Your letter carrier may be working 11-hour days as coronavirus, Amazon and politics batter USPS

Illustration by Jocelyn Sands

Some Days, It’s three in the morning when Ron Ford, a United States Postal Service letter carrier, starts work in south Johnson County.

Through winter snowdrifts and scorching summer temperatures, he delivers mail and packages all over town, only stopping after his last priority package is delivered, sometimes at nine or ten at night.

“I generally work pretty close to around eleven hours [a day],” he says. “At least ten.” Ford has worked for USPS for twenty-four years on various routes, and during that time he’s seen and learned a lot.

“I’ve always said that if the general public knew what us, the letter carriers, know, they would be furious,” he says. “They would be outraged.”

Local letter carriers are currently caught in the middle of a bitter political squabble. The postal service was enshrined in our Constitution, but a 2006 law that forced the agency to prepay billions in retiree benefits has left it more than $160 billion in debt.

The coronavirus crisis had led to a steep dropoff in traditional first-class mail deliveries but increased demand for unprofitable package delivery—Amazon, for example, enjoys a “confidential” arrangement with USPS thought to be very beneficial to the mega-retailer. With the USPS facing bankruptcy, there’s a hiring freeze in place, and local letter carriers have been working brutal hours to get mail delivered.

Congress is split on the prospects of a bail-out, with the money becoming a political football intense negotiations. Without the bailout, hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line, as well as a lifeline for some communities come September, when USPS would run out of money.

“It’s frustrating,” says Antoinette Robinson, president of Kansas City’s postal workers union. “We are essential for the community. We deliver medicine, we deliver medical supplies, we deliver everything, anything. That’s what we do. So for us not to be included for funding during this time, it’s very frustrating. We’re coming to work, we’re doing our job, we’re in the Constitution. We’re a community service. That’s what we were put here for.”

On the other hand, some workers do think a bailout would force USPS to face the fact that things need to change, namely that their package delivery rates need to increase to match UPS and FedEx. However, frontline workers like Ford also say that forgoing a bailout wouldn’t have as big an effect as people think.

“They keep saying if they don’t give us the bailout that in October, we’ll be insolvent,” Ford says. “I’m here to tell you that it is the biggest lie. I mean, the checks, the titles, the birthday cards all still have to be delivered. What are they going to do—shut the post office down and let all that mail just sit there? The general public would not allow it.”

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