Opinion: Berating postal workers during the coronavirus pandemic accomplishes nothing

Although a lesson in kindness may seem trivial during a global pandemic, treating essential workers with respect is the least all of us can do.


Katie Goodale

A new mural is seen on the side of Hothouse Yoga on June 22, 2019.

Charles Peckman, Senior Reporter

Of the few businesses that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Postal Service has certainly been living up to its unofficial motto, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

On a recent, arid Wednesday afternoon, I stood in line at the Iowa City Post Office with three small boxes in hand. Much to my dismay, the self-service kiosk had a line four people deep, and the traffic cones denoting six-foot social distancing parameters were wrapped around the glass and wood veneer service counter like a real-life version of Mouse Trap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a middle-aged man – who was about 5’5”, bald, and clad in a black tracksuit – berating a postal worker. The problem, as I understood it, was that he had purchased shipping labels from eBay but could not print them out at the Post Office.

“I don’t know what you people don’t understand,” he said. “I purchased these labels online from the United States POSTAL SERVICE and you’re saying I can’t print them out here? I am so f***ing upset. Where is your manager.”

Upon the manager’s arrival, she tried her best to stop the bald man from yelling. Eventually, she offered to print the labels from the personal staff printer in the break room. This seemed to be to the man’s liking, and he sulked out of the store mumbling under his breath.

As if the Post Office suddenly became the setting of a coronavirus-themed Mamet play, enter “angry man number two” from stage left. Waving a manila envelope – and screaming from behind a paisley bandana – the second happy customer had one simple question for the staff: “what kind of idiots do you employ here?”

“This envelope clearly says DO NOT BEND,” the second man yelled. “I don’t know who you hire here, but can any of them READ?”

For a brief moment, I felt unsafe in the presence of these two men – this feeling, however, quickly dissipated as I realized one simple fact: when faced with weeks of social distancing and isolation, people of a certain persuasion are just looking for someone to yell at. This thought was shared by the clerk who checked me out, who added “you’d think that people would just be happy to get out of the house.”

As an essential business, the Post Office will remain open unless the COVID-19 pandemic worsens exponentially. Although the Iowa City location – not to mention Post Offices across the country – continue to see a steady stream of shippers (after all, e-commerce cannot close,) President Donald Trump said that the service must raise its prices before aid is given to the institution.

“The Postal Service is a joke,” Trump said during the April 24 signing of a coronavirus relief bill. “Because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other internet companies and every time they bring a package, they lose money on it.”

Even though Trump said postal workers themselves are “fantastic,” he added that e-commerce conglomerates are taking USPS for a ride. At the heart of his statement, I agree with President Trump; Amazon is taking advantage of the Postal Service.

More important than this quarrel, however – and directly related to the two angry men – is the fact that American consumers have become accustomed to instantaneous shipping and dystopian levels of compliant customer service.

Think about it for a moment: when you hit the ‘order’ button on Amazon and your fluffy slippers arrive two days later – for free – how many people had to work day and night for your product to get from point a to point b?

A lesson in kindness, or more specifically in basic human decency, may seem trivial during a global pandemic. Although millions are out of a job and infection projections continue to fluctuate, keep in mind that postal workers – among other essential employees – are merely doing their best given these unprecedented circumstances.