'The Fear Is Real': U.S. Postal Service Workers Anxious About Overtime, Further Changes As Trump Administration Makes Cuts

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 - 12:41pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 - 12:54pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: [November’s election is expected to feature] millions more Americans voted by mail as pandemic related practices like social distancing and the need to avoid the virus make standing in line to vote a more daunting task. But President [Donald] Trump and his postmaster general have introduced changes, such as cutting overtime for postal employees and removing mail-sorting machines, that could make the mail-in voting process more challenging and could potentially make receiving and counting ballots much slower. To learn more about the Postal Service and postal workers and how they're being affected, I spoke earlier with Joe Cuccinotto. He's president of Phoenix Metro Area Local 93, the postal workers union. I started by asking him what he and his colleagues are hearing from upper management of the USPS.

JOE CUCCINOTTO: The message that we've been told is that, you know, changes are coming. The, we have a major restructuring with the higher level managers as well. So it's been kind of clouded on the message that we're getting locally because along with the funding problems, now they are going to be moving all the managers around.

GOLDSTEIN: Was this something that had seemed to be in the works for a while or how long, how long have you been hearing about it?

CUCCINOTTO: Well, the new postmaster general was in place approximately nine, 10 weeks ago. The staffing changes and the managerial changes was within like the last week.

GOLDSTEIN: What are you hearing from other postal workers, other postal employees about their level of anxiety? And also, the big question is overtime — where's that going to go?

CUCCINOTTO: All the anxiety levels are high. Any time there's changes, our members get concerned because, again, it does impact their their livelihoods. Any time a new management team comes in, they move people around, they change jobs. You mentioned overtime they, overtime is a factor. Right now, the overtime is very high in Phoenix, Arizona, because of the COVID. We have a lot of people out and caring for their kids and that are sick because of the COVID. So, you know, there's short-staffing that's happening right now. So the anxiety levels are high. The fear is real.

GOLDSTEIN: How has all of this, you mentioned the pandemic, other than overtime, how has this affected postal workers, how you folks do your jobs and then what delivery, what services like? Has it hurt delivery? Has it hurt service at this point, even without the other things coming from leadership?

CUCCINOTTO: Oh, absolutely it has hurt the service, because again, there's people that are out. So when the people are out of work, other people have to pick up the pace, do a little bit more, trying to pick up for the people that aren't there, make up for the bodies that aren't at work that day or night. You know, we sort the mail at night, so our people are in big processing facilities. And anytime there is a shortage, everybody has to pick it up and do a little bit more for the next guy. Overtime levels are extremely high right now. We've got people working 60, 70 hours a week for four or five months in a row, and they're, they're getting tired and they're getting stressed. So if they're working that much overtime to get mail processed and the mail is getting left behind, you know, it's going to impact the service for sure.

GOLDSTEIN: So we've heard reports that there are sorting machines that have been removed in states like Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, also right about Oregon. Have you heard anything about Arizona being affected by that?

CUCCINOTTO: Again, Phoenix has been kind of ahead of the, ahead of that trail. We've had, we have had no recent machine loss because, again, we've, they've taken out machines in the past two or three years and they've — not taken out — they've taken them apart, and then they've added to the letter-sorting machines that we have. So we have some of the longest, largest machines in the country in our facility. So we have less machines, but they're bigger.

GOLDSTEIN: I guess I'm wondering because there's a Republican governor who just went to see the president recently. Are you hearing any buzz that Arizona could be, could be under the same situation? You mentioned new technology, new sorting equipment. That, that's great. But is there concern generally that Arizona could follow in the footsteps of some of these other states and have equipment taken out?

CUCCINOTTO: Absolutely. It could happen. My opinion is that, as you mentioned, as Arizona is a red state, the governor was just in D.C. with the president. You've got, believe that, you know, our mail-in process has been working for many years. We just had a primary just a couple of weeks ago that we had over 700,000 ballots processed. I believe, you know, I'm not aware of any delays that were caused by the Postal Service. So I believe that, you know, the president and the governor feel that as a red state, our process works pretty well. I don't see them coming into Phoenix and trying to disrupt our service at all right now. I'm hoping that would be the case.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, so, Joe, if things are as is for November and obviously earlier than that, because people have them, and they may start turning them in as early as mid-October, potentially, their ballots. If things stay the same, if overtime is intact, if your machines are intact, do you think Phoenix, do you think the state should be able to handle what's coming in November?

CUCCINOTTO: I believe we're in pretty good shape to handle it unless the COVID gets worse. If it spikes up again with, depending on what happens with the school system, you know, because a lot of our people have children and grandchildren that they take care of. Like, say, a majority of the people I represent work at night, afternoons and evenings. So by working at night, that, they've got to take, have child care during the day if kids aren't in school. So if the COVID increases, COVID gets worse, that could be a bigger impact in Arizona on the processing of ballots than the actual processing center, because, again, we're, we're not anticipating losing any machines. Staffing is already low. I don't know if there's any ideas or plans to cut staffing any further. So if we stay as we are right now with the amount of people that we have working and the overtime stays up, you know, people should be able to process the ballots properly.

GOLDSTEIN: How big are these next few months for you and folks in your profession?

CUCCINOTTO: They're huge. We've got you know, everybody works these jobs. They're great jobs, they're great benefits. And we work these jobs thinking that down the road, we're all going to have a chance to retire and live happily ever after. If these changes that are being thrown about by the president of the United States right now and the postmaster general, and there's a, he gets re-elected in the fall, and the new postmaster stays in place, you know, the privatization issues come to the forefront, and we've been fighting off privatization for years. You know, we encourage our members to call Congress, call their senators. We have days of action where people we get 20, 30, 40,000 people nationwide to call Congress, call senators, to tell them, "Hey, you know, support the post office. Help us out." We don't want privatization because then we lose our livelihood and we're not allowed to retire from these jobs. Now, that's, that's a huge part of why we do this job. I mean, you do the same thing every day your whole life, you hope to be able to retire and live happily ever after.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Joe Cuccinotto, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Phoenix Metro Local 93.

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