Two Berkeley postal workers tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-July, significantly increasing delays in the city’s post offices, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
One employee works at the Albany post office on Solano Avenue, while the other works at the Detached Delivery Unit location on Eighth Street, according to Lisa Ortega, president of the American Postal Workers Union, or APWU, Local 47. Ortega said the offices are supposed to be cleaned daily, and are disinfected if an employee tests positive.
Ortega alleged she received a report that one office was not cleaned for a week. However, she said wearing masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines are adequate to keep workers safe.
U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Augustine Ruiz said Berkeley post offices will be following guidance provided by local public health officials. He added that he thinks the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low for employees of Berkeley post offices.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we will enhance and supplement current cleaning protocols using disinfectants across the facility,” Ruiz said in an email. “As part of our concern for the health and welfare of our employees, we continue to reinforce safe practices and provide items to keep them safe.”
These practices include providing employees with masks and gloves, distributing cleaning supplies and practicing behaviors such as social distancing, Ruiz said.
Despite this, APWU Local 47 vice president Alan Ross said he does not think that Berkeley’s post office managers are taking the disease seriously enough. Ross added that although there are safety measures in place, workers are still scared.
In one instance, he alleged that an employee thought they had COVID-19 and told their manager, who said they did not believe the employee and asked them to provide documentation in person.
“Why would you want to bring somebody up to your post office who said they have the virus to be amongst their workers with the possibility of a spread?” Ross said. “I wish the managers in Berkeley would take it more seriously and stop playing with this disease because it’s real.”
Post offices were already facing staffing shortages prior to the pandemic, Ross said, but employees self-quarantining further decreased staff. Berkeley residents have been reporting long lines and empty or entirely closed postal offices.
Amanda Coggin, who visited the North Berkeley post office July 27, said the building’s door was propped open, but there were no postal workers at the desk. Some visitors wrote messages on envelopes including, “Why closed? No explanation,” according to a tweet from Coggin.
Coggin said this experience raised concerns about voting in the November election. She added that she is worried about a lack of protection for ballots coming through the post office.
“I was a little perplexed; it felt like it was more than keeping it open for people to access P.O. boxes,” Coggin said. “It seems like the quality of service has really degraded in the last 10 years, and now it’s really acute.”