According to investigative reporting by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the Associated Press and Univision, United States Postal Service (USPS) supervisors routinely change postal workers’ timecards in order to short them on pay. When they do this, they rarely face any consequences, even when arbitrators catch them and order them to repay the money.
CPI spoke with dozens of mail carriers in 10 states for an investigation it published in August in coordination with the Associated Press and Univision. That investigation found that dozens of USPS supervisors had been caught changing timecards in order to pay workers less.
They have been caught by federal investigators, identified by unions and revealed in private arbitration. The federal Department of Labor has cited the USPS 1,150 times for underpaying workers, which the agency estimates cost workers about $659,000. The Labor Department, however, has settled these claims for less than half of what the USPS owed, even though the cases involve intentional wage theft.
A union steward in San Jose, for example, showed arbitrators that all 12 post offices in San Jose had been manipulating employee timecards to underpay staff by hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2019, the arbitrator ordered the USPS to pay back the stolen wages and retrain their managers.
The time theft didn’t stop. After that 2019 arbitration order, the union found 4,510 additional timecard violations in the following months. Furthermore, mail carriers in seven of the post offices said that managers had pressured them to approve timecard changes that were years old. And, the USPS never complied with the arbitrator’s order for retraining.
Mail carriers have worked a lot of overtime during the holiday season. Will they be paid fully for it?
Since the pandemic began in 2020, online retail has exploded in popularity. A large proportion of those deliveries are made by the USPS. Yet postal carriers are under immense pressure to be productive and keep overtime down. That seems to be the underlying excuse for the wage theft.
The mail carriers who spoke to CPI say the problems are even more apparent during the holiday season, when more overtime has been required. Last year, the number of packages the USPS carried over the holidays jumped by 37%. The USPS wasn’t prepared. It was understaffed to begin with, and the pandemic had caught many mail carriers, who took more sick days than usual.
This year, the agency says it is prepared. It budgeted to hire 33% more temporary workers than usual. But the accusations of wage theft were rampant last year – including one where a mail carrier’s timecard read zero hours even though he had worked full shifts. It took months to get repaid. Will the USPS stiff the temporary workers, too?
Wage theft amounts to more than all other types of theft
Wage theft, which encompasses a variety of strategies to avoid paying workers what they earned, is a problem throughout the U.S. economy. Indeed, according to a 2017 report by the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft exceeds $15 billion annually. That’s more money than the value of all other goods stolen in property crimes.
Law enforcement focuses on those property crimes, not wage theft. In order for a worker to get the money they are owed, they have to take action. That generally means getting a lawyer and filing a complaint with the Department of Labor.
Leigh Law Group represents employees throughout California in wage and hour cases.