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San Antonio congressmen call on USPS to provide relief to mail carriers during heat wave

Joey Palacios
A USPS office in San Antonio.

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Four San Antonio congressmen sent a letter to the U.S. Postal Service's postmaster general on Wednesday that called on USPS to restore the practice of giving free water bottles to mail carriers. They also asked the USPS to send more air condition-equipped vehicles to San Antonio.

The letter also called on USPS to allow mail carriers to take necessary rest breaks without retaliation and give them the time to visit a store or return to the station to pick up a water bottle without penalty.

The letter was signed by Congressmen Greg Casar, Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar, and Tony Gonzales — three Democrats and a Republican. It asked USPS to “immediately create a plan to ensure mail carriers have access to cold water and are safe while on their routes.”

The letter pointed to the collapse and death of a 66-year-old Dallas mail carrier earlier this summer. He collapsed in the front yard during his shift and later died. The heat index at the time was 115 degrees.

It also quoted several mail carriers, some anonymously, who said USPS had regularly given them free water bottles in past summers but had not this year.

“I have worked for the post office for 30 years, and I’m coming to the end of my service to the American public as a city letter carrier,” one anonymous mail carrier said, as quoted in the letter. “Postal management has absolutely no concern for my well-being — my postal truck reaches temperatures of 130 degrees inside. I feel defeated, concerned, and afraid of how the lack of water and extreme conditions I’m required to work in are going to shorten my lifespan or affect my quality of life.”

Because workers have told the congressmen that USPS is not currently providing water bottles, they have to stop and pay for water and ice out of their own pockets. Sometimes they must do so during their shift in order to keep up their supply of cold water in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

“Unfortunately, many letter carriers report they can be penalized for stopping to get more water and ice and take a break while on their route,” the letter said.

In a statement from a USPS spokesperson who covers the San Antonio area, the mail carrier service said safety of its employees was a “top priority.”

The statement outlined the agency’s Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP). The plan includes awareness posters, formal training for employees on how to identify and prevent heat-related illness, portable water sources in all facilities, and stickers in delivery vehicles with the symptoms of heat-related illness on them.

The USPS statement said 34% of all delivery vehicles had air conditioning and that the rest had fans. It did not detail how many delivery vehicles in San Antonio had air conditioning.

It also did not address congressmen’s request to send air conditioned vehicles to San Antonio. It also did not address why USPS has stopped giving water bottles to mail carriers or if it would begin providing them again.

The congressmen’s letter ended with a final call to support USPS mail carriers.

“Letter carriers provide an essential service to our community and do so with diligence and determination,” it said. “They deserve the resources that they need to do their job safely. We strongly encourage you to reverse your recent decision to cut water bottles for San Antonio letter carriers. Please also ensure that letter carriers across Texas and in other communities with high heat are provided the water and breaks they need.”

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