“Thank you for being here.” During the pandemic, this simple phrase has been repeated countless times in the lobbies of post offices across the country by an appreciative public. Customers have written messages of support on a poster on the door and some have even gifted us with homemade face masks. As a postal worker, these simple gestures mean a lot. But the unfortunate truth is that much more than words will be needed to keep our Postal Service running through this crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic has pulled back the curtain on many of the injustices in our economy. One example is how reliant we are on those we recognize as “essential workers.” These are the people who check our groceries, operate buses and trains, clean hospitals and respond to emergency calls. The list goes on, but we are finally seeing how important this work is. Work that was taken for granted by some is now seen as “heroic.”
One group of these unsung heroes is my fellow Postal Service workers. The COVID-19 crisis has seen an increase in mailings such as care packages, protective equipment and online orders. As people stay home, there is more reliance than ever on having items delivered to your door.
Many of us are so used to getting mail, at the same time each day, that it can feel like the Postal Service happens automatically. But of course, that’s not how it works. Every day, hundreds of thousands of postal workers sort, transport and deliver everything from lifesaving prescriptions to handwritten cards from loved ones. This work is not only indispensable — during a pandemic it can be dangerous. So far, 40 postal workers have died due to complications related to the coronavirus.
Postal Service workers have been uncharacteristically under the national spotlight recently. Unfortunately, this is not to honor their work or note how hazardous it can be. Instead, it is because the Trump administration, and those who would like to see the Postal Service privatized, are threatening to withhold funding needed to keep it solvent.
Despite being our emergency distribution system the Postal Service is facing a financial crisis. The bulk of USPS revenue comes from first-class and marketing mail, but this has all but dried up during the pandemic. Without relief from the federal government, it could run out of money as early as June.
As Congress bails out airlines, hotels and cruise lines, it’s disgraceful that a critical public service like the Postal Service would be left out to die. The loss of this service would ravage vulnerable communities and businesses, particularly in rural America.
It has never been more important to honor our essential workers and commemorate events like Workers Memorial Day. But words alone are not enough. To honor this work, we must demand that working people don’t foot the bill for a problem they did not create. Public services like the Postal Service should receive the funds they need to continue operations. Simple reforms also must be made to ensure long-term financial stability, like ending the outrageous requirement to pre-fund Postal Service retiree health care.
Postal workers have delivered mail through wars, natural disasters and now a pandemic. The public now has the opportunity to show its appreciation by urging lawmakers to preserve the Postal Service, a vital part of the nation’s infrastructure.