We deliver Amazon packages until we drop dead
”Confessions of a U.S. Postal Worker”
The United States Postal Service has assisted in building one of the richest companies in the world but has received little credit from anyone inside of the Trump Administration and the past Republican held congress who almost brought them to their knees after an absurd law passed while in their control which forced the Postal Service to entirely fund their pension, a move that wasn’t necessary and which no other business in the country is required. It was enacted because their political friends wanted to privatize the USPS for personal gain. Their white knight to save our postal employee was at the time a growing giant Amazon.
Earlier this year, Amazon became the second U.S.-based company to be valued at more than $1 trillion. Yet for all its dominance and efficiency, Amazon relies on a dusty, centuries-old system to deliver at least a third—and possibly as much as half—of its packages around the country: the United States Postal Service.
In mid-October, I spoke with a mail carrier who works at a midsize hub of the U.S. Postal Service in rural New England. As a rural carrier associate, they make just under $18/hour in a continuous, part-time position. During the week, the carrier says that between 75 and 80 percent of the packages they deliver are Amazon packages; on Sundays, when no letters are delivered, they deliver Amazon packages exclusively, the result of a revenue-generating agreement the USPS entered into with the company in 2013.
At the time of the Amazon agreement, the USPS was suffering in the wake of misguided budgetary changes instituted by Congress and the financial crash and was losing $16 billion per year. The Amazon partnership seemed like a godsend. Though even basic contract information remains elusive, we know something about the scale of Amazon’s operation: Early this year, the company announced it shipped more than 5 billion items worldwide through Amazon Prime in 2017; meanwhile, something like half of all Amazon’s shipments in the United States are ultimately delivered by the USPS, an arrangement that market analysts seem to agree is a mutually beneficial one: the Postal Service, which receives no federal funding, reported a net loss of only $2.7 billion in 2017.
“I feel like my life depends on Amazon.”
But the arrangement has also increased the amount of work without also expanding the full-time career workforce. In addition to working on Sundays and holidays, part-time employees are called on to cover career carriers’ regular routes if they are on vacation or out sick. These workers are paid less, have fewer benefits, and are beholden to more chaotic scheduling than their full-time counterparts; meanwhile, the increasing number of Amazon packages means more—and more difficult—work.
Amazon declined to comment for this story, but the USPS issued the following statement: “Dedicated Postal Service employees across the country are committed to delivering for the American public and have fostered the recent package growth through exceptional performance. Growth in our package business partially off-set the significant decline in mail and is essential to help stabilize the finances of the Postal Service and pay for our infrastructure that enables us to fulfill our universal service obligation. Like any prudent business, we do not publicly discuss specifics of our business relationships.”
In early 2018, President Trump called for an investigation of the USPS deal with Amazon, the results of which will reportedly not be made public until after the midterms. In response, Amazon and other retailers formed a lobbying group, the Package Coalition, issuing a barely veiled threat that any changes to the arrangement would have consequences. “The last thing you want to talk about is disrupting one of the few bright spots of the Postal Service,” lobbyist and former Obama administration official John McHugh told Forbes.
The implicit threat has even been internalized in the Postal Service itself. “I’ve heard that from my supervisors,” the rural carrier told me. “‘If we upset Amazon, they’ll pull out, and we need their help.’”
“I feel like I work for Amazon,” they continued. “I feel like my life depends on Amazon.”