Vincent DiGaetano took pride in his 30-year career as a mail carrier. Now, he’s worried about the future of the USPS.
When you speak to Vincent DiGaetano, two things quickly become clear: First, he is a New Yorker, through and through, with a hybrid Brooklyn/Long Island accent to match. Second, he carries a deep commitment to his former employer of 30 years: the United States Postal Service.
For 30 years, DiGaetano went to work with the goal of ensuring New Yorkers—and for a two-year stint out west, Californians—received their paychecks, bills, letters, gifts, and anything else people sent via the mail. The job was hard, but DiGaetano took pride in his work.
“We started off very early in the morning in those days. We had to be at work at 6 a.m. in order to sort the mail,” he said. “Most everything was done by hand back then.” After about three hours of sorting mail, DiGaetano and his fellow carriers would head out to the street to deliver mail for the rest of the workday.
When DiGaetano began his career with the agency in 1974, he earned $4.65 per hour as a part-time, substitute carrier. But he climbed the ranks and in 1982, earned a full-time, carrier position with a dedicated route in Queens, which guaranteed him a 40-hour work week and with it, financial security. DiGaetano also served as a union representative and a union delegate, fighting to secure better benefits and pay for himself and his colleagues.
Between him and his wife, who worked as a nurse, DiGaetano said they were able to move into the middle class by the 1990s. “We had a house on Long Island, we had two children, we were able to send both of them to college, and both of them graduated,” he said. “It was the classic American success story, so to speak.”
By the time DiGaetano retired in 2004, he was making what he described as a “good salary.” In the years since, he’s been earning a pension that’s equal to more than half of his end salary. “I’ve been able to live pretty well on that for the last 16 years,” he said.
Now a 71-year-old retiree living in Stuart, Florida, DiGaetano is nervous about what the future holds for the Postal Service—not for himself, but for current and future postal workers.
The War on the Post Office
The USPS has long been a target of the conservative war on government, and the Republican Party has long been open about its desire to privatize the national mail delivery service, which is legally mandated by the U.S. Constitution. But under President Donald Trump, the GOP’s criticisms of the agency have accelerated. Trump has spent three and a half years attacking the overwhelmingly popular agency, calling it a “loser” and spouting baseless conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots being fraudulent—an allegation for which there is no evidence—to try and justify his 2016 popular vote loss.
In recent months, Trump has escalated his attacks on mail-in voting and refused to provide coronavirus relief funding for the Postal Service. Earlier this month, the president openly admitted he was refusing to fund the agency because he didn’t want it to be able to handle mail-in ballots for November’s election.
Amid Trump’s efforts to cast doubt around the integrity of vote by mail, the USPS Board of Governors, most of whom were appointed by Trump, installed a longtime Republican donor and Trump ally as the new postmaster general. Under Louis DeJoy, cost-cutting measures such as reducing service, banning overtime for carriers, and removing mail-sorting machines and public collection boxes have led to massive delays in mail delivery. The slowdown has hurt small businesses, prevented military veterans from receiving necessary prescription drugs, resulted in the deaths of thousands of animals, and now imperil November’s election, when about 80 million Americans are expected to vote by mail.
The turmoil could also do lasting damage to the reputation of the beloved agency, which as of May, was viewed favorably by an astonishing 91% of Americans, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.
“It’s the one service that people kind of identify with. They see the guy coming around with the little truck, walking the street in the cities … They identify with that. That’s the government to them,” DiGaetano said. “For a lot of people, that’s the U.S. Government as far as visibility goes.”
Facing public pressure from Democrats, and even a few Republicans, DeJoy reversed course last week, announcing he would delay changes to the agency’s operations until after the November elections. But on Thursday VICE News reported that just hours after the reversal, the director of USPS’ maintenance operations ordered managers across the country not to reconnect or reinstall previously disconnected sorting machines.
Testifying before the Senate on Friday, DeJoy defended many of his changes as necessary for the agency’s long-term financial health and refused to replace the hundreds of mailboxes and mail-sorting machines that had been removed.
DeJoy also said he was “extremely, highly confident” the Postal Service could handle the enormous number of vote-by-mail ballots this fall, adding that USPS would prioritize election mail. He also rejected the allegation that he was trying to slow ballot delivery to help Trump, calling it “outrageous.”
The Failure to Fund the USPS Affects Workers
DiGaetano, who dismissed DeJoy as a “crony” of the Trump administration, was also critical of the changes and the federal government’s “infuriating” failure to fund the USPS. Even though he no longer works for the agency, he’s worried that these attacks and the failure to provide appropriate support for the Postal Service will harm its 669,000 employees.
If the federal government fails to fund the Postal Service, it could force massive cuts to the agency’s workforce, which is already projected to decline in size by 21% by 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Such an outcome would be particularly devastating for people of color, who make up a disproportionate share of the Postal Service’s workforce, according to Census Bureau data from 2018.
More than one in four (27%) USPS employees are Black, 11% are Hispanic, and 8% are Asian. For Black Americans in particular, the Postal Service has long provided a ticket to the middle class that might not otherwise exist.
The agency also employs more than 100,000 military veterans, compromising 16% of its workforce. Veterans represent only 5.8% of all employed Americans, according to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
DiGaetano, who served in the Army reserves for nine years during the Vietnam War, expressed particular concern about what might happen to older postal workers who are veterans if the agency suffered massive cuts, was privatized, or worse yet, dismantled.
“A lot of them are at the point where they’re near-retirement age and they’re getting to the point where they can start seeing that they’re going to be able to retire and planning to that point,” he said. “But to have the prospect of there maybe not being a Postal Service there—it’s scary.”
DiGaetano remained hopeful that things would work out, but also acknowledged that his ticket to the middle class might no longer exist for others.
“Let’s just hope that the people that are working now and have been working hard and trying to plan for the future can have a future,” he said.