December 3, 2021

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USPS mail carriers say the service isn’t doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus and are mixing DIY sanitizer and buying gloves online to stay safe

A USPS letter carrier crosses a quiet Boylston Street with greatly reduced foot and vehicle traffic in Boston on March 18, 2020.
A USPS letter carrier crosses a quiet Boylston Street with greatly reduced foot and vehicle traffic in Boston on March 18, 2020.

Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

  • Business Insider spoke with two US Postal Service mail carriers this week who said their employer was doing too little to protect them during the coronavirus outbreak.

  • They described unsanitary conditions in post offices and mail trucks and said they were not getting protective equipment like gloves and face masks.

  • One resorted to making her own sanitizer at home from bleach, while the other has bought gloves and masks at inflated prices online.

  • The USPS did not answer the workers’ concerns directly but said in a statement that it was taking action to limit the risk of infection among its staff.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With many Americans under orders to stay at home, work has continued as usual for the United States Postal Service, deemed an “essential” business.

But mail carriers are concerned that their working conditions have made them sitting ducks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Business Insider spoke with two mail carriers this week who said social distancing was not being enforced in their workplace, heightening the risk of the infection spreading.

They also said that post offices and trucks were not being kept clean and that they had not received protective gear like face masks or gloves.

Both were spending their own money on makeshift protection that they argued should be provided universally by their employers.

USPS has said it’s enforcing social distancing, enhancing its cleanliness, and giving workers protection — but the mail carriers we spoke with said they hadn’t seen any evidence of this.

Both asked to remain anonymous, fearing the loss of their jobs if they spoke publicly.

No protective equipment and unsanitary conditions

One mail carrier in the Suncoast region of Florida said the Postal Service hadn’t been supplying masks or gloves, or even keeping hand sanitizer in the office and trucks.

She said she was instead making a bleach solution at home to clean her truck.

“Given the fact that we see customers every single day, I just feel like they could do a better job in making sure we have safe, sanitized working conditions,” she said.

“That’s just not happening, largely in part due to a lack of availability” of protective products, she said.

Another mail carrier at a post office outside Stockton, California, said the only protection he was aware of was a big container of hand sanitizer his supervisor keeps on their desk.

A postal worker in California sent us this picture of his dirty mail-carrier van. The two workers we spoke with expressed concern about the hygiene in their workplace.
A postal worker in California sent us this picture of his dirty mail-carrier van. The two workers we spoke with expressed concern about the hygiene in their workplace.

Handout

“They aren’t taking this very seriously in my opinion at all,” he said. “We don’t have masks. There isn’t social distancing.” He added that in the back of the post office, “you’re nearly shoulder to shoulder with everyone all the time.”

His position at USPS requires him to fill in where he’s needed, which means sharing trucks with other carriers, something he worries about.

Because he hasn’t gotten masks or gloves from USPS, he’s resorted to buying them on the internet at high prices — $60 for a pack of reusable masks off Etsy, and $50 for rubber gloves, he said.

The public don’t take social distancing seriously

The California carrier said the thing that worried him the most was how people kept flouting social-distancing measures to interact with him daily.

The Postal Service has discontinued the need for customer signatures and allowed workers to drop items off instead of passing them directly to a recipient. But that doesn’t matter if people aren’t keeping their distance.

“The public, to be honest, are even more clueless,” he said. “I hate to put it that way. Everyone I encounter is nice and friendly.

“But we’ve been told not to go up to people, and the first thing 50% of the people do as soon as they hear me is walk out of their house — literally up to me — to grab the mail. Maybe because it’s something to do. That’s the scariest part of my day.”

It’s only a matter of time

The California carrier said this picture of a dirty bathroom at his post office was evidence that the agency is not cleaning seriously during the coronavirus outbreak.
The California carrier said this picture of a dirty bathroom at his post office was evidence that the agency is not cleaning seriously during the coronavirus outbreak.

Handout

Both mail carriers said they felt it was only a matter of time before they get the virus — or, worse, pass it to someone in their family.

The Florida carrier said the threat that she or one of her coworkers could get the virus was “very real” and “just waiting to happen.”

“Who’s to say someone in our office hasn’t already had it?” she said.

“We’re short-staffed, which means that those of us who are there are working for roughly 10 hours a day, six days on,” she said, adding, “We’re more fatigued and more susceptible to the virus.”

The California carrier said he thought his chance of getting the virus was “bad.”

He said that “as the days go by, I think until we get masks, it’s probable” that he will get it.

Both said the USPS should make more of an effort to supply its workers with protective equipment and make hand sanitizer widely available.

More than 250 Postal Service workers have been infected

Both said they didn’t know of any of their coworkers getting sick yet. But the same can’t be said for the Postal Service as a whole. Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, told Business Insider on Thursday that 259 of the Postal Service’s 630,000 employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

Partenheimer did not say how many workers had died of the disease, but unions have reported the deaths of two mail carriers in New York City and Detroit in recent days.

There was also a concerning ProPublica report in which two workers said they were pressured to keep delivering mail even after they started to develop symptoms of COVID-19.

Postal workers have raised similar concerns about the coronavirus with The New York Times, NPR, and Government Executive.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s running for president, sent a letter to the USPS on Tuesday demanding answers about how it was protecting its workers.

As of Friday, more than 86,000 people had signed a petition calling for safety guarantees for postal workers, including “basic supplies like gloves, sanitizer spray, and face masks.”

A USPS worker delivers mail in New York City on March 18.
A USPS worker delivers mail in New York City on March 18.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Meanwhile, there have been concerns about how self-isolation and social-distancing measures could affect the USPS.

Two US representatives have said that the Postal Service could close as early as June because of a drop-off in mail volumes.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Gerry Connolly said they backed a bill that would give $25 billion in emergency funding to the USPS. The stimulus bill enacted last week allowed it to borrow $10 billion and create temporary delivery points to help prevent workers from being exposed to the virus.

What the USPS had to say

Business Insider sent a detailed request for comment to the Postal Service on Thursday. Partenheimer did not directly answer the questions but forwarded a recent USPS statement on the matter.

Partenheimer said he wanted to stress “that the safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority.” The statement he included broke down the ways that the USPS was addressing the coronavirus outbreak.

Here are some actions the service said it was taking:

  • “Ensuring millions of masks, gloves and cleaning and sanitizing product are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day.”

  • Introducing policies in USPS locations “to ensure appropriate social distancing, including through signage, floor tape, and ‘cough/sneeze’ barriers.”

  • Encouraging employees to “politely ask” customers to keep their distance so that they may drop off mail safely.

  • Updating cleaning policies “in a manner consistent with CDC guidance relating to this pandemic.”

  • Giving information to employees to help them stay safe.

You can read the statement in full at the USPS’s website.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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