New York, NY – From COVID-19 to Postmaster Louis DeJoy purposely slowing down mail delivery — postal workers were hit hard on several fronts this past year. Now, they are counting on President Joe Biden’s nominees to the USPS Board of Governors to change things.
Biden’s new appointees to the USPS Board of Governors include Ron Stroman, a former deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, head of the nonprofit National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, former APWU general counsel. A Senate panel approved the nominees on April 28, they now await confirmation by the full Senate.
“Initially when [the pandemic] happened, postal management wasn’t equipped to deal with [Personal Protective Equipment] anymore than Amazon or McDonald’s,” Chuck Zlatkin, legislative and political director of communications for the American Postal Workers Union’s New York Metro Area, told LaborPress.
The only difference, according to Zlatkin, is that APWU members have a union contract spelling out management’s responsibility to keep workers safe.
Last spring, APWU was able to get masks, face shields, gloves and Plexiglas for its members across the country. However, postal management did not enforce facemasks rules for its customers at post offices while the union was procuring Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] for workers.
“The postal service was not insisting that people wear a mask, but they were insistent that people come out to greet the customers,” Zlatkin says. “That was a fight we had to take on for the lobby personnel.”
At least 2,000 members fell ill with the virus — 40 from the New York Metro Area died. Nationwide, the APWU was forced to deal with local management on a case-by-case basis in an effort to get management to enforce mask wearing for customers.
“The psychological impact affected every worker,” says Zlatkin. “Many people got to stay at home, and work at home, but our workers are essential workers.”
Despite being considered essential, Postal Service workers were excluded from first round for vaccinations. “When it came to getting vaccinated, Postal workers weren’t essential workers anymore,” Zlatkin says. “The added stress of the virus [also] impacted the income of the Postal Service. We did not get any financial aid. That created added stress to Postal Service workers because there wasn’t any money.”
Post offices across the country have faced the threat of privatization since 1970, when the Postal Reorganization Act was introduced under President Richard Nixon.
Zlatkin believes former president Donald Trump tried to push that agenda again during the pandemic, even when customers were using the services more than ever, because he didn’t want the mail-in ballot process to be effective and turn the tides of the 2020 election in Biden’s favor.
“Our members had to actively lobby Congress to get aid for Covid,” Zlatkin says. “The check was just drawn this April. The postal service just finally got some relief.”
The USPS received a nearly $10 billion Covid-19 relief grant on April 16.
“This is well after the profit-making corporations that were bailed out,” Zlatkin points out. “Getting that money was a victory for the union.”
The APWU and its members hope Biden’s trio of nominees to the USPS Board of Governors will help tip the scales away from Republican control, confront DeJoy and prevent further cuts to USPS processing facilities — but nothing is guaranteed. DeJoy, a major Donald Trump contributor, recently expressed his desire to further erode the Postal Service by seeking the consolidation of 18 processing facilities.
It’s high time DeJoy is sent packing, according to the union.
“People are dependent on the Postal Service even more so to get packages delivered to them,” Zlatkin says. “If they privatize the Post Office, they will break the union contract and people will barely make minimum wage…so, we are calling on Biden to fire the postmaster general.”