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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 plans to slash worker benefits, this week in the war on workers

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ongress has put strict limits on the U.S. Postal Service to prevent it from entering the 21st century or competing with private businesses, and now the Postal Service wants Congress to let it compete in the race to the bottom. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson reported this week on internal documents proposing that Congress allow the Postal Service to save money by cutting worker benefits and expanding its temp workforce.

Postal workers would lose retirement security under the plan, with new workers shifted from a pension to a 401(k) model and existing workers’ pension contributions raised (money that would come out of their take-home pay). Retired workers’ health care would also see changes, and active workers would likely lose paid leave.

The addition of more people in the “non-career workforce,” AKA temps, would come on top of the fact that the agency “has already added 37,000 non-career employees since 2007, while shedding nearly 200,000 career employees through attrition, according to the document.”

And, of course, the Postal Service continues to look at cutting back on deliveries as another way to save money … while setting off a downward spiral as reduced services lead to reduced reliability and demand.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

 


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Postal Workers to USPS: Don’t Shred Our Contract

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The U.S. Postal Service’s plans to cut more than 220,000 jobs—that’s right, nearly a quarter million—and break a collective bargaining agreement has its employee unions up in arms.

The financially-strapped U.S. Postal Service revealed last week that by 2015 it plans to trim its workforce by nearly one-third, close 300 processing facilities and institute its own health and retirement system to replace existing federal programs, according to several reports. About 100,000 of the jobs are expected to be eliminated through attrition.

The proposal, which requires congressional approval, has drawn concern from unions and labor observers for its potential to further erode the middle class. And it’s renewed fears that other employers will soon follow with their own cost-cutting measures.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat—nor collective bargaining contracts?—will stay the USPS from the swift completion of its appointed rounds. (William Thomas Cain/GETTY IMAGES)

The decision comes after the USPS has suffered continuous declines in recent years due to drops in mail volume, advertising, an increase toward online communication and private competitors like FedEx and UPS. The postal service makes most of its revenue through postage fees and receives little support from taxpayers.

As a result, the agency posted $8 billion in losses last year and $20 billion in the past four. Moreover, the postal service expects to be insolvent by next month when the fiscal year ends.

The USPS has already implemented a number of cost-cutting moves, including plans to reduce their current career workforce of 583,908. More than 110,000 jobs have been eliminated in the last four years and the AP reports that currently 7,500 administrative staff jobs are also in the process of being removed. In June, the agency stopped funding pension contributions, which it says are over-funded. Almost 3,700 post offices across the country, mostly in rural areas, could be eliminated. Saturday service may also cease.

The agency also plans to reduce labor expenses. Last week, the Washington Post obtained “white papers” (PDF link) written by the USPS that seek to withdraw its employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, essentially because they view as it as too costly and want greater employee contributions.

The postal service also wants legislative changes that would allow collective bargaining agreements to be broken in order to implement layoffs. USPS workers represented by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) with more than six years experience are protected. The National Association of Letter Carriers‘s (NALC) contract also has a clause restricting layoffs.

There’s plenty of disagreement about whether Congress’ decision to nullify a labor contract would be unprecedented, and whether it’s merely a reflection of the current employment climate or a ploy to get an anemic legislature to find a solution. A USPS  spokesman has said that “everything is on the table.”

Bill Fletcher of the American Federation of Government Employees union tells the Washington Post: “When you break a contract, basically what you’re saying is that we have left the era of good-faith bargaining and negotiation and entered into employer unilateralism.”

University of California at Berkeley labor professor Harley Shaiken told Bloomberg News that the job cuts would be “politically damaging” to the Obama administration. He adds: “It would make the federal government the largest contract breaker in the country.”

The APWU, the NALC and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association have opposed the post office proposals and viewed it as an attack on their bargaining rights. The unions say that labor costs aren’t the source of the USPS’s budget crisis.

The labor groups instead point to a congressional mandate from 2006 known as the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The measure requires the postal service to pay for the healthcare benefits of future retirees for the next 75 years, all within a 10-year period at the rate of $5.5 billion annually. It is the only federal agency with such a requirement. The payments started in 2007 and unions cite the pre-funding plan as the reason why the postal office has declared its inability to pay the future healthcare costs by September.

NALC President Fredric V. Roland wrote in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun that the postal service would have been profitable during the downturn and losses would have been minimized if it weren’t for the pre-funding mandate.

The unions, however, are not asking to remove the legislative requirement but are instead pressing legislators to support a bill that would allow payments to be made using funds from a pension surplus. H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would address the budget crisis, maintain bargaining rights and avoid further cuts, the APWU and NCLA said.

“This responsible business move, with zero taxpayer involvement, would leave pensions and retiree health benefits fully funded well into the future while putting the USPS budget back on sound financial footing,” Roland said.

Meanwhile, a job that had been a staple for the middle-class mobility is being threatened, echoing similar reverberations in the private sector where Verizon workers are currently on strike. The USPS is scheduled to begin negotiations with the letter carriers union this week and the smaller National Postal Mail Handlers Union next week.

*This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on August 17, 2001.

About the Author: Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer and reporter for Kyodo News. He regularly contributes to the In These Times blog covering labor and workplace issues. He lives in New York City.


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