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‘The anxiety and fear levels are real’: Phoenix-area postal workers face challenges amid COVID-19 crisis

USPS workers have been delivered loss, sickness and financial uncertainty.
Credit: 12 News

PHOENIX — United States Postal Service workers are up against much more than rain, sleet or heat to perform their duties these days. 

Joe Cuccinotto, President of Phoenix Metro Area Local, a branch of the American Postal Workers Union, said the coronavirus pandemic poses many challenges for the 1,800 postal workers they represent.  

“COVID-19 has been very difficult times for our workers. We just lost the Phoenix Postmaster and have many others out sick or recovering from COVID-19,” Cuccinotto said. 

Humberto "Junior" Trujillo, Phoenix’s first Hispanic Postmaster, died from COVID in July, his family told 12 News. Trujillo was hospitalized for weeks before he passed away.  

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The union, which includes clerks who work at the windows and sort mail, maintenance workers, custodians, and tractor-trailer operators, is working with the Arizona New Mexico district office to make sure there are enough PPE and cleaning supplies available, Cuccinotto explained.  

“We keep our fingers crossed every day that our positives go down and our members' health improves. Very stressful times inside the distribution centers where social distancing is not available to many employees,” Cuccinotto said. 

A spokesperson for the United States Postal Service shared the postal service has implemented a range of safety protocols as COVID ramped up in Arizona. 

This includes putting up “cough/sneeze” barriers, requiring face masks be worn by employees when they cannot physical distance and cleaning facilities in accordance with CDC guidelines. 

There have not been delivery delays in Arizona due to COVID-19, according to the USPS spokesperson. 

“Because our operating structure allows us to flex our available resources to match the workload created by the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, we have not experienced any delivery delays in Arizona,” the spokesperson explained.

Before COVID hit the United States, the postal service was already having trouble.

“We were short-staffed prior to the pandemic due to cuts in personnel and USPS downsizing mandates throughout the country. With the pandemic staffing shortages have increased as our employees have been sick, family members have been sick and the anxiety and fear levels are real,” Cuccinotto explained. 

NBC reported in April that the postal service’s largest revenue source first-class mail “has been in a steady decline since 2001.” 

The agency, which delivers medications, stimulus checks, payments, important health information and Census reminders, was on track to run out of money by September without government help, according to NBC’s reporting.

Cuccinotto said while workers are processing a high volume of parcels at the distribution center in the West Valley, first-class mail and letter volume overall is down.

Pandemic fallout and financial strife persist as postal workers around the country adjust to new procedures implemented by newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

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The protocols for mail delivery include keeping mail until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late.

Eliminating overtime is also being proposed. 

The American Postal Workers Union has reported concerns about the new procedures slowing down the mail. However, the recent changes have not impacted the offices in the Phoenix area, Cuccinotto said.

Cuccinotto said there is a concern the changes could eventually affect mail delivery in the area. 

DeJoy was asked to go before the House Oversight Committee next month to discuss mail delays, the Associated Press reported.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the Oversight panel, said the Sept. 17 hearing will focus on “the need for on-time mail delivery during the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election,” which is expected to include a major expansion of mail-in ballots.

USPS workers have been delivered loss, sickness, and financial uncertainty, as they continue to keep mail service going. 

The Associated Press contributed to this article.