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USPS Workers Rally For Congressional Aid: 'We Just Honestly Can't Afford To Take Anymore'

A USPS mail carrier walks past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at Wall Street on Nov. 16, 2020 in New York City. - Wall Street stocks rose early following upbeat news on a coronavirus vaccine and merger announcements in the banking and retail industries. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
A USPS mail carrier walks past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at Wall Street on Nov. 16, 2020 in New York City. - Wall Street stocks rose early following upbeat news on a coronavirus vaccine and merger announcements in the banking and retail industries. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

 

U.S. Postal Service workers are holding a “National Day of Action” on Tuesday in cities throughout the country and calling for more support from Congress.

The service experienced one of its greatest challenges this year: shepherding millions of presidential mail-in ballots while under political, financial and operational challenges amplified by the pandemic. Lori Cash, a sales and distribution clerk at the local post office in Lancaster, New York, says 2020 marks the most hectic year for USPS in her 22 years working there.

Cash starts her workday at 2:30 a.m. by opening the post office and meeting the truck drivers. Then she brings in the mail and separates it by carrier so it’s ready for delivery.

As an essential worker during the pandemic, the unknowns concern her. Cash says she exercises caution when coming home from work to protect her husband, daughter and mother.

“Now that we’re seeing a surge again, I’m starting to feel that anxiousness again,” Cash says. “When I’m driving into work in the morning, just wondering what notifications I’m going to get that day of how many new cases we have in the district and where the cases are.”

As president of the American Postal Workers Union Western New York Area local, Cash says it’s stressful trying to keep her employees safe and updated on the latest information about the spread of the virus.

Her biggest concern is getting another stimulus bill passed in Congress to keep USPS afloat. Expenses from employees taking coronavirus leave and hiring replacements for sick workers are adding up, she says.

And if businesses start to shut down again, drops in letters and flat mail will cost USPS revenue, she says. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says USPS has the money to get through to next year, but Cash says she’s concerned the service might not be sustainable beyond then without more aid.

On top of COVID-19 concerns, DeJoy plans to make more operational changes that will slow down the mail, she says, leading to a decrease in customer confidence and lost business

“If [DeJoy] makes these changes in transportation and delivery times and we start to lose revenue that way, that’s just another financial hit that we’re going to take,” she says, “and we just honestly can’t afford to take anymore right now without some kind of financial help from Congress.”

One light in the tunnel of unknowns for USPS workers like Cash is an outpouring of support from their communities. Customers are coming in to express gratitude and bringing workers gift cards to buy coffee, she says. Some recognize her union face mask when she’s out in public and say thank you.

“We’re something that everyone takes for granted normally. The Postal Service is just something that’s always there,” she says. “So to kind of stand out now and have people appreciate it really is a wonderful feeling.”

The immediate demand of the National Day of Action is to address the negative economic impact the pandemic is having on USPS, says Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

USPS, which doesn’t usually run on tax dollars, needs the $25 billion passed by the House in August to make up for lost revenue and continue carrying out its mission, he says. Postal workers are asking people to call their senators and advocate for Congress to provide these funds.

The second demand is for Postmaster General DeJoy to reverse his policies that have slowed down the mail, Dimondstein says. USPS can handle election ballots, but the service needs to work just as efficiently every day delivering prescriptions to veterans and seniors or financial transactions, he says.

“The people of this country are promised, under the law, reliable and efficient services,” he says. “Let’s get the post office back on track.

But DeJoy has signaled more changes coming to the Postal Service in the future, with a net loss of $9.2 billion in 2020. Even with President-elect Joe Biden entering office in January, the postmaster general isn’t hired by the president and USPS will have the same leader, Dimondstein says.

The union is optimistic, he says, but anticipates challenges ahead.

“The people of this country have spoken loud and clear that they want the Postal Service to thrive and to continue to do well by the people of the country,” he says.

With Senate runoff races in Georgia around the corner, Dimondstein says USPS will continue prioritizing mail-in voting on a nonpartisan basis.

“We didn’t care how people voted in those ballots,” he says. “We cared that that was the person’s right to vote so we gave it the priority it needed.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Chris Bentley. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.