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‘We Just Want To Get The Mail Out. We Want To Do Our Jobs:’ Local Postal Workers Union Uncertain On What Comes Next

Several postal service mailboxes in downtown Dayton, including one outside City Hall, have notices saying they will be removed because not enough mail is being collected at those locations.
Leila Goldstein
Several postal service mailboxes in downtown Dayton, including one outside City Hall, have notices saying they will be removed because not enough mail is being collected at those locations.

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday he is suspending the recent controversial changes at the postal service, such as removing mailboxes and mail sorting machines, until after the election. WYSO’s Leila Goldstein spoke with Karen Byars, the Dayton Area Local president of the American Postal Workers Union. She said she is not clear on how the announcement will affect changes that have already been put in place.

[The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Karen Byars: The concern is what happens to what's already been done. Does that mean mailboxes are going to be put back? Does that mean that any machines that are still in the buildings are going to be ramped back up? Does that mean they're going to stop the late trips and they're going to resume late trips and not leave the mail in the building? We don't know what that actually totally means. Right now, we just want to get things back the way they were so we can stay on track with what we do.

Leila Goldstein: What are the changes you're seeing in the Dayton area for postal workers? How are these USPS changes affecting their workers here?

Byars: Here in Dayton, we have been targeted to lose some of our automated letter sorting equipment. I have two machines that have already been basically tarped and are not in commission. One is sitting idle. There's a total of three other ones that are being targeted. Basically, at a couple of our stations the contractors have been instructed, when you get there, you are to get your mail that's there ready to go and you leave. They're not allowed to be held for a late trip for 10 or 15 more minutes, anything like that. So, if that mail gets left, nobody's taking it out.

We have a postal service. It’s not a postal business. We don't want to basically undermine the Postal Service's ability to get the mail out, whatever kind it is. We treat mail as if it's our own mail and we don't want the public to lose trust in us. And basically, that's what you're hearing all over the United States, that the mail is being delayed. We're backed up. We can't get the mail out. This isn't necessarily a political issue. Postal employees, even in Dayton, Ohio especially I can speak on that, we're Democrats, Republicans, Trump supporters, no affiliation, independent. That being the case, we're not trying to take a side either way. We just want to get the mail out. We want to do our jobs. We want to make sure we're equipped to do those jobs with the things that we need. Right now, removing machines and changing how we handle the mail, I think it's a disservice to the public.

Goldstein: What would you say postal workers are feeling right now? What does it feel like in this moment?

Byars: I would say it's confusion because you're trained that every piece of mail is important. Now all of a sudden, you're getting now it's not important. That's confusing. We're the front line a lot of times, especially if it's the clerks on the counter line or the letter carrier. They find themselves at the counter trying to explain what they don't understand themselves. A lot of times they'll get the brunt of it if people's mail is late and so there is some anxiety. This is happening in the midst of this pandemic and COVID. We've already had to make adjustments. We’re wearing masks pretty much eight hours a day. You’ve got six-foot distancing in the lobbies and people aren't happy. It's a lot of weight right now. But at the same time, they try to keep a positive attitude and try to keep up with what they're doing and staying focused on what they’re there for.

We're there if nobody's there. We had 14, 15 tornadoes come through and I had clerks on the windows providing service and all they had was that shirt that they had because they lost everything else. You had letter carriers going down streets where there wasn't any houses anymore. And why? Because whatever, whoever was there, they were going to get whatever service we could provide. We have pop-up services in neighborhoods that have been actually affected. We're resilient. We've had employees who have tested positive, got over it and came back to work because they're trying to get the mail out. They want to make sure, no matter what happens, that we don't get impacted any more than we have to as far as delivering the mail and getting the mail to the public. It's important more now than ever. More now than ever.

While working at the station Leila Goldstein has covered the economic effects of grocery cooperatives, police reform efforts in Dayton and the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic on hiring trends, telehealth and public parks. She also reported Trafficked, a four part series on misinformation and human trafficking in Ohio.