Postal Service patriots help lead the resistance
When Postmaster General Louis DeJoy came on the job this summer and ordered that postal carriers break their single most critical directive enshrined in their unofficial motto—"Every piece, every day"—the resistance took shape. Mechanics slow-walked removal of sorting machines. Supervisors made surreptitious trips to deliver mail left behind in distribution centers. Carriers made sure prescription and checks and bills weren't left behind. They used every available excuse for a late return to their buildings to cover for spending disallowed overtime to make sure their rounds were completed.
The Washington Post talked to a more than a dozen postal workers and union leaders from around the country about their quiet campaign to subvert DeJoy, and their awareness of exactly what was happening to them. "I can't see any postal worker not bending those rules" from DeJoy, one worker in Philadelphia told the Post. They could see what was happening, knowing that DeJoy was a Trump fundraiser. A worker in Michigan watched as public mailboxes were removed mostly from racially diverse working-class neighborhoods. That, said the postal worker—who is Black—reinforces a message: "It's kind of like everything else. It wasn't built for us." The same worker said that the common knowledge that DeJoy was a Trump donor and fundraiser made it feel as though the Postal Service had become an organ of the Republican Party. "Taken together, Trump's repeated attacks on mail-in voting, his connection with DeJoy, and DeJoy's operational changes look too conspicuous to be coincidental, the carrier said."
The Pennsylvania worker reiterated that, and added that the June primary there—in the pandemic—gave a frightening window into this fall. The worker said that "we had a lot of issues. There were people at the plant that weren't coming in or were sick. We were seeing delays with that. So now we're looking at this [general election] and going, 'Oh, jeez, this is not going to be good.' The stakes definitely feel higher, especially given what this election really means." What it really means could be the very survival of the Postal Service, along with everything else good.
The mechanic in New York who copped to slowing down the demolition of sorting machines told the Post: "It's disheartening to hear from my boss that he wants me to do something that could very potentially cripple the system." He added: "It's disheartening to hear that people think we're going to fail" at handling election mail. "We handle this kind of volume all the time." That's where the sabotage by his bosses really has him angry. "But if they do these things with delivery times and we get high volume around holiday season and the election, it will fail. No question. It will fail. We should get the ballots out. We really should, but all it would take is one person in a nice shiny suit to say, 'Leave those ballots, take the other mail.' And everyone would say, 'Yes sir.'" Not everyone, clearly, but enough coworkers that he says: "I got angry. I'm not happy at all that I'm being politicized. I'm literally trying to do my job, and they're telling me that I can't."
Martin Ramirez, president of the APWU Local 170 in Toledo, says he sees a lot of "dancing between the raindrops" on the part of colleagues to do their jobs. In his area, managers who aren't eligible for overtime will use their off hours to transport mail that arrived too late to be shipped on to the Detroit processing center, so that it doesn't sit in Toledo overnight. That way the Toledo office doesn't end up logging any overtime officially, even though the managers are still working extra time. But the mail gets there. Jennifer Lemke, the clerk craft director at Local 170, says that clerks there at the distribution centers make it a point to scan all the incoming mail for the necessities—prescriptions, checks, bills—to pull them out and make sure they're sent out with carriers even if the batch of mail they're in gets delayed.
The workers have the law behind them when they resist direct orders to sabotage mail delivery. It is a federal law, a felony, to make a conscious effort to delay the mail. It can result in five years in prison. So the orders from DeJoy and his management team are seen as violating the spirit of that law and the Postal Service ethos. Skirting the orders—particularly in this pandemic—is seen by many workers as their duty. "You look at the news and you get worried," the Philadelphia postal worker said. "Are we going to be the end-all, be-all of election integrity and covid response for this country?" That's leading to burn-out. "Having your own personal problems, too, it all adds up. I think it's really starting to get to people, both newer and seasoned veterans of the job."
"It bothers me, because I like to do my job. Some of us do this for 20 years," said a carrier in New Jersey. "You see kids grow up from babies and watch them get married. They see you in Wawa, and they buy you a coffee. They say, 'This is my mailman, he's a great guy.' Now they say, 'Where's my mail?'"