- Business Insider spoke with two US Postal Service mail carriers this week who said their employer was doing too little to protect them during the coronavirus outbreak.
- They described unsanitary conditions in post offices and mail trucks and said they were not getting protective equipment like gloves and face masks.
- One resorted to making her own sanitizer at home from bleach, while the other has bought gloves and masks at inflated prices online.
- The USPS did not answer the workers’ concerns directly but said in a statement that it was taking action to limit the risk of infection among its staff.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
With many Americans under orders to stay at home, work has continued as usual for the United States Postal Service, deemed an “essential” business.
But mail carriers are concerned that their working conditions have made them sitting ducks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Business Insider spoke with two mail carriers this week who said social distancing was not being enforced in their workplace, heightening the risk of the infection spreading.
They also said that post offices and trucks were not being kept clean and that they had not received protective gear like face masks or gloves.
Both were spending their own money on makeshift protection that they argued should be provided universally by their employers.
USPS has said it’s enforcing social distancing, enhancing its cleanliness, and giving workers protection — but the mail carriers we spoke with said they hadn’t seen any evidence of this.
Both asked to remain anonymous, fearing the loss of their jobs if they spoke publicly.
No protective equipment and unsanitary conditions
One mail carrier in the Suncoast region of Florida said the Postal Service hadn’t been supplying masks or gloves, or even keeping hand sanitizer in the office and trucks.
She said she was instead making a bleach solution at home to clean her truck.
“Given the fact that we see customers every single day, I just feel like they could do a better job in making sure we have safe, sanitized working conditions,” she said.
“That’s just not happening, largely in part due to a lack of availability” of protective products, she said.
Another mail carrier at a post office outside Stockton, California, said the only protection he was aware of was a big container of hand sanitizer his supervisor keeps on their desk.
“They aren’t taking this very seriously in my opinion at all,” he said. “We don’t have masks. There isn’t social distancing.” He added that in the back of the post office, “you’re nearly shoulder to shoulder with everyone all the time.”
His position at USPS requires him to fill in where he’s needed, which means sharing trucks with other carriers, something he worries about.
Because he hasn’t gotten masks or gloves from USPS, he’s resorted to buying them on the internet at high prices — $60 for a pack of reusable masks off Etsy, and $50 for rubber gloves, he said.
The public don’t take social distancing seriously
The California carrier said the thing that worried him the most was how people kept flouting social-distancing measures to interact with him daily.
The Postal Service has discontinued the need for customer signatures and allowed workers to drop items off instead of passing them directly to a recipient. But that doesn’t matter if people aren’t keeping their distance.
“The public, to be honest, are even more clueless,” he said. “I hate to put it that way. Everyone I encounter is nice and friendly.
“But we’ve been told not to go up to people, and the first thing 50% of the people do as soon as they hear me is walk out of their house — literally up to me — to grab the mail. Maybe because it’s something to do. That’s the scariest part of my day.”
It’s only a matter of time
Both mail carriers said they felt it was only a matter of time before they get the virus — or, worse, pass it to someone in their family.
The Florida carrier said the threat that she or one of her coworkers could get the virus was “very real” and “just waiting to happen.”
“Who’s to say someone in our office hasn’t already had it?” she said.
“We’re short-staffed, which means that those of us who are there are working for roughly 10 hours a day, six days on,” she said, adding, “We’re more fatigued and more susceptible to the virus.”
The California carrier said he thought his chance of getting the virus was “bad.”
He said that “as the days go by, I think until we get masks, it’s probable” that he will get it.
Both said the USPS should make more of an effort to supply its workers with protective equipment and make hand sanitizer widely available.
More than 250 Postal Service workers have been infected
Both said they didn’t know of any of their coworkers getting sick yet. But the same can’t be said for the Postal Service as a whole. Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, told Business Insider on Thursday that 259 of the Postal Service’s 630,000 employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
There was also a concerning ProPublica report in which two workers said they were pressured to keep delivering mail even after they started to develop symptoms of COVID-19.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s running for president, sent a letter to the USPS on Tuesday demanding answers about how it was protecting its workers.
As of Friday, more than 86,000 people had signed a petition calling for safety guarantees for postal workers, including “basic supplies like gloves, sanitizer spray, and face masks.”
Meanwhile, there have been concerns about how self-isolation and social-distancing measures could affect the USPS.
Two US representatives have said that the Postal Service could close as early as June because of a drop-off in mail volumes.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Gerry Connolly said they backed a bill that would give $25 billion in emergency funding to the USPS. The stimulus bill enacted last week allowed it to borrow $10 billion and create temporary delivery points to help prevent workers from being exposed to the virus.
What the USPS had to say
Business Insider sent a detailed request for comment to the Postal Service on Thursday. Partenheimer did not directly answer the questions but forwarded a recent USPS statement on the matter.
Partenheimer said he wanted to stress “that the safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority.” The statement he included broke down the ways that the USPS was addressing the coronavirus outbreak.
Here are some actions the service said it was taking:
- “Ensuring millions of masks, gloves and cleaning and sanitizing product are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day.”
- Introducing policies in USPS locations “to ensure appropriate social distancing, including through signage, floor tape, and ‘cough/sneeze’ barriers.”
- Encouraging employees to “politely ask” customers to keep their distance so that they may drop off mail safely.
- Updating cleaning policies “in a manner consistent with CDC guidance relating to this pandemic.”
- Giving information to employees to help them stay safe.
A worker in the Bustleton Station Post Office in Northeast Philadelphia has tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Postal Service confirmed Monday.
It is unclear when the employee tested positive or what actions the Postal Service is taking at the location. A spokesperson declined to offer any information about the individual or their current health status, citing privacy laws. The location remained open Monday.
“The safety and well-being of our employees is one of our highest priorities,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “To ensure the health of our employees, we are continuing to follow recommended strategies from the CDC and local health departments. We also continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on a nationwide basis.”
Health experts say the risks are low that COVID-19 will remain on envelopes or packages and infect anyone who handles them. They suggest avoiding touching your face and washing your hands after handling any deliveries.
Post offices nationwide remain open, but the Postal Service has instituted a number of measures aimed at protecting the public and its workers. Within stores, customers are kept at least six feet apart, and appointments are required for passport applications.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents letter carriers employed by the Postal Service, has told members to avoid ringing doorbells. Instead, they suggest knocking on doors in places others likely haven’t touched and using social distancing guidelines when interacting with customers.
Nationwide, there have been 178 postal workers who have tested positive for COVID-19, as of Monday afternoon. The Postal Service employs over 630,000 workers.
Despite all the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, mail delivery has remained one of the most steady parts of society. But as the number of coronavirus cases increases, United States Postal Workers are saying it’s time they receive hazard pay.
A petition on change.org explains the demand for the hazard pay, saying, “we are essential during this epidemic, we should at be paid for it.” It has garnered more than 309,000 signatures.
“As we get deeper and deeper into this Coronavirus epidemic, postal employees are being forced to work and do overtime upwards of 12 hours a day,” the petition reads. “From dealing with the day-to-day struggles of rain, sleet snow, hail or no AC in postal vehicles, limited heating in postal vehicles. no innovations in carriers delivery methods, no innovations in protection clothing or any other areas of the post office.”
Hazard pay for all USPS EMPLOYEES!! – Sign the Petition! https://t.co/fGMLgLw9As via @Change my dad, and grandmother both worked for the post office. Not supplying protective gear, or hazard pay to them is beyond irresponsible. Please sign this petition, and pass it on. Thank you
— Lisa Thomas (@lisarenee9511) April 4, 2020
The petition mentions that postal employees carry “blood, sweat, and tears” every day, “at the expense of time with our families, wear and tear on our bodies, [and] mental and emotional abuse from USPS management.”
Postal workers have been deemed “essential employees” by the government during the ongoing crisis. Lawmakers have said that if USPS doesn’t get more support, it could shut down in the next few months.
According to USPS, 293 postal employees have tested positive for coronavirus as of April 3. The agency told CBS News that “the safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority,” and that they have implemented safety measures to help workers cope with the impact of the pandemic.
Those measures, according to USPS, include distributing masks, gloves and cleaning and sanitizing products to more than 30,000 locations; adhering to official guidelines regarding social distancing; eliminated a requirement that customers must sign for packages; updated cleaning policies; updated leave policies “to allow liberal use of leave” and provide 80 hours of paid leave to non-career employees for “issues related to COVID-19”; and allowing some employees to work remotely.
“The Postal Service delivers much needed medications and Social Security checks, and we are the leading delivery service for online purchases,” the agency said in a statement. “The Postal Service is an essential service for purposes of compliance with state or municipality shelter-in-place orders or other social distancing restrictions.”
Social media users have expressed their support for the petition, some saying that employees are risking their health as they commute to work, and drive to various locations.
Twitter user Matthias Rex wrote that his dad has to take the subway to get to his USPS job in New York City. Manhattan has more than 9,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the New York Department of Health.
Yo my dad works for the USPS and has to go to work 5 days a week on the subway, and there are tons of other NYC employees and families that could possibly benefit from something like this.
Hazard pay for all USPS EMPLOYEES- Sign the Petition! http://chng.it/wPZSDF6b
Sign the Petition
Hazard pay for all USPS EMPLOYEES!!
Others say that postal employees are helping keep businesses running throughout the pandemic.
USPS employees are responsible for my and the businesses of so many others still being able to run during this pandemic. they DESERVE hazard pay, and we need to make it happen. SIGN THE PETITION. http://chng.it/HNzNVkmK via @Change
Sign the Petition
Hazard pay for all USPS EMPLOYEES!!
Film critic Scott Weinberg tweeted, “USPS employees are essential, underappreciated, and ridiculously hardworking people. Give them hazard pay, a raise, PPE, and whatever else they need to do their jobs.”