New York, NY – US Postal Service veteran Lori Cash is president of the American Postal Workers Union – Western New York Area Local 183 and a third-generation postal worker.
“I had family working at the Postal Service and I remember them telling me what a great thing it was to get into. That it had great benefits, and because it is a federal agency, it had great job security,” says Cash.
Cash is also the mother of four and worries about the future of the Postal Service in light of ongoing attacks from the Trump administration hoping to cripple the agency and undermine the presidential election in November. Congress is still debating over whether or not to give the USPS the funds it needs to cover losses sustained due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“As Americans, I believe we do need to stick together and save industries that we are going to need once the world lands on its feet,” Cash says. “We have been voted over and over as the most loved and trusted federal agency.”
The USPS was voted as the most trusted federal agency in 2019, according to a Gallup Poll. The agency also topped the poll in 2014, 2017 and 2018, as well.
“We are guaranteed to every American by the Constitution,” Cash says. “I don’t see how there is anybody that could explain why they would not fund the Postal Service through this crisis. We are not immune to [the virus], we took a hit just like everybody else.”
While the USPS has seen a 60 to 70-percent increase in parcel mail — there has been a significant drop in letter mail, or “flat mail,” because of the virus forcing more Americans to shelter indoors and to work from home.
“The letter mail and the large envelope mail dropped off [in number],” Cash says. “It is starting to pick up now that businesses are opening again, but while the businesses were closed letter mail dropped off, business mail dropped off. Mailers that account for thousands of pieces of mail — we were no longer dealing with that or working in that capacity.”
The Postal Service had to shift gears in prioritizing packages, according to Cash.
“Most of the small packages were of a concern to me because those are often international,” Cash says. “The large packages, for the most part, come from Amazon and I know that they had put in some pretty stringent rules on sanitizing everything and following the CDC guidelines.”
One person often stocks larger packages and multiple people handle smaller packages, according to Cash.
Cash is trying to roll with the punches as best she can — but the timing of the shutdown in New York came at a particularly sad moment in her personal life, and she continues to have serious concerns about the rolling back of social distancing protocols.
“I was actually on leave because my sister passed away and I was at her funeral,” says Cash. “That weekend, there were all types of news [stories] about the virus — and on Monday, everything was on lockdown. All of a sudden, I became an essential worker.”
The Cash family and their extended relatives were used to being close and affectionate, but in amid their grief, they had to separate from one another to protect each other as the government shut down on March 15.
“It was horrible,” says Cash. “I had no time to process what had happened. I had no time to grieve with my family. At that point, we [also] learned from the newscasts [about] how the coronavirus affected older adults, and I have an 84-year-old mother who lives next door to me, so all we could think about as a family was how to keep her safe.”
To shield their mom, Cash and her siblings bought groceries for their mother, disinfected it and left it outside her home. To keep the family matriarch connected to her 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren they bought her a smartphone.
“My brothers would go to the garage door and have a conversation with her from 20-feet away,” said Cash.
Fear of spreading COVID-19 also forced Cash to curtail physical contact with other members of her family. Some relatives work in highly dangerous nursing homes, while others work in the building trades.
Cash, an Orchard Park resident, had to social distance from her second daughter who was forced to teach from their home. At the height of the pandemic, she would drop her clothes straight into the laundry and then shower. She would not greet her daughter until her 45-minute process was complete after she came from work.
Her husband was in Washington D.C. working at the APWU’s national headquarters and later worked at a location, according to Cash. To keep her two kids in college safe from her, she made sure they socially distanced with their father.
“Ironically, my daughter who went to a pharmacology school for epidemiology contracted the virus when she was back in school in Albany collecting her things,” says Cash. “She had to be without a fever for three days before she was released and allowed to come out around other people.”
The situation was serious. For more than a week, Cash’s daughter became lethargic, lost her sense of taste, had breathing issues, suffered from debilitating headaches and a fever of 103-degrees.
“My daughter was sick and I wasn’t able to take care of her,” says Cash. “This was her first year in school. She came for [my sister’s] funeral, then went back to campus for three or four days to collect her things.”
Cash is thankful that her district manager was willing to work with the union and enforce CDC coronavirus guidelines.
“My experience was really good,” says Cash. “My district manager ordered PPE [Personal Protection Equipment] and knew where it was from, or how much was in our warehouses. He even got hand sanitizers from a distillery in Rochester for all of our offices.”
The curb may have flattened in Western New York, which is in Phase 4 of reopening — but now is not the time to become careless, according to the Cash.
“There are more cases of infections within the Postal Service than there was at the beginning of the shutdown,” said Cash. “In the last two weeks, there were 20 infections in our region. Bringing the total infections to 40 — that was double all of the previous infections that were spread out in the previous months.”
If people don’t treat the virus with social responsibility, there will not be a point where we are going to stop being able to wear a mask anytime soon, Cash warns.
“It’s been a while, and I understand that we all want things to be back to normal,” says Cash. “We are not a hotspot right now — but that doesn’t mean we can’t become a hotspot again. Everyone needs to be vigilant and be respectful of others.”
Cash does thinks there will, unfortunately, be a second wave and that a vaccine won’t be figured out until spring.
“I hope they don’t rush a vaccine without doing more research on it. That will do more damage,” says Cash.
Cash wants this virus to be gone like all Americans, so she, too, can get back to normal.
“You don’t realize how much you miss the normalcy of your life until it is flipped upside down,” says Cash. “I have worked in the same office for my entire 22-year career. I work in a small community and being here as long as I have, I’ve gotten to know the businesses. I’ve gotten to know the customers, so this is personal.”