Wage theft remains a common problem among United States Postal Service employees, a panel of experts and a retired USPS employee said in a forum hosted by the Center for Public Integrity Wednesday night.
“Cheated at Work,” a Public Integrity investigative series by Alexia Fernández Campbell, Joe Yerardi and Susan Ferriss published between May and October, found that U.S employers that illegally underpay workers face few repercussions, even when they do so repeatedly. This widespread practice perpetuates income inequality, hitting lowest-paid workers hardest.
“USPS has cheated mail carriers for years,” Fernández Campbell’s story that was published in late August, found that the Postal Service regularly cheats mail carriers out of their pay. Managers at hundreds of post offices around the country have illegally underpaid hourly workers for years.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s forum, which was moderated by Public Integrity senior reporter Fernández Campbell and featured Kim Bobo of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Paul M. Falabella of the Butler Curwood law firm and Douglas Lape of the National Association of Letter Carriers, as well as retired USPS employee Steve Burr:
1. Wage theft is an issue of the entire U.S. economy.
“It doesn’t surprise me that USPS workers have [wage theft problems] because it’s a common problem throughout the country,” Bobo said.
Unions can help fight this, but there aren’t enough of them in the country, Bobo said. And federal and state law enforcement officials aren’t focused on wage theft laws.
“If there’s no pressure for this to change, it’s not going to change,” Bobo said. “We have to put pressure on our government officials, … we need to put pressure on these enforcement agencies … and we need to build a coalition, so the unions and the community groups can work together to get some public attention to this.”
2. More money is stolen each year in wage theft than in property crimes.
A 2017 report by the Economic Policy Institute suggests that “the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year,” per The Guardian. That’s more than the value of stolen goods in all property crimes, according to the latest FBI statistics.
“If you think about common robberies, like property robberies, there are tens of thousands of police officers across the country that investigate these problems,” Bobo said. “But more money is stolen from workers each year than is stolen in property crimes.”
3. Postal workers can file grievances against USPS for withholding wages. Here’s how:
If you’re a part of a union and believe that you’ve been withheld wages, here’s what Lape says you should do:
- Get exact numbers: Keep track of how many hours you work each shift and compare that to what it says on your paycheck. For example, note that you were paid for 9 hours when you really worked 10. This will help union representatives know where to begin when taking up your case, Lape said.
- Speak with your shop steward: Reach out to your local union steward and tell them you want to file a grievance, Lape said.
- Go to your branch officer: If you feel your grievance is not being addressed, you should talk to your local union branch officer. Preferably, the president of the branch, Lape said.
- Contact your national business agent: If you don’t get the response you’re looking for, the next step is go to your national business agent, Lape said.
(Note: There are many postal worker unions, and Lape spoke to the inner workings of the NALC.)
If you’re interested in talking to a lawyer but worry about expensive legal fees, here are some key takeaways from employment attorney Falaballa:
- Check out a law firm with a no-charge intake process.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act allows for shifting attorneys fees, meaning that the Postal Service will likely pay a worker’s attorney fees if the case is settled or goes to trial. In other words, it’s unlikely that employees will have to pay the attorney that represents them.
- The Postal Service’s timekeeping records will show if a manager changed an employee’s timecard without the proper paperwork, Falabella said. “when we get the resources like we described here that show these time deletions, there’s really not any defense to it. its wage theft. It’s a per se violation of the law.”
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