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Russ Evans is the president of American Postal Workers Union Local 497 in Springfield, Massachusetts. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.
Nobody wants a repeat of last year’s postal delivery delays during the holidays, especially not my fellow postal workers.
After working as a postal clerk for 30 years, I’m now the elected president of an American Postal Workers Union local in Springfield, Massachusetts. All of my local’s members are working hard to make sure that gifts and greeting cards get where they need to go on time.
The distribution center in Springfield operates 24/7 and mostly processes packages, which are expected to hit record volumes again this season. About 90 percent of the 900 employees here have agreed to work overtime hours until after the holiday season — some of them putting in 16-hour days, seven days a week.
Postal employees are doing everything within our power to maintain the trust the American people have had in the U.S. Postal Service. The problem is, not everything is within our power. We need strong leadership in Washington, D.C., to ensure that the Postal Service remains a vital institution serving all Americans.
During the pandemic, we’ve faced extraordinary challenges. When the economy virtually shut down in early 2020, essential postal workers stayed on the job, making huge efforts to meet the surge in demand for home deliveries.
While this led to more package revenue, we lost more money from the steep drop in first class and marketing mail. We’ve also had extra costs for protective equipment and to fill in for the many thousands of workers who were out sick with COVID-19 or under quarantine.
What keeps me and my co-workers going is knowing how much people value the Postal Service.
When I worked in a small post office, I went to auctions and bought surplus toys and stuffed animals and gave them out to kids when they came in with their families. I’d even personally answer letters to Santa Claus.
Because so many postal workers go that extra mile, the Postal Service’s public approval ratings are above 90 percent, with strong support from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
In Congress, a mix of Republicans and Democrats are supporting the Postal Reform Act, which would help stabilize USPS by eliminating unnecessary financial burdens that pre-date the pandemic. Instead of having to set aside billions of dollars every year to pre-fund retiree health costs, the Postal Service would be able to pay these costs on a yearly basis, as do other government agencies and corporations.
The bill would also reduce costs by integrating postal retirees into the Medicare system. And it would allow us to offer some new services, like hunting and fishing licenses and postal banking, that would bring in new revenue and meet local needs.
So what’s the holdup?
While postal workers have been straining to get the mail to our country’s more than 160 million addresses, politicians in Washington have been dragging their feet. Six months after a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Postal Reform Act, it still hasn’t been brought up for a vote.
Meanwhile, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is using our financial challenges to justify jacking up rates and slowing our delivery standards. In May, for example, DeJoy changed the next-day delivery time for our fastest service, Priority Mail Express, to 6 p.m. — an hour after many businesses close. We fear these changes will backfire by driving customers to our private, for-profit competitors.
If passed, the Postal Reform Act would strengthen a public service whose mission is to provide universal, affordable service.
The holiday rush is exhausting, but postal workers are committed to doing our job. We just want our elected leaders to do theirs.