The first email came from a mail carrier in California. It landed in my inbox at 11:04 a.m. on Aug. 31 — less than two hours after the Center for Public Integrity published its investigation into wage theft at the U.S. Postal Service. The mail carrier wanted me to know that our findings are accurate, that supervisors at USPS regularly cheat employees out of their pay.
The article, based on private legal documents and Labor Department data obtained by Public Integrity, shows that hundreds of postal supervisors have illegally underpaid hourly workers for years. They’ve often been caught changing time sheets to show employees working fewer hours, and they’re rarely punished for it.
In her email, the postal worker told me she saw managers at her own post office clocking out mail carriers while they were still delivering their routes. She’s complained about it to her representative in Congress, she said, and to the USPS inspector general’s office, the U.S. Department of Labor, her local district attorney and the head of her local postal union — an affiliate of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
“Absolutely no one wants to get involved. Anything goes,” she wrote. (Public Integrity is withholding the postal worker’s identity to protect confidentiality.) “They have gotten away with it for so long it feels hopeless.”
Since then, about two dozen current and retired postal workers from multiple states have emailed me or Public Integrity’s tip line to confirm our findings, share their own experiences with wage theft and ask for help.
When I was reporting the story, Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer said the agency does not condone supervisors making unsupported timecard adjustments and takes such allegations seriously.
“This position is messaged to the postal workforce directly from postal leaders, including the Vice President, Delivery Operations, who periodically reissues policies regarding appropriate timecard administration for supervisors,” Partenheimer wrote in an email to Public Integrity.
But that messaging doesn’t seem to make a difference, as both my reporting and the frustrated emails in my inbox indicate. A sample of the latest responses:
“The issue of carriers not being paid in our office is well known in our district, with management on every level being fully aware of this abuse.”— a rural USPS mail carrier in Minnesota
“The situation is actually worse than you described.”— a former rural USPS mail carrier in New Jersey
“I have tried for years to start an investigation into this very thing but no internal USPS agency will help. This district is corrupt and has stolen from its employees for years. We have proof, but no investigator ever did anything about it.”— a USPS city mail carrier in Florida
“I just read your article. Man, that hits home. You have no idea what really happens with our hours and NOT getting paid. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. As I’m writing this, I’m filing grievance paperwork for being shorted AGAIN on my paycheck. Completely UNACCEPTABLE.”— a rural USPS mail carrier in Texas
“It’s nice to be validated by your article and know that I’m not crazy, they’re taking my money.”— a rural USPS mail carrier, undisclosed state
“Not only did my complaints never make it farther than the district office … but the [rural postal] union president himself told me ‘not to rock the boat, because management would come down even harder on us.’ Unfortunately, I trashed all of my copies of my altered trip sheets, as well as letters from the union president about 10 years ago, (3 years after I retired) so now it is just my word against theirs.”— a retired rural USPS mail carrier in South Carolina
Public Integrity’s reporting on wage theft at the U.S. Postal Service is part of our Cheated at Work series, an investigation of the systems and structures that allow U.S. employers to rip off their lowest-paid workers with few, if any, consequences. The victims are often construction workers, janitors, restaurant servers, farm workers and store clerks.
And, of course, USPS mail carriers.
Read more in Inequality, Opportunity and Poverty
Digital privacy groups worry that the protections could create a backdoor to widespread surveillance and engender abuse.
Lawsuits claiming reverse discrimination are holding up efforts to cancel loan debts farmers of color owe.