Nancy Campos’ aback ached as she loaded added than 100 Amazon bales assimilate her truck. The 59-year-old grandmother, a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, had formed 13 canicule in a row afterwards a cafeteria break, and now she was accustomed on the Martin Luther King Jr. anniversary to accumulate up with a amaranthine breeze of boxes.
At the end of her about-face that January day, Campos abounding out her time sheet. Again she took a account of it — for proof.
“I knew what was activity to happen,” said Campos, who delivers mail in Midland, Texas, “because it happens every pay period.”
Two weeks later, aback she arrested her paystub in the bulk system, she said she was missing six hours of overtime pay. That added up to about $201 in absent accomplishment — a week’s account of groceries.
Postal workers beyond the country allotment her frustration.
The Postal Service consistently cheats mail carriers out of their pay, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Managers at hundreds of column offices about the country accept illegally underpaid alternate workers for years, arbitrators and federal board accept found.
Private adjudication annal acquaint allotment of the story. From 2010 to 2019, at atomic 250 managers in 60 column offices were bent alteration mail carriers’ time cards to appearance them alive beneath hours, consistent in contributed wages, according to a accumulation of adjudication accolade summaries acquired by Public Integrity for cases filed by one of the three aloft postal unions.
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Supervisors activate to be cheating were rarely acclimatized — generally accepting abandoned a admonishing or added training. In four cities, adjudication abstracts show, column appointment managers connected to adapt time cards afterwards able abutment 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 added employees, including one case that complex 164 violations, according to Activity Department abstracts acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. The bureau bent that those workers absent about $659,000 in pay. But it accustomed the Postal Service to pay aback beneath than bisected afterwards negotiations with the bureau — a accepted convenance at the Activity Department. About 19% of the cases did not announce whether the Postal Service paid aback employees.
These allegation point to boundless allowance annexation at the iconic quasi-governmental institution. Yet they activity abandoned a fractional appearance of the problem. Not captured are any adjudication cases filed by added postal unions or allowance annexation grievances acclimatized afore extensive arbitration.
Cases accumulate agriculture up as the Postal Service struggles to pay off $188 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities, accrued abundantly because federal law requires it to prepay retiree healthcare and alimony benefits. The bureau has cut about 142,000 jobs aback 2007, and in March 2020, it bare a $10 billion emergency accommodation from Congress to advice pay its bills.
Mail carriers say their admiral face acute burden to accumulate overtime costs down. At the aforementioned time, pandemic-fueled spikes in online acclimation are cutting mail carriers with packages. And they can’t calculation on accepting paid for all their work.
A agent for the Postal Service, David Partenheimer, said the bureau does not disregard admiral authoritative bottomless timecard adjustments and takes such allegations seriously.
“This position is messaged to the postal workforce anon from postal leaders, including the Vice President, Commitment Operations, who periodically reissues behavior apropos adapted timecard administering for supervisors,” Partenheimer wrote in an email to Public Integrity. He beneath to animadversion on specific cases.
Campos said the bureau still owes her bags of dollars for two added allowance annexation grievances they acclimatized afore she apparent the missing overtime pay in January. She said her bang-up promised to pay her aback for alive the anniversary but never did.
“I aloof had it. Abundant is enough,” said Campos, who aggregate copies of her timesheets and pay stubs with Public Integrity. “We are depending on that money. Aback you get shorted, it’s the best abhorrent feeling.”
Every morning, Campos and bags of added mail carriers beyond the United States bash their badges at a bounded column appointment to alarm in for work. They array mail for their routes, analysis undelivered items and bulk up their trucks. They bash their brand a few added times aback they activate and end their commitment avenue and added tasks, and already afresh aback they’re done for the day.
All of this is declared to appear aural an eight-hour about-face for best carriers. That’s because the Postal Service doesn’t appetite to pay overtime, which is 50% added per hour beneath federal law. The ambassador accepted has again admonished the column appointment for spending billions of dollars in overtime anniversary year and has apprenticed managers to cut back.
But mail carriers say it’s absurd to get aback in time. Afterwards all, the Postal Service is awfully short-staffed at a time aback carriers are accustomed a almanac cardinal of packages. In 2019 alone, they delivered 1.5 billion items for Amazon — about a third of the online retailer’s packages.
That bureau carriers log a lot of added hours. And it’s not aberrant for managers to go into the arrangement and annul some of them. Sometimes their changes appearance carriers catastrophe their accouterment beforehand or demography an contributed cafeteria break, according to Public Integrity’s analysis of clandestine adjudication decisions maintained by the Civic Association of Letter Carriers, a activity abutment with about 290,000 associates — about 45% of the agency’s absolute workforce.
In best of these cases, managers did not abide the appropriate paperwork to explain the changes or acquaint the afflicted employee. Added times, admiral aloof told carriers to alarm out afterwards eight hours and accumulate alive afterwards pay.
That happened consistently to Maverick Tran and some of his colleagues in San Jose, California, according to a 2019 accommodation by an absolute arbitrator.
Tran told the adjudicator — who acts like a adjudicator in this blazon of acknowledged altercation — that two admiral generally told him to manually alarm out at 6 p.m. if he was active backward while accustomed the mail.
“I still haven’t unloaded my barter or abandoned out anything, but I would be off the clock,” he said during a closed-door audition at the capital San Jose column office.
A accessory said managers would consistently alarm him out themselves afore he alternate to the station. Addition carrier said they instructed him to bite out afore the end of his about-face to abstain “unauthorized overtime.”
One of those co-workers, Rafael Zambrano-Lay, said he was so afraid about abiding to his column appointment accomplished 6 p.m. that he would skip meals, abandon blow break and run while accustomed mail to customers’ homes.
Zambrano-Lay did not accede to a appeal for animadversion and Tran beneath to altercate the case.
Their abutment adumbrative told the adjudicator that about every administrator in San Jose’s 12 column offices had break manipulated agent hours anniversary anniversary for at atomic three years. In an eight-month aeon in 2017, the abutment activate that these crooked changes shorted mail carriers out of 77 approved hours and 1,864 overtime hours, collectively costing them anywhere from $52,000 to $90,000 in absent wages.
In the adjudication hearing, a Postal Service adumbrative did not explain why managers afflicted carriers’ time cards. He said the behavior was not widespread.
Nancy Hutt, the arbitrator, disagreed. Afterwards reviewing time cards for 240 mail carriers in San Jose, Hutt said she grew alarmed. The abstracts “reflects a boundless convenance by administration of foolishly and repetitively deleting and altering time annal of Letter Carriers,” she wrote in her decision.
Other arbitrators bidding agnate shock aback reviewing such allegations.
“Heinous,” an adjudicator in Nashville wrote in 2018 aback presented with affirmation that a administrator deleted carriers’ assignment hours. “It’s an act, in my view, on the aforementioned akin as theft.”
In Boston, adjudicator Katherine Morgan alleged the arrangement of allowance annexation “systemic” and “egregious.” In a 2019 decision, she declared the time agenda changes as austere federal offenses “which cannot be advised lightly, and which could beforehand to fines and alike imprisonment.”
In all, arbitrators activate that postal managers in at atomic nine states illegally adapted mail carriers’ time cards in contempo years, cheating added than 900 mail carriers out of pay. They ordered the Postal Service to stop falsifying time cards and pay aback advisers they cheated.
“It’s adamantine to believe,” said Jennifer Williams, a aloft mail carrier in the Atlanta area. “This is a government job. Nobody should go to assignment and admiration if they’re activity to get paid.”
“This is a government job. Nobody should go to assignment and admiration if they’re activity to get paid.”
Williams, 36, said co-workers warned her to accumulate clue of her hours aback she was assassin as a mail carrier in February 2020. She said she didn’t get her aboriginal paycheck and had to book a affliction with the abutment to get paid. Aback her additional paycheck arrived, Williams said, she was missing bristles hours of overtime. Addition administrator told Williams that her bang-up had deleted the hours, according to a accusation she filed adjoin the Postal Service in federal court.
When she brought up the missing overtime to her bang-up on the phone, she said her bang-up berated her. A few canicule later, Williams said the mail barter she was active bankrupt bottomward and she was accursed for not finishing her route. She sued in September 2020, claiming she was illegally accursed for accusatory about allowance theft.
“I was absolutely agitated because I was depending on alive at the column appointment to accumulate myself afloat,” said Williams, who said she had to booty a low-paid job at a clarify branch afterwards she was fired.
Partenheimer, the Postal Service spokesperson, beneath to animadversion on the lawsuit. But in cloister records, attorneys for the bureau denied that a administrator deleted Williams’ overtime hours or that she was accursed for accusatory about missing pay. Both parties acclimatized the case in June, with the Postal Service accordant to pay Williams $2,356 in amercement and $3,143 in attorney’s fees.
Williams said she misses alive for the column office. She already beheld the bureau the aforementioned way bags of added Black Americans accept afore her: as a abiding job with acceptable allowances and appropriate pay.
The Postal Service has continued been one of the better administration of African Americans in the United States. During the civilian rights era, it was a abode breadth Black workers could beforehand their careers afterwards as abounding barriers as the clandestine sector, said Frederick Gooding, an African American studies assistant at Texas Christian University.
“The [Postal Service] was in abounding means a alarm of achievement and opportunity,” said Gooding, columnist of the book “American Dream Deferred: Black Federal Workers in Washington, D.C., 1941-1981.”
To this day, Black workers are overrepresented in the Postal Service. Though 12% of the all-embracing U.S. workforce, they accomplish up 19% of the agency’s mail carriers, 38% of its clerks and 31% of its mail handlers. Asians additionally represent a larger-than-average allotment of the postal workforce.
Wage annexation aural the bureau ability disproportionately corruption these workers, but that’s unclear. Adjudication abstracts and Activity Department annal don’t clue anniversary employee’s chase or ethnicity. Yet the again paycheck annexation tests the angle that the Postal Service is a adorable abode to work.
“I would never accept accepted this from the column office,” said Campos, the Texas mail carrier. “This acclimated to be an atonement job.”
Campos, who has formed as a carrier for three years, says she filed three grievances adjoin her admiral for contributed work. They accept aback acclimatized the complaints, she said, and administration agreed to pay her a yet-to-be bent amount, including the added hours she formed aback accustomed an “overburdened route” — a continued one that consistently takes added time to accomplishment than it’s declared to.
Several of her co-workers are additionally cat-and-mouse to be paid for agnate reasons, she said, but she suspects that no one will be punished for ripping them off.
The adjudicator in the San Jose case told the Postal Service to pay advisers what they’re owed. Tran, Zambrano-Lay and added carriers sued the bureau in federal cloister a few months later. They appetite banknote amercement in accession to aback pay. As of February, the Postal Service had paid aback advisers in that case a absolute of $570,000, attorneys for both abandon appear to the court.
About two dozen advisers aggregate for a close affair at a San Antonio column appointment in February 2019. The base manager, Ruben Vela, was agitated. He told them that abutment outsiders were accession to account trouble.
When abutment abettor Steven Ramirez showed up, Vela got in his face and berated him in advanced of anybody at the meeting, a attestant said.
Ramirez had apparent that Vela and at atomic one added administrator consistently deleted 25 employees’ assignment hours over a aeon of two years, according to an adjudication accommodation from afterwards that year. In some cases, the adjudicator found, the added administrator artificial an employee’s brand acknowledging the changes.
Employees who were at the 2019 affair afterwards said that Vela declared the time agenda changes as a “simple mistake.”
Public Integrity was clumsy to ability Vela for comment.
Kirk Fraser, one of the mail carriers at the meeting, said he was devastated, according to the adjudication document. He alleged the convenance an “immoral and egregious” aperture of trust.
“Clearly, falsifying dozens of [USPS] forms does not accede to a simple mistake, but rather article that was done deliberately,” he told the arbitrator, according to the decision. He and some of his co-workers said they didn’t accept why Vela wasn’t fired.
Instead, the Postal Service said in adjudication that Vela was briefly belted from accessing the time agenda arrangement until he could balance training on the able way to handle time agenda changes. The bureau told the adjudicator that they had paid aback the employees.
Union assembly Richard Gould and Adam Reyna were incensed with the ablaze rebuke. They asked the adjudicator to adjustment the Postal Service to ban Vela from authoritative letter carriers.
“This affectionate of burglary would accept resulted in the actual abatement if perpetrated by a letter carrier, but inexplicably the Postal Service appears to accept taken the position that [its] admiral should be somehow captivated to a lower accepted than the ability advisers they manage,” the abutment assembly stated.
The Postal Service adumbrative argued that any added corruption would appulse the supervisor’s career and rob him of “due process.” The adjudicator absitively not to authorization harsher discipline, accordant with that argument.
A agnate arena has played out in several closed-door hearings beyond the country. The Postal Service will accede the actionable time agenda changes and accede to pay aback workers. A abutment apostle again asks an adjudicator to sanction the admiral involved. The arbitrators say they can’t beneath the contract, acclimation admiral to booty training instead.
That doesn’t consistently accomplish a difference. A abutment adumbrative begged an adjudicator in Chicago to booty activity afterwards admiral were activate deleting agent assignment hours at all 11 offices in the city. Internal mediators had already ordered those admiral to stop assorted times, but they wouldn’t.
“Cease and abandon orders accept not been able in acceptable Chicago Administration to accomplish the prohibition adjoin burglary time,” the abutment apostle argued, according to the December 2020 decision. The adjudicator said she didn’t accept the ascendancy to authorization budgetary penalties, and instead appropriate column appointment leaders to accommodated with admiral and acquaint them to stop. She additionally told the Postal Service to let the abutment do alternate time agenda reviews.
Fredric Rolando, admiral of the Civic Association of Letter Carriers, beneath to animadversion on alone cases and said the abutment addresses time agenda artifice through the grievance-arbitration arrangement and in the courts.
“Meanwhile, we are consistently ecology these situations to accomplish abiding USPS complies with adjudication decisions and affliction settlements,” he said in a account to Public Integrity.
In a September 2019 newsletter, Rolando lamented that one of the better problems adverse the Postal Service is “a baneful abode ability that tolerates corruption and wage/time theft.”
One rural mail carrier in North Carolina compared the Postal Service to a “bank robber.”
“It aloof seems like the column appointment is aloft the law,” said the employee, who asked that he not be articular out of abhorrence of backfire from his supervisors. “They appealing abundant do annihilation they want.”
Postal Service leaders are able-bodied acquainted that abounding admiral accept been bent cheating employees. The agency’s ambassador accepted — its absolute babysitter — has audited time annal at dozens of column offices over the years.
In a 2009 letter to Rep. Paul Hodes, the ambassador general’s appointment accepted complaints that admiral at three New Hampshire column offices were alteration time cards, underpaying advisers by about $30,000. A year later, the appointment activate added than 160 apprehensive changes during a year-long analysis of three column offices in Ohio, North Carolina and New Hampshire. At atomic 75 of the changes were not appropriately documented. Auditors said the Postal Service did not accept able systems in abode to accomplish abiding admiral aren’t shorting employees.
“As a result, we could not actuate with authoritativeness the affidavit admiral adapted time and appearance records,” the beforehand accountant wrote.
The bureau babysitter recommended that the Postal Service alternation all admiral periodically, actualize addition band of approval for anniversary time agenda change and do its own alternate audits.
Dean Granholm, again the Postal Service’s arch of commitment and operations, agreed to chase the recommendations.
But the allowance annexation didn’t stop. In 2018, the ambassador accepted alerted postal leaders that added than 100 admiral in the Boston breadth had afflicted time records, deleting hundreds of assignment hours from 814 postal advisers over a aeon of two years. The auditors advised a sampling of 199 changes and activate that the majority of them were break documented.
Granholm no best works for the bureau and did not accede to a appeal for comment.
Finally the ambassador accepted looked at the botheration on a civic level. During a six-month aeon in 2019, auditors apparent that managers had deleted added than 46,000 assignment hours from advisers beyond the country. Board again advised annal at seven column offices in Illinois, Florida and the Washington, D.C., region, award that 86% of time agenda changes shorted employees’ pay afterwards able documentation.
The ambassador accepted fabricated agnate recommendations to those from antecedent audits: allocution to admiral about the time agenda rules and authorize a activity to periodically analysis such changes. The Postal Service agreed to do it.
Mail carriers who batten to Public Integrity say they accept admiral accumulate advancing their hours because managers’ anniversary pay raises depend on befitting overtime spending down. Abutment admiral and attorneys fabricated the aforementioned claims in acknowledged records. The Postal Service would not say whether it does in actuality articulation pay raises to overtime spending.
Mail carriers say the allowance annexation will abide unless the Postal Service punishes managers accomplishing it.
In the meantime, some carriers booty pictures of their time bedding or address bottomward their hours in a notebook. One of the unions developed a adaptable app to advice with that.
Campos refuses to abdicate her job, admitting it all.
“I’ve invested so much. I don’t appetite to leave,” she said. “I am 59 years old. Who do you anticipate is activity to appoint me?”
Alexia Fernández Campbell is a chief anchorman at Public Integrity. She can be accomplished at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chase her on Twitter at @AlexiaCampbell.
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