Diary of a Letter Carrier

The letter below, written in early May and edited for space and to remove identifying information, is from a DSA member who is also a postal worker. Saving  the Postal Service has gone from a no-brainer issue to a DSA campaign–and a moral imperative for us all. This letter makes concrete all the rhetoric about “essential workers,” reminding us that all workers deserve hazard pay and justice.–Eds.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, my day begins an hour and a half earlier than normal.

After punching in, several of us go outside and check our trucks. This is the normal morning procedure, except for the fact that we now take an odd mixture of water and bleach with us to clean the parts of our trucks that we touch most often during our routes. The mixture we use smells awful, and God only knows what it’s doing to our lungs. We have to use this homemade mix because there isn’t enough sanitizer available. Indeed, several local breweries make sanitizer for us because we cannot find something so basic as Lysol or Purell. 

After checking and cleaning our trucks, we go back into the office and start casing our mail. As is normal for this time of year, there’s not much mail. But we are currently receiving more parcels than we receive during the Christmas season—especially from Amazon. The consensus around the office is that Jeff Bezos lied when he said Amazon would only ship essential items during this crisis. 

It feels like Bezos is making billions off of this crisis, while those of us on the frontlines are working longer hours and making the same rate of pay.

Once on the road, our routes provide some challenges. People aren’t staying in their houses, nor are they social distancing. I can’t tell you how many parents let their children come up to our trucks and ask for the mail. People flag us down on the streets trying to give us return packages for something they bought at J.Crew that doesn’t fit. We’re not supposed to take these packages, but people don’t seem to understand why we don’t want to interact with them. Honestly, I’m not concerned about contracting COVID-19 from customers; what I’m concerned about is infecting my customers with COVID-19. If people knew what we touch during the day, they’d be horrified. Furthermore, most of the public doesn’t seem to understand that we do not have enough masks and gloves to protect ourselves and our customers. Our branch—one of the larger ones in my state—only received cloth masks two weeks ago.

Since there are so many parcels these days, we usually get a text on our scanners from management asking us to come back around 1 p.m. in order to get the rest of our packages. It’s like starting your route all over again. And this means no more eight-hour workdays. Many of us are putting in 10+ hours a day 10 days straight before we get a day off. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and we do it for our customers. Having said that, we’re all exhausted. And as my union steward says, “Exhaustion is a safety issue.” Does management always understand this sentiment? No. Many of us often feel as if the numbers are more important than our lives. If it weren’t for the union [National Association of Letter Carriers], I can’t imagine what this job would be like. As one postal employee put it, “We aren’t essential; we’re sacrificial.”

On a personal note, my wife is working from home these days. She constantly worries about what I’m bringing home with me. Am I asymptomatic and spreading COVID-19 without knowing it? Is she asymptomatic? Her fears are justified, because I know people at our branch who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Basically, everyone I work with errs on the side of assuming we’ve been exposed to this virus. But, none of us who are “healthy” can get tested because there are not enough testing kits. It seems ridiculous to us that essential federal employees who are in constant contact with the public can’t get tested. 

Ed. Note: To participate in the DSA Labor Committee’s campaign to save the USPS, go to dsausa.org and click on the DSLC link to find out about #DSA4USPS.