Nancy Campos’ back ached as she loaded more than 100 Amazon packages onto her truck. The 59-year-old grandmother, a mail carrier for the US Postal Service, had worked 13 days in a row without a lunch break, and now she was delivering on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to keep up with a never-ending flow of boxes. At the end of her shift that January day, Campos filled out her time sheet. Then she took a picture of it—for proof. Two weeks later, when she checked her paystub in the payroll system, she said she was missing six hours of overtime pay. That added up to about $201 in lost wages—a week’s worth of groceries. Postal workers across the country share her frustration, per the AP.
The Postal Service regularly cheats mail carriers out of their pay, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Managers at hundreds of post offices around the country have illegally underpaid hourly workers for years, arbitrators and federal investigators have found. Private arbitration records tell part of the story. From 2010 to 2019, at least 250 managers in 60 post offices were caught changing mail carriers’ time cards to show them working fewer hours, resulting in unpaid wages, according to a batch of arbitration award summaries obtained by Public Integrity for cases filed by one of the three major postal unions.
Supervisors found to be cheating were rarely disciplined—often receiving only a warning or more training. In four cities, arbitration documents show, post office managers continued to alter time cards after promising union leaders they would stop. Since 2005, meanwhile, the Postal Service has been cited by the federal government 1,150 times for underpaying letter carriers and other employees, including one case that involved 164 violations, according to Labor Department data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The agency determined that those workers lost about $659,000 in pay. But it allowed the Postal Service to pay back less than half after negotiations with the agency.
These findings point to widespread wage theft at the iconic quasi-governmental institution. Yet they offer only a partial view of the problem. Not captured are any arbitration cases filed by other postal unions or wage theft grievances settled before reaching arbitration. Cases keep cropping up as the Postal Service struggles to pay off $188 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities, accrued largely because federal law requires it to prepay retiree healthcare and pension benefits. The agency has cut nearly 142,000 jobs since 2007, and in March 2020, it needed a $10 billion emergency loan from Congress to help pay its bills. (Read more USPS stories.)