Editor’s observe • This story is accessible to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers solely. Thanks for supporting native journalism.
Native letter carriers with the U.S. Postal Service are at their “breaking level” as they proceed to work via rampant burnout, excessive workers turnover and a pandemic that retains punching holes of their ranks, a union president in Utah advised The Salt Lake Tribune.
Publish workplaces in Salt Lake Metropolis, Provo and St. George are all coping with vital staffing points, leaving wholesome employees generally working 12-hour shifts with solely in the future off per week as they fill in for colleagues sick with COVID-19, mentioned Phillip Rodriquez, who works at a postal station in Salt Lake Metropolis and serves because the Utah president for the Nationwide Affiliation of Letter Carriers.
In an emailed assertion, the Postal Service mentioned the company “continues to carefully monitor the COVID-19 state of affairs, together with reviewing and following practicable steerage from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention,” corresponding to requiring employees to put on masks.
The Postal Service additionally acknowledged that it requires workers who’ve been contaminated or uncovered to COVID-19 to remain residence. However the company has disciplined Utah postal workers who mentioned they both missed work as a result of that they had examined constructive, or as a result of that they had COVID-19 signs however didn’t present sufficient documentation of a constructive check, paperwork obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune present.
Scott Canfield, postmaster for Salt Lake Metropolis, didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.
Rodriquez mentioned that in Utah, and nationwide, Postal Service administration received’t rely at-home COVID-19 check outcomes as legitimate except a physician verifies and vouches for them.
Even when letter carriers are in isolation after testing constructive, some managers have anticipated that they need to nonetheless present up for his or her shift, Rodriquez mentioned.
Russ Franklin, president of the American Postal Employees Union Salt Lake Metropolis Native 6 chapter, mentioned some COVID-19 “long-haulers” are going through that stress as nicely, as they take care of signs months after being identified.
“The put up workplace simply expects you to come back to work,” he mentioned. “And they also take motion to take away these workers or hearth them.”
A protracted day within the life
Salt Lake Metropolis letter carriers normally begin their workday with numerous driving, lengthy earlier than they sling a bag filled with mail throughout their shoulders and go trekking from yard to yard.
First, a provider whose route is close to the College of Utah, for instance, should report back to the put up workplace at 1760 W. 2100 South and decide up all of the mail to be delivered that day. Then the provider heads out round 7 a.m. In heavy visitors, the drive from the put up workplace to the U. is a couple of half-hour.
Carriers are then on their ft all day as they ship the mail, a process that includes heavy lifting, bending and twisting, Rodriquez mentioned, in addition to being uncovered to the weather.
Generally, the letter provider’s day includes driving again to the put up workplace on Redwood Highway to refill the truck with no matter parcels that didn’t match into the primary load, a detour that provides about one other hour of driving.
And if a co-worker has known as out sick, the provider might also should ship mail on that individual’s route, Rodriquez mentioned.
Through the winter, when the solar units round 5 p.m., it’s widespread for carriers to put on headlamps as they proceed delivering mail lengthy after darkish, Rodriquez mentioned, typically working till after 8 p.m., and generally till even 10 p.m.
“We have now a obligation to make it possible for all our product, all of the mail, is delivered day by day, and numerous occasions, we don’t have an possibility however to complete what we began,” he mentioned.
Through the vacation season, Rodriquez mentioned a letter provider got here to him for assist, sharing that he had labored 98 hours in a single week. The person was so exhausted that he fell asleep between deliveries and was on the verge of quitting.
Since then, that provider has been working 60-hour weeks as a substitute, Rodriquez mentioned.
He is aware of of one other provider who clocked in at 6 a.m. through the holidays, then didn’t clock out till 12:02 a.m. — technically the subsequent day.
That’s one purpose why the pandemic has been “catastrophic” to letter carriers’ bodily and psychological well being, Rodriquez mentioned.
“Our workforce can’t preserve these hours and these rigorous situations,” he mentioned.
Bringing work residence
In response to the Postal Service’s Worker and Labor Relations Handbook, postal workers can’t be required to work greater than 12 hours in a day besides throughout emergencies. And so they aren’t imagined to work greater than 60 hours in per week, Rodriquez mentioned.
However he mentioned it’s widespread for employees to be pushed previous these limits.
Since about 2018, postal workers nationwide ceaselessly can’t restrict their workweeks to 40 hours except they’ve a documented medical situation, he mentioned.
Throughout fiscal yr 2018, profession workers (who’re thought-about everlasting employees and are eligible for advantages) earned $29.76 per hour on common, and non-career workers (normally employed on a brief foundation) earned $18.55 per hour on common, in line with a 2020 report from the U.S. Authorities Accountability Workplace.
Any work carried out past an preliminary eight hours in a shift is paid as time beyond regulation, Rodriquez mentioned, and workers can even obtain extra pay in the event that they work after darkish.
Workers who carry out bodily and mentally difficult duties for prolonged intervals of time are in danger for fatigue, in line with the Nationwide Institute for Occupational Security and Well being. Removed from simply making workers really feel sleepy, fatigue can sluggish response occasions, cut back focus, impair judgment and restrict short-term reminiscence.
“It’s very regarding as a result of their senses dwindle, and also you’re at nighttime, and also you’re strolling down the streets, and it’s important to actually pay explicit consideration to your environment,” Rodriquez mentioned. “The psychological deal with that’s extraordinarily troublesome.”
On the finish of the evening, after hours of specializing in their very own security, it may be troublesome for carriers to go to sleep, he mentioned, including, “and then you definately stand up and do it once more.”
Postal workers have cited prolonged hours, worry of bringing residence the illness, and interacting with sad prospects as sources of hysteria and stress. An article that appeared within the March/April 2021 situation of the American Postal Employee journal listed ways in which employees can study to deal with the stress of COVID-19.
Amongst strategies, together with taking time to chill out and searching for common medical care, the listing mentioned: “Worth your self — You might be any individual.”
COVID-19 circumstances, and self-discipline
Nationally, 19,742 postal employees had been in quarantine or isolation in January after testing constructive for COVID-19 or being uncovered to it, the Washington Publish reported.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 case counts amongst postal workers within the Utah-Nevada district have been “dropping steadily” because the starting of February, Franklin mentioned.
In Utah, energetic circumstances of COVID-19 amongst Postal Service workers went down from 30 on Jan. 19 to 9 on Feb. 2, in line with emails that Franklin offered to the Tribune.
COVID-19 was a contributing issue within the deaths of two members of Salt Lake Metropolis Native 6. “It’s been traumatic,” Franklin mentioned.
In its emailed assertion to The Tribune, the Postal Service mentioned, “The protection of our hardworking workers who’ve continued to serve the American individuals all through the pandemic is our primary precedence.”
However Rodriquez mentioned that union stewards are having to combat with the Postal Service as a result of the company is disciplining some employees who keep residence as a result of they’ve examined constructive for COVID-19 or are experiencing signs.
Sick workers typically discover themselves in a “no-win state of affairs,” he mentioned, with some feeling like they need to return to work whereas they’re nonetheless infectious.
With the intention to keep away from self-discipline for an illness-related absence, the Postal Service requires workers to request sick depart by filling out a type and having it authorised by their supervisor, in line with an worker handbook. Within the case of surprising sickness or harm, employees should let administration know that they’ll’t work and the way lengthy they’ll be out.
However the course of for requesting depart as a result of COVID-19 will be “actually arbitrary” and range from supervisor to supervisor, Franklin mentioned.
The Postal Service was tasked with delivering hundreds of thousands of at-home fast COVID-19 exams all through the nation in January. However postal workers can’t use these residence exams as “proof” that they’re contaminated and must quarantine, Franklin mentioned. As a substitute, they’re required to take these outcomes to a physician and have them verified.
Info for American Postal Employee Union members on the group’s web site recommends that workers get a laboratory PCR check. However a constructive antibody or antigen COVID-19 check consequence, mixed with “medical proof” and documentation from a doctor might also be accepted, it says. In daring letters, the web site states, “At-home and fast exams alone are usually not adequate to function proof of sickness.”
Rodriquez mentioned letter carriers in Utah and nationwide have been experiencing this roadblock, with the Postal Service not recognizing a house check as a “licensed lab check.”
As soon as workers submit the right documentation, their jobs are normally secure in the event that they should take depart due to COVID-19, Franklin mentioned. Nevertheless, if workers inform a supervisor that they should quarantine based mostly on a house check — and so they have already got missed numerous work — then the workers might be topic to self-discipline, he added.
Starting in March 2021 and persevering with via Sept. 30, the American Rescue Plan Act offered postal workers with as much as 600 hours of paid emergency federal worker depart for qualifying causes associated to COVID-19, together with experiencing signs and having to isolate.
Workers had been paid for that depart on the identical charge as their regular pay, as much as a most of $2,800 per pay interval.
That COVID-19 depart ended Sept. 30, however postal workers might nonetheless use sick depart, annual depart, or depart with out pay to cowl themselves in the event that they acquired sick, in line with a memorandum of understanding between the Postal Service and unions that was established in March 2020 and prolonged via April 8, 2022.
The memorandum states that depart taken for COVID-19-related causes via April 8 “is probably not cited in self-discipline for failing to keep up an assigned schedule.”
However disciplinary paperwork obtained by the Tribune present that the Postal Service took motion towards 4 postal workers in Salt Lake Metropolis this fall and winter.
The primary individual acquired a warning letter for taking unscheduled sick depart and unscheduled depart with out pay. The letter acknowledged: “Throughout a administration investigation you acknowledged your unscheduled absences however didn’t offered [sic] an appropriate purpose.”
The worker had cited COVID-19 signs as the explanation for being absent.
The second and third workers had been each issued disciplinary letters for taking unscheduled sick depart and unscheduled depart with out pay. Each reported that that they had missed work due to COVID-19 signs.
All three letters included the next sentences: “Failure to keep up your assigned schedule is a really critical matter. The Postal Service will need to have accessible workers who report for responsibility as scheduled to be able to preserve the effectivity of operation entrusted to it.”
After testing constructive for COVID-19 and taking a number of days of unscheduled depart with out pay, the fourth worker was suspended for seven days, paperwork present. The employee seems to have submitted a observe from a doctor confirming that they had COVID-19 and wanted to isolate, in line with the disciplinary paperwork.
A union steward whom the Tribune agreed to not establish mentioned that two of the 4 circumstances had been dropped. The opposite two, together with the case the place the individual was suspended, had been nonetheless awaiting a choice as of Feb. 15.
Franklin mentioned he knew of two COVID-19 “long-haulers” who had been disciplined by USPS for lacking work. One resigned; the opposite case remains to be pending, he mentioned.
Discovering a ‘household’
Originally of February, the Postal Service held a Salt Lake Metropolis job honest to fill “speedy” openings for metropolis provider assistants, rural provider associates and mail processing clerks, with pay beginning at $18 an hour.
However Rodriquez mentioned he needs the Postal Service to make a greater effort to retain the workers the company already has.
Between the fiscal years 2016 and 2020, 6% to eight% of profession postal workers left every year, and about two-thirds of these departures had been as a result of retirement, in line with a 2021 report from the Workplace of Inspector Common about how Postal Service employees view their employer.
The report additionally confirmed that non-career workers left in a lot increased numbers every year — between 36% and 43% — throughout the identical time interval.
The union steward who spoke with the Tribune mentioned working as a letter provider connects you with the group in a singular means. Mail carriers will put a unfastened canine again in a resident’s yard, or discover when mail is piling up on an individual’s porch, she mentioned. Generally, they even act as first responders.
However there’s additionally stress on workers to carry out, she mentioned, and employees typically really feel like their boss is “by no means blissful.”
Rodriquez mentioned that regardless of the hardship of the previous few years, he nonetheless thinks working for the Postal Service is a “nice job.” He got here into the company straight from the navy, he mentioned, and he described his co-workers as “household.”
However he added that the Postal Service ought to higher acknowledge its workforce and what it goes via, in addition to the “hurt” he feels that administration can create.