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.

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.

8 replies
  1. Regina Haney
    Regina Haney says:

    Thank you for this informative read! Quality of public service, commitment to the common good is so vital to our country at this time.

  2. Nancy Walton-House
    Nancy Walton-House says:

    Thank you for an informative article on the current situation. I am glad to see the CLN is actively serving the common good. Our country needs you now more than ever..

  3. Phyllis Anderson
    Phyllis Anderson says:

    Thank the Catholic Labor Network for pointing out good mail delivery is for the common good. Postal workers, join a union and save our outstanding mail service. I worked 20 years in a government office with thousands of letters going to our clients. I had only one incident in which a letter was not handled efficiently. It took a contract agency a year to get a form. If the post office stamp had not been on the letter, I would likely have been fired. Thank goodness the contractor still had that had envelope and the post mark was diligently put on that envelope. Thank you for the common good.

  4. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Thank you it was a good read and very accurate. Well except for one part. I to am a Postal worker. In December it will be 27 years. I started as a PTF clerk at a large station and then went to a mail processing plant as a mail processor and now for the last 17 years I’ve been in maintenance. First a custodian for a year, then a mechanic on the mail processing machines and now probably the best job I ever had as a BEM( Building Equipment Mechanic) basically I do work on the building side of things ie plumbing, electrical etc. I know exactly what you are talking about when you say no first class mail left behind. I can remember mornings as a clerk taking the last be of “hot mail” around to the carriers and boy some were no so happy if they had just pulled there mail down. So anyway my only problem with your post was the fact that you said that the new PMG did what he did to curtail OT. That is not at all what it was done for. Now we can pretend that was the reason if we want but there’s no way in the world you do that just to curtail OT. I work in a first class parcel plant and we had to stop running our machines at 3 am no matter how much mail we still had in the floor. This is something we never did. NEVER. This is priority mail and we were leaving it behind as per the PMG. This had never been done in my 26 plus years. We have a back log of mail now that is just ridiculous and Christmas is just around the corner. This guy could haven’t done this at a worse time. Right in the middle of Covid 19 when things difficult already with us being short staffed. This was a calculated. This had a lot more to do with than trying to save money through cutting OT. We have a PMG appointed to the position without any postal experience at all. He also still has interest in companies that do business with the postal service which is a conflict of interest. The former PMG was forced out for not doing something she had no power to do. In the end the saddest part is the people who end up suffering are the postal workers who now have to once again worry about their livelihoods and the customers who rely on us to get they’re mail to them everyday. We deliver more mail in a day that most post others do in a year.
    Other point I’d like to make is this. It was the politicians who really got the Postal Service in this place we’re at now. With the pre funding law that George Bush signed into law has put us in such a hole. If not for that law the postal service would have been fine the last 6 years and in the black. We can bail out these private airlines and others all the time because if we don’t who knows what will happen but the postal service ask for help and we’re told no or there’s ridiculous conditions attached to it. No tax dollars are used for the postal service none.

  5. Dennis McCue
    Dennis McCue says:

    Yes thank God for all the Postal Unions they all do a great job as so there members. That goes for all unions. It’s a shame we have so many anti-union people out there.

  6. Tom
    Tom says:

    Dennis, comments especially well done. I,ve racked out and delivered Mail myself. Good standard for first class mail but not sure automatic OT is justified. Not to just sit for days But get some other mechanism for troubleshooting?
    Have many comparisons w Canadian system and we/US far outperforms.
    Size/nuances of Direct Mail industry has not been demonstrated; much more th OT May be at risk as a result.
    Better solutions may be forthcoming if 20+ Top managers were still on-hand? (Sup of Mail union just as good?). Yes, the new PMG is probably in over his head and/or biased to privatizing. No clue about Rural as well.
    Election/Christmas timing bears that out, too.

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