Thoughts on the Postal Crisis from a Letter Carrier

As a former Letter Carrier for the US Postal Service, I have been paying particular attention to recent events in the news – especially the shocking decision by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to slow down mail delivery in order to save the postal service money.

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As a carrier, I would arrive at the post office at 6am each weekday and Saturday and find several feet of mail on my “case,” a sorting cabinet. The mail had arrived overnight from sorting facilities and was destined for homes and businesses on my delivery route. The cardinal rule of operations was that no first class mail that arrived on my case in the morning could be left behind. On an especially busy day, we might leave bulk mail advertisements for delivery the next day, but all first class letters had to be sorted, packed in the mailbag and delivered to the addressee. If that required overtime for the carrier some days, that was a necessary cost of providing quality service. Fast and secure delivery of the mail is why the US Postal Service is the most popular agency of the US Government.

For this reason, I was suprised to hear that DeJoy had given orders to remove high-speed sorting machines in the sorting facilities and to delay first class mail delivery if necessary to curtail overtime. As you probably have, I have seen delivery of my own mail delayed by these practices in recent weeks.

These measures have now at least temporarily been put on hold. For this we can largely thank the vigorous organizing activity by unions representing postal workers such as the American Postal Workers’ Union (APWU), the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU), and my old union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). They have spoken out to inform the public what is happening and and fighting to preserve delivery standards for the mail. This is a reminder of the role of unions in Catholic Social Teaching: not simply to win better wages and benefits for their members but to promote the common good.

It’s not for nothing that Pope Leo XIII, in the foundational document of Catholic Social Teaching – his Encyclical Rerum Novarum – compared unions to the medieval guilds and said such associations “were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art [49].” Most workers are committed to their craft and their contribution to society, and want to do a good job, even when their supervisors may be more focused on short-term profit margins.

Recent decades have witnessed an alarming decline in union membership. This trend does not only threaten the livelihood of workers but the quality of our public services and private products alike. Unions, in the postal service and elsewhere, make a vital contribution to the common good.