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Investigation Shows Post Office Managers Changed Employee Time Cards To Pay Them Less

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The U.S. Postal Service has been cheating mail carriers out of their pay for years. That's according to a new investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity. Arbitrators who have looked into these complaints have called the wage theft heinous, egregious and systemic. Alexia Fernandez Campbell reported this story. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ALEXIA FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: So you report that hundreds of post office managers across the country have been caught changing mail carriers' time cards to show them working fewer hours. This has been going on for years, and these were not isolated incidents or small amounts of money. What more did you learn?

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: So I was really struck by how widespread it was because it wasn't just a couple of post offices; it was dozens of post offices. And I was just looking at one slice of records that I had gotten from a source at the Postal Service, so I know that it's even more widespread than that. And, you know, the supervisors who were engaging in this weren't being punished. They were given warnings, and that was what really frustrated a lot of the mail carriers I spoke with.

SHAPIRO: Why? Why is this so widespread and allowed to continue even when somebody calls attention to it?

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: Yeah. I heard that same question, and I asked the mail carriers that I spoke to. I was like, well, why are they doing this? I mean, I don't think the supervisors are keeping the money for themselves, right? I mean, that's not what's happening. They're like, no, it's because they're under a lot of pressure to keep overtime costs down because, you know, the Postal Service is having a lot of financial problems. But another thing they said to me, though, I thought was super interesting was that they said their bosses' pay raises - their annual pay raises are tied to whether or not they keep overtime costs down. So that creates an incentive for them to - I guess to pay workers as little as possible. Now, the USPS would not confirm that with the pay raises, but that's something that lawyers for the employees and the employees themselves told me is happening.

SHAPIRO: You talked to a lot of mail carriers for the story. Is there one whose story will stick with you?

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: Yeah, so I spoke with a woman named Nancy Campos. She works in Midland, Texas. She was so frustrated because she'd been there for years, and every time she checked her pay stub, there were hours missing. And then she would file a grievance with the union, and the post office would say, OK, yeah, yeah, we'll pay you back. And they just wouldn't. So a lot of postal workers I spoke to didn't want to give me their names. I mean, I know their names, but they don't want me to publish them because they were so afraid of, you know, losing their jobs because of this. And she was just so frustrated that she was like, you can use my name.

SHAPIRO: And she told you that despite that frustration, despite losing thousands of dollars and having this happen again and again, she still plans to stay at her job. How common is that feeling?

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: Nancy is 59 years old, and she's, like, loading up, like, hundreds of Amazon packages every day. And, like, you know, these Amazon packages, some of them are huge. And she's not getting paid for her hours. It's like, well, why are you still there? She's like, I'm 59; this is what I know how to do; no one's going to hire me. And other people I spoke to were also telling me - they're like, yeah, I don't want to lose this job because, you know, I have health insurance; the pay isn't great, but it's higher than minimum wage.

It's, you know - it's a stable job. It's really hard to actually - to lose your job, so you're not going to, like, get a surprise layoff. That's definitely not going to happen. So it's - I think the stability of the job is why people continue there, but also just - you know, there's just this frustration that, like, it's - this is never going to stop.

SHAPIRO: You know, working as a mail carrier is a job that traditionally has been a path to the middle class, and many people who hold these jobs come from racial backgrounds that have experienced systemic discrimination throughout U.S. history. Do you think that is relevant to our understanding of this story?

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: You know, especially for Black Americans, yeah, working at the post office was a way to get around, like, the discrimination - or at least the amount of discrimination in the private sector. It's not like USPS has no discrimination, but, you know, there - it's a different process for, like, getting raises. Everything's different. The pay is more. You know, there's going to be more pay floors and that sort of thing. We do know that Black workers are overrepresented in the Postal Service. People's wages and income are being suppressed to some extent, so they could be progressing even farther, moving along, you know, growing their incomes, and they're just not because they can't - you know, their hours are being cut.

SHAPIRO: That's Alexia Fernandez Campbell, senior reporter for The Center for Public Integrity. Thank you for your reporting.

FERNANDEZ CAMPBELL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.