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“If we are so essential we should be treated as such”: Postal workers speak out during a global pandemic

MARCH 24, 2020 | COWORKER.ORG

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On March 17th, USPS employees started a campaign on Coworker.org demanding the implementation of safety protocols, paid leave for at risk employees, hazard pay, and other protections as the threat of COVID-19 looms. Within days, the petition gathered more than 75,000 signatures and amassed comments from thousands of concerned employees.

Here are some of the things postal workers are saying about their current situation.

(Please note: the quotes below are from comments left on the postal workers’ petition between March 17 and March 23, 2020. This situation is changing rapidly. Some of the statements below may not be accurate in the future.)

Workers haven’t received clear guidance on how to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Many workers spoke out about not having received any formal guidance on how to best protect themselves and the communities they serve in the midst of a global pandemic.

“We have been given no talks,” said one postal worker. “The USPS set up a link for employees to follow COVID-19 info but have not actually informed the employees about it neither through talks or handouts.”

Another employee expressed concern about a lack of any clear plan for handling the virus:

“There are little if any safety measures implemented at the station I work at, if anything, the risk is increasing daily as the workload increases when more and more employees are not able to or afraid to show up for work. I do not see any plan in place to ensure employee or customer safety, just business as usual, ‘follow the CDC guidelines and you should be fine’…”

One employee expressed frustration at the lack of information:

“Management at the [Redacted] has done NOTHING, communicated NOTHING, responded NOTHING to simple request[s]. People will get sick.”

“To this point communication between management and employees is nonexistent,” added another employee.

Workers say they don’t have access to sanitation supplies.

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Comments from postal workers all over the country claim that USPS has not provided workers with sanitation supplies.

“As a carrier we encounter hundreds of people Daily. We have not been provided any gloves, mask, hand sanitizer or wipes. I have a sick child with a very weak immune system. I [put] her at risk everyday when I get home.”
“No masks or hand sanitizer provided, minimal stand ups about virus, office is dirty & disgusting on a normal basis & absolutely nothing is being done to clean & sanitize the office to protect employees.”

Workers noted that by the time their managers realized they should stock up on hand sanitizer and other supplies, stores in the area had run out. One employee commented on Facebook:

“We have gloves but they don’t fit… No sanitizer….instead spray bottles of vinegar…. broken bathroom sinks….[ I’ve] seen one container of Clorox wipes for the 106-person station I’m in.”

Postal Service workers say they feel forced to choose between protecting themselves and their families and adhering to demands of their supervisors.

Despite USPS guidance to managers to approve leave “liberally”, many employees say they are facing pressure not to call out of work. “Incompetent management is putting the everyday worker at risk while they work from the safety of their home,” said one employee. “They punish employees when they use sick leave and use intimidation tactics to prevent any use.”

One employee expressed concerns as a primary caretaker for for her husband and her mother:

“My husband just suffered from a second stroke. He is 64 years old & also suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, & high cholesterol. My mom is 69 & also suffers from lupus. I am the primary caregiver for both. I can’t afford to get ill or risk exposure from those who are not honest about their travel or symptoms. When managers try to become ‘MDs’, while only having [the experience] of processing or delivering mail, that becomes troublesome…”

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Another explains feeling forced to choose between money and her family:

“With Schools closed, I’m forced to use my own time since I have no one else to stay with my kids. The post office doesn’t show interest on how they can help or care if I’ll be able to make ends meet. Forcing me to choose between money or the health of me and my family.”

Employees say they are concerned that customers may be unknowingly exposing postal service workers to the virus or putting themselves at risk.

Some employees expressed concern that the public hasn’t been directed to avoid contact with the people delivering their mail:

“[We] need more action to protect employees. Inform customers to not approach carrier[s] or postal trucks. [We] need to authorize carriers to sign for signature-required items so scanners are not being handled by the public and spreading germs! We need antibacterial wipes available on every truck! We have families also and need to protect them.”

“People are sick at home and have not spoken with people in weeks,” explained another employee. “So when their mail Carrier (i.e ME) comes to their houses to deliver, now they want to talk or open the door and hand us the mail… It’s not safe for us to be out here. And if safety is important to the post office, then we should NOT be on the streets delivering at ALL!.”

Perhaps most importantly, workers are taking action to demand changes.

In their petition, USPS employees are asking for increased sick leave, clear and transparent policies, and hazard pay for employees required to work. Help support their efforts by signing their petition now, or add your own personal story in the comments.

Other postal workers are speaking out too! Check out this campaign from Canada Post employees who are making similar demands.

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