A USPS mail carrier at the Middle Village post office told QNS that, much like the Ridgewood post office, they are short-staffed and are having trouble with the increased workload as more and more employees call out due to what they say is a lack of communication and proper cleaning of their facilities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s come to the point where they’re not keeping us informed of anything,” the Middle Village postal worker said. “Within the past two weeks, we’ve been getting more and more call outs from carriers in Middle Village. And those of us who do come in are getting bombarded with the workload.”
The Middle Village mail carrier, who’s worked there for more than three years and asked to remain anonymous, said they found out that one of their clerks tested positive for COVID-19 via Facebook. That clerk wasn’t at the post office for two weeks, and another supervisor hasn’t been there for three weeks.
The postal worker said that in response, management at the 71-35 Metropolitan Ave. location called for a janitor to do “a quick clean” and have had brief talks with staff — but the workers still don’t feel satisfied.
On Monday, March 30, only five out of 20 workers showed up to work, the Middle Village mail carrier said, adding that the post office’s vans aren’t getting properly cleaned, either.
“When I came into work on Monday, there were discarded gloves and face masks in my van. And when I told my supervisor, [they] just gave me cleaning supplies to clean it out myself. So now you’re saying I have to clean up after someone else? The proper procedures aren’t being taken,” the mail carrier said. “Any equipment we need are kept under lock and key until we ask for them.”
However, what concerns the Middle Village mail carrier the most is that when they asked to take three days off to self-quarantine, their supervisor told them they need to have a doctor’s note when they return to work.
“We were just told about a new liberal leave policy,” they said. “Now, if we want to self-quarantine, we’re going to see repercussions, like a letter of warning, dock pay or some sort of suspension.”
The Middle Village postal worker said that they were under the impression that they should self-quarantine if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines note that workplaces should implement “flexible” sick leave as well as other supportive policies and practices.
A USPS spokesperson told QNS that USPS updated their leave policy to allow liberal use of sick leave to give employees “the ability to stay home whenever they feel sick, must provide dependent care, or any other qualifying factor under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
“We have entered into agreements with our unions to provide 80 hours of paid leave to non-career employees for issues related to COVID-19, and have expanded the definition of sick leave for dependent care for covered employees to deal with the closures of primary and secondary schools across the country,” the USPS spokesperson said.
The spokesperson noted that when it comes to repercussions for calling out, the general policy is that an employee needs to have a doctor’s note when calling out for three or more days. But if the employee meets the requirements of the newly implemented liberal leave due to COVID-19, as well as union guidelines, there shouldn’t be any issues. They’re handling it all on a case by case basis, and following CDC and medical authority.
When asked whether USPS is keeping track of the number of employees who have contracted the virus and making it available for them as well as the media, the USPS spokesperson said that as of Monday, March 30, 207 postal employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Only five days prior, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union reported 65 confirmed cases.
Postal workers across Queens and the U.S. are dealing with the same set of concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After QNS reported that only one employee at the Ridgewood post office, located on 6060 Myrtle Ave., was confirmed to have COVID-19, another mail carrier, who asked to remain anonymous, said that there were actually four confirmed cases as of Monday, March 30.
“If you have more than four people who have COVID-19, you should shut it down and clean. Don’t require a janitor or custodian to do their normal cleaning because that’s not enough,” the Ridgewood post office mail carrier said. “You can’t sit up here and say it doesn’t affect us. You’re playing with people’s lives.”
The USPS spokesperson said they have no additional confirmations at this time. “We use medical provider and/or medical health reports for a high-level confirmation,” the spokesperson said.
The Ridgewood mail carrier said that after they were informed of the positive cases a week prior when they clocked into work, many people walked out because they believed they weren’t getting clear answers from management. The Ridgewood mail carrier said that their union president showed up, but they still didn’t receive any answers.
The Ridgewood mail carrier added that they normally have about 80 people at the post office, but there have only been 15 to 20 people showing up in the last week — which has caused mail to pile up and made it harder to properly clean.
“I recently contacted OSHA to fill a compliant and was told ‘you’re a federal facility, it’s out of our district’ and was given a hotline number (888-364-3065) if I wanted to be tested,” the Ridgewood mail carrier added.
When asked what measures USPS is taking to address their employees concerns regarding cleanliness, the USPS spokesperson said “on a very limited basis, we consider contract cleaners to bridge staffing. If used, this is not different cleaning than our staff would be doing as we follow CDC guidelines.”
The USPS spokesperson said they’re ensuring millions of masks, gloves, cleaning and sanitizing product are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day throughout the Postal Service supply chain.
When asked what policies they’re putting in place to help their workforce, the USPS spokesperson said that they have implemented “measures at retail facilities and mail processing facilities to ensure appropriate social distancing, including through signage, floor tape, and ‘cough/sneeze’ barriers.”
They’ve also changed delivery procedures to eliminate the requirement that customers sign their Mobile Delivery Devices for delivery, among other new procedures.
Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng said that her office spoke with the Ridgewood post office to ensure that the people of Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth, and Middle Village get their essential mail, while protecting their staff.
“Our postal workers are among the essential employees who are making huge sacrifices to help our neighborhoods get through this crisis,” Meng said. “Every single precaution must be taken to protect their health and safety, and the safety of the public. My office has spoken with the Postal Service’s area manager who works with the Ridgewood Post Office. They say they are aware of the need to deliver people’s mail, and know how vital it is to ensure that postal workers feel that they are protected. Officials are working on a solution. As mail service resumes, they will prioritize the delivery of important pieces of mail that constituents need, and for which they have been patiently waiting.”