burden not imposed on any other government agency or private corporation.

Mr. United Parcel Service eventually lets the cat out of the bag: “The combination of UPS, FedEx, DHL, Amazon and countless local delivery companies would pick up the slack left by the wind-down of the post office. Smaller delivery companies may…handle last-mile delivery in remote areas. If that isn’t enough, Amazon and others could charge more for deliveries to extremely remote locations.” (Our emphasis.)

This was not MacDougal’s and the Wall Street Journal’s first effort to impose their privatization stamp on the public Postal Service. In an October 2011 op-ed “Junking the Junk Mail Office,” MacDougal had already exposed his true motivation, “Entrepreneurs will see the demise of the USPS as an opportunity, and new companies will emerge. Indeed, this transition can be one of the badly needed bright spots in a troubled American economy.” (Our emphasis.) It is no surprise that his current editorial appears in the midst of an even deeper economic crisis than in 2011.Taking seriously his executive loyalty to United Parcel Service, in his recent 2020 Op-Ed MacDougal concludes: “The responsible course is to set the Postal Service on a careful path to liquidation.”

The Way Forward

The COVID Pandemic has created a fork in the road for the future of the public Post Office: Either the people will defend and strengthen their public Postal Service, or Trump and finance capital will use the crisis to cause its demise.

Like MacDougal, the autocratic Trump regime is all about “following the money.” In 2019, the public Postal Service generated over $70 billion of revenue used to serve the people on a break-even basis. Postal privatization, better termed “profitization,” will turn over this vast treasure to Wall Street investors and a few private corporations. In turn, companies could raise prices, eliminate a democratic right of the people to universal postal services no matter who we are or where we live, and destroy living-wage union jobs in the midst of the COVID-induced economic crisis. 

The same pandemic that is revealing Trump’s shameless effort to divide and conquer the people, is underscoring once again the “essential” public good carried out by the women and men of the public Post Office in binding our people together, in uniting us, especially in these most difficult times. It is noteworthy that, along with the previously cited 91% favorability rating, a recent YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union, indicated that over two-thirds of the population favor Congressionally appropriated postal relief to restore lost COVID related revenue.

The Postal Service is owned by all the people of the United States, not capitalist entrepreneurs. The collective “we” rely on the Postal Service for vital supplies, medicines, ecommerce packages, pension checks, financial transactions, voter information, ballots and a vast exchange of personal correspondence as well as the sharing of ideas and information. Privatization of public postal services would end the democratic right of the people to these universal services, no matter who we are or where we live, at uniform and reasonable rates.

Hence, our starting point is to rally the people to defend what belongs to them. This is already taking on a variety of forms. Petitions to save the public postal service have garnered two million signatures. Tens of thousands of emails, letters and calls have gone to Congressional representatives advocating postal financial relief in the next stimulus package. In times of social distancing, car caravans in various locales have sent the same message. Both the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers have produced positive social media and TV ads. And actor-activist Danny Glover, the public face of “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service,” has produced a public service radio announcement now airing.

Crises, even tragic ones, bring opportunity. We have the opportunity to not only defend but strengthen the public Postal Service and the common good. We have the opportunity to ensure that people have access to the ballot box through vote-by-mail and a vibrant Postal Service. We have the opportunity to expand the financial services offered at the Post Office and counter the predatory pay-day lending and cash checking industry that preys on the working poor.

Moreover, the public Post Office has historically been connected to decent union jobs for Black Americans and other communities of color as well as military veterans. We have the opportunity at a time of massive unemployment to defend over half a million postal union jobs that build rather than tear down working class communities This is an important front in the fight for the practical realization that Black Lives will matter in the United States today and tomorrow.

Even if the new Postmaster General were to become a people’s champion of the Postal Service (and DeJoy’s initial steps have been to undermine the postal service) the trajectory of U.S. monopoly capitalism makes it necessary for the postal union movement, the general labor movement and social justice movements together to take to their phones and to the streets as the Movement for Black Lives is now doing. Progressive and necessary change is only won with the power of the people.

Finally, in the course of mobilizing the successful defense of the public Postal Service, we advance the opportunity to win health care for all as a human right, and other fundamental social benefits that will move us in the direction of a society where we are truly our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Dimondstein is National President of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO, and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the former president of the APWU Greensboro Area Local.

About the Author: Richard Koritz is former Greensboro Branch President of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), AFL-CIO, a Solidarity Representative of the APWU and sits on the board of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (the Woolworth Sit-In museum) in Greensboro, N.C.


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Postal Service Drops Staples Privatization Effort

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The Postal Service’s experimental “pilot program” in privatizing the retail end of the USPS using Staples outlets has failed and ended. The “Grand Alliance to Save Our Postal Service” has forced the USPS to back off from partnering with Staples in their effort to privatize and undermine the wages and jobs of USPS employees.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) reports that the “Approved Shipper” program will end operations in Staples stores by the end of February,

Postal management informed the APWU in writing that the “Approved Shipper” program in Staples stores will be shut down by the end of February 2017. This victory concludes the APWU’s three-year struggle. The boycott against Staples is over!

“I salute and commend every member and supporter who made this victory possible,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “I never doubted that if we stayed the course, stuck together and kept the activist pressure on, we would win this fight.”

Bloomberg has the story, in U.S. Postal Service Drops Service at Staples Amid Union Pressure,

Following union-backed boycotts and an adverse labor board ruling, the United States Postal Service has agreed to curb a controversial arrangement allowing private employees to provide its services at Staples Inc. stores.

USPS spokeswoman Darlene Casey told Bloomberg that the Postal Service would end its relationship with Staples in order to comply with a National Labor Relations Board judge’s ruling.

NLRB Ruling Came On Top Of Labor And Public Opposition And Boycott

The immediate cause of the USPS decision was an order from the National Labor Relations Board, but the bigger picture was labor and public opposition to privatization, including a “Stop Staples” Staples boycott. The Washington Post explains, in U.S. Postal Service to halt retail sales at Staples stores after union complaints,

The move resulted from a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) order issued on Wednesday. The board adopted an administrative law judge’s ruling from November. It “requires the Postal Service to discontinue its retail relationship with Staples,” said Darlene Casey, a Postal Service spokeswoman. “The Postal Service intends to comply with that order.” USPS could have appealed, but decided not to fight.

APWU initiated the NLRB complaint against the Postal Service for improperly subcontracting work to Staples that could have been done by postal employees. But while the NLRB order was the direct link to the program’s downfall, APWU President Mark Dimondstein said that legal tactic was just one part of a larger strategy that included demonstrations, educating customers and attending company stockholder meetings.

A Big Win

The Washington Post story quotes APWU President Mark Diamond stein, explaining that this is a “big win”,

“This is a big win,” Dimondstein said. “Staples is out of the mail business which they should never have gotten into. Our members take great pride in their training and their responsibilities; they swear an oath; they perform a public service. The quality of service at a Staples store isn’t comparable. The public should have confidence in the mail. Important letters, packages and business correspondences shouldn’t be handled like a ream of blank paper.”

“This is also a win for those who care about the neighborhood post office,” his statement continued, “and for all those in our society who think that workers should earn a fair living wage with decent health care and a pension, rather than the Staples model of minimum wage, part-time hours and no benefits.”

Postal Professionals vs Low-Age Retail Employees

One of the objections to Staples stores handling mail was the need for well-trained professionals to handle mail services. An Inspector General conducted an audit of the “Approved Shipper Program” and as the Bloomberg report put it,

The audit found that the Postal Service lost revenue due to participants incorrectly accepting boxes with insufficient postage, that clerks at the private retailers often didn’t complete certified mail forms correctly, and that “shippers are still not complying with mail security requirements.”

It Takes A Coalition

This victory for postal workers shows how coalitions like the “Grand Alliance to Save Our Postal Service” can achieve things for working people. According to APWU,

Many national unions endorsed the boycott including large teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). The other postal unions enthusiastically supported the campaign. The 12 million worker-strong AFL-CIO added Staples to their official boycott list. UNI the Global Union, an international union association, endorsed the Staples boycott urging all of the affiliated unions throughout the world to put pressure on Staples, since the company does business in 26 countries. Dozens of state AFL-CIO federations, local unions, Central Labor Councils, community allies and city councils passed resolutions endorsing the boycott.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on January 9, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 


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