By Chida Rebecca, California Black Media
As frontline workers mount up daily to battle COVID-19, each “essential employee” fights in a different way to keep our economy powered; our lives and livelihoods sustained; and our cities and towns safe. While some tend to the sick in hospitals, others brave the streets to distribute food.
But what may seem as the postal worker’s simple act of delivering mail is proving to be more essential than most would expect.
Every day across California, about 63,000 postal workers continue to make sure precious cargo gets to where it needs to go in the state — life-saving medications to people living with chronic illnesses, pension checks to aging adults, mail-in ballots to homebound voters, and more. And even with growing competition from Amazon, FedEx, UPS and other courier services, the United States Postal Service (USPS) still delivers more online orders than any of those businesses.
Cheryl Morrow, an African-American businesswoman in San Diego, says both of her businesses — a print newspaper that she mails and beauty products that she ships – rely on the USPS.
“The USPS is a partner that I can depend on,” said Morrow, who owns the San Diego Monitor News and a hair care company called California Curl.
“Other than following the new social distancing rules, their service has remained consistent throughout this crisis. I appreciate that,” said Morrow talking about the USPS.
Morrow said people don’t realize that the USPS has postmasters who are dedicated to helping business customers. They work with clients to make sure that their important mail shipments are moved and reach destinations on time.
Now that researchers have confirmed that the Coronavirus can be transmitted through the air and that it can even live on your mail, postal workers on the frontlines are more concerned about their safety than ever. So far, about 30 USPS workers have died from COVID-19 and thousands have been infected, according to Mark Dimondstein, president of the Postal Workers Union, a national organization that represents more than 200,000 members.
“I’ve been a postal worker for four years,” says Renee’ Adams, who is African-American and delivers mail in San Diego.
Adams says the team she works with delivers approximately 20 packages an hour. Last Sunday, they had over 800 individual packages with only three postal workers in her unit on hand to make all the deliveries.
“They started at 8:30 a.m. but didn’t get finished until 9 p.m.,” she said. “They were calling people to report to work, but no one would pick up the phone.”
A trusted face, a friend and sometimes a confidante, postal workers across the nation often have to step in and do more than drop mail off to customers. Although the workload is great, Renee shares that there are aspects of her job that reinforce the importance of the human connection.
“I deliver to a lot a seniors,” she says. “They can’t go anywhere, and they don’t have anyone to talk to. They want to talk to us but they’re scared to come near us, and they don’t want to sign for their packages just in case we have [coronavirus]. We have to sign the receipts for them.”
Postal workers, businesspeople and Californians under shelter in place orders all seem to appreciate the value and constancy of the USPS. But some politicians in Washington have been giving the mail delivery service that has enabled communications between Americans for more than 200 years a hard way to go.
According to the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin threatened Congress that President Trump would veto the $2 trillion stimulus package that lawmakers approved earlier this month if it included a $13 billion direct grant to the USPS. A bipartisan team of congressional negotiators had already agreed to the provision. Instead, the feds offered a $10 billion loan to USPS in the final stimulus bill the president signed. The Treasury Department has not yet approved the funds although the bill passed more than a week ago.
The Post Office is not taxpayer funded, so it normally runs on revenue from postage and services,” Dimondstein said, according to a Common Dreams report. “And if 40 to 50% of that dries up in this pandemic—which is what looks like it’s happening, in a very quick and precipitous way—then that money has to be made up.”
He is demanding that Congress includes a $25 billion aid package to the USPS in the next stimulus bill.
At home, Renee has two adult children, a grandbaby and a sister. Since the quarantine, one of her daughters has lost her job, while the other daughter and sister are waiting to hear back regarding recurring contract work.
“I’m just happy that I can get up and go to work because I don’t know what I’d do if I had to stay home with no money coming in. I’m grateful that I have a job it’s hard at times, but I have four people depending on me,” she said.
Due to COVID-19, economists estimate, some 22 million Americans have lost their jobs across the country and the unemployment rate is hovering around 18%. More than 7 million have applied for unemployment insurance just within the last month, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In California, more than 3.1 million Californians have filed for unemployment insurance since March 12, and the state unemployment rate has spiked to 5.3% from under 3% just two months ago, according to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
Renee’s frontline work helps to keep a roof over her family members’s heads until employment opportunities open up again.
“But you know it’s to the point now that if you don’t show up for work, you can lose your job because you can easily be replaced,” Renee said.