It’s the holiday season and everyone is thinking about their families — spending precious time together, eating delicious food, and, of course, buying presents. This Hanukkah, though, I’m mostly thinking about my mom and all she does to make everyone else’s holiday special.
My mom is a letter carrier, and between the middle of November and the new year, she works six days a week to make sure that holiday packages get to where they’re going. She likes what she does and she’s happy to play a big role in people’s holiday cheer, but that role is mostly invisible. People check tracking numbers for gifts they’ve ordered, or they say hello to their postal clerk when dropping off a package, but I don’t think many realize how difficult postal workers’ jobs are, and how much worse they’ve become over the years — thanks, in large part, to Louis DeJoy at the helm as postmaster general.
Many people encourage consumers to “shop local” during the holiday season, in an effort to keep money in their local economy — but another reason is to lighten the load for postal workers and other delivery workers. It would certainly be better if people went out and bought gifts at nearby stores, instead of relying on the quick click of a button to have all of their purchases shipped directly to them.
Or they could just buy less stuff and focus on the real reason for the season: our relationships, our good health, and spending time together. Buying less and shopping in person could go a long way to unburdening our hardworking postal and delivery workers.
Don’t worry that less online shopping will kill delivery jobs. My mom and her coworkers will always have plenty to do: People are always going to use the mail to buy and send presents — we have this system in order to connect with one another, and that’s a good thing. And for better or for worse, online shopping is here to stay. People are working longer hours and are busier than ever, and a few clicks of a mouse is a lot easier than schlepping downtown to make important purchases.
So we need to protect and defend the U.S. Postal Service, an institution that exists to serve all of us — whether we live in Philadelphia or in rural North Dakota — equally. During the pandemic, the Postal Service experienced record package volumes, and similarly, the service is expecting to deliver up to 950 million packages this holiday season.
But last year, Postmaster General DeJoy ordered sorting machines to be dismantled, while a significant chunk of workers was out due to the coronavirus. And not all postal workers make the same amount. During the holiday season, the service hires seasonal workers, but they’re only paid on average $11 per hour with no benefits. USPS used to provide middle-class jobs; they are no longer guaranteed: While my mom, a veteran postal worker, makes nearly $24 per hour, someone hired for her job today would make less than $19. That degradation in wages makes it hard for workers to stick around and get to know every customer on their route — and to go above and beyond to make sure Christmas gifts get to where they’re going.
But outside of fighting for the future of the post office, there are some things that all of us can do right now to make it so people like my mom aren’t as bone-tired at the end of their 12-hour days.
Yes, please try to do less online shopping if you’re able. Household items like dog food, paper towels, and toilet paper are either very heavy, very bulky, or both, and take up a lot of room in the mail truck. And definitely give your letter carrier and clerk a holiday gift: While they’re not allowed to accept cash tips, gifts worth less than $20 are both allowed and appreciated — my mom loves getting chocolate and coffee.
As we begin the season of giving, take a few moments to remember the people who help make it possible for you to give.
Mindy Isser is an organizer in the labor movement and a member of Philly DSA, the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. firstname.lastname@example.org