Growing up, I was ashamed to be a child of United States Postal Service workers. When my immediate family immigrated from the Philippines in 1988, we arrived without an extended network of family support to help with the adjustment. My father was happy to secure a mail processor position at a main USPS plant in San Francisco. Considering the benefits and job security, my mother applied in 1995 and was hired at the same plant as a mail handler, tasked to carry boxes of mail from delivery trucks into the building. Because they wanted an adult at home at all times, my parents commuted separately and worked every possible shift throughout my childhood: graveyard, swing shift, and days. They also often opted for their days off to be during the week, rather than a typical Saturday and Sunday.
As a kid, my family’s life didn’t seem to align with what I watched on shows like "Boy Meets World" or "Family Matters". Friends at school had parents who worked during the day, picked them up after school, and were home on weekends. Even among other Filipinos, I noticed that I was not a child of a nurse or an active military service member, something other Filipino families had in common. I didn’t have the words or awareness as I do now, but as a kid, I sensed that my family’s experience was not reflected anywhere around me.
Consequently, I was hesitant to share about what my parents did for work. I did not want to open up the possibility of having to reveal that my family might be different from everyone else’s. I did not want to talk about how we were surviving in America as immigrants.
My parents often impressed upon me and my brother that we were poor. Yet their labor provided our family a stable and secure life. We had our basic needs met and my parents gave us as much of the world as they could: day trips to Yosemite National Park, photos with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, the neon lights of Vegas. When I got older, their postal service wages funded my college education. My life has been full of adventure and opportunity, not shame, because of my parents.
When my father retired in 2017, he had given the U.S. Postal Service 30 years of service. In addition to processing mail, he was a shop steward and active union member. My father and the 200,000 members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) ensure postal employees have fair working conditions. They set an example for what dignity on the job can look like for working-class, immigrant, and racially diverse communities.
My mother is still working, coming up on 25 years. During this pandemic, my mother is an essential worker. With the closure of so many services, mail delivery has become even more significant and critical for people to receive medicine, food, and other necessities — this is especially true for people who may not have access to alternative privatized delivery services, such as indigenous people living in tribal lands, people living in rural areas, and the disabled and the elderly.
I fear for my mother’s health every day that she goes to work. U.S. Postal Service workers like my mom and her 600,000 plus colleagues are in need of protection on the job, now more than ever. Despite precautions, almost 900 postal employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 44 have died during the pandemic.
Even more alarming is President Trump’s opposition to keeping the U.S. Postal Service afloat during this global health crisis. While corporations, including major food and hotel chains, have received government aid, Trump threatened to veto coronavirus relief legislation if it included funds for the U.S. Postal Service. Federal efforts to support the economy, including the CARES Act signed on March 27 and a second relief bill signed on April 24, have thus far excluded the U.S. Postal Service from any federal aid.
Despite being a government entity, the U.S. Postal Service receives no taxpayer dollars and is funded solely by its own revenue. The temporary closure of businesses has meant a drop in mail advertising, which is impacting Post Service revenue. With projections forecasting a loss of $23 billion over the next 18 months, the U.S. Postal Service is in danger of running out of money this summer.
Without federal support, the job security of over 600,000 postal employees is in danger. Moreover, the postal service workforce is 39% workers of color and 40% women. My parents are among the 8% of Asian American and Pacific Islander postal workers. The U.S. Postal Service is one of the few accessible platforms to a government job for immigrant and working-class communities of color; its loss would impact already marginalized segments of the population.
Furthermore, postal employees ensure universal mail delivery to over 160 million homes and businesses in locales not serviced by private couriers. This is crucial when considering the significance that voting by mail will likely hold for the 2020 presidential election. In an interview on Democracy Now!, Mark Dimondstein, APWU president, reminded viewers that citizens do not pay to mail their ballots because of the U.S. Postal Service, which also saves city and state funds. Mail-in voting ensures accessibility in light of both current physical distancing measures and the closure of voting polls. Federal neglect and Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service threaten the nation’s economic livelihood and democracy.
This is not new. As an avenue for the free exchange of ideas, the postal service has been attacked throughout our country’s history. For instance, slave owners in the 1830s tried to tamper with the postal service to ban abolitionist mailings, working through racist mobs and politicians to do so. In this election year, the attempt to privatize or abolish the postal service is aligned with voter suppression efforts.
The U.S. Postal Service needs to be protected. Postal employees have launched a petition for hazard pay and the APWU is spearheading a letter drive to Congress, demanding federal financial support. Unlike the shame I felt before, and out of profound appreciation and solidarity, I am asking you, reader, to sign the petition and send a letter to your congressional representatives. Support postal service revenue by buying stamps to send letters to your loved ones. I am proud of the service my parents and millions of others have provided to the country. Let’s work together to ensure their work is valued and protected, as well as preserve our democracy.