On June 20, 2023, Eugene “Gino” Gates collapsed on the lawn of a house in an affluent Dallas, Texas, neighborhood and died. The 66-year-old military veteran was a mail carrier who died of heatstroke while on his route. A homeowner attempted CPR but failed to revive him. Gates’ body temperature at death was 104.6 degrees, and the temperature in Dallas that day was a humid 98 degrees.
The Texas Observer and The Nation reported on the aftermath and “found that in the months following Gates’ death, US [Postal Service] seems to have gone back to business as usual.” That meant letter carriers were still pressured to work faster, log overtime, and not take breaks despite the record-breaking heat of the summer of 2023. They also found that the USPS “continues to violate the standards of its own Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP)—some mail carriers say they have not yet completed training for this program, which would violate the standards of the USPS own HIPP.”
What’s more, the investigation found allegations that in Texas, USPS officials were falsifying records to show that carriers had completed the training when they had not. And it’s not just Texas, according to Politico’s E&E News, which conducted a three-month nationwide investigation “involving hundreds of pages of internal union documents and federal workplace complaints and in interviews with 18 carriers, union officials and experts.”
Gates was one of those carriers who didn’t receive the training, which is intended to alert workers to the signs of heat illness, how to prevent it, and what to do if they start feeling ill. His widow, Carla, along with leaders of the National Association of Letter Carriers, told E&E News that the USPS falsified his records as well, saying he had received the training when he had not. He had also been reprimanded by management just weeks before his death for taking too long to complete his route.
His widow didn’t know about the reprimand at the time of his death but believes that was a factor because he was a veteran, and he was going to follow orders. “Any human being, if they were written up for something, would push themselves after that,” she said. “They should have prepared him for being out there.”
E&E found this pattern in “at least 10 states, including Texas, New Jersey, Utah and Illinois,” with workers not receiving the training and their records being falsified to say that they had. “In Chicago alone, the union alleges postal managers have falsified records of more than 2,000 couriers, pointing to what mail carriers describe as an epidemic of policy violations at a time when global temperatures are soaring,” E&E found. In at least three cases, local officials have admitted that they doctored the records.
E&E also found nearly a decade’s worth of OSHA citations related to heat illness, citations the USPS has been fighting. For example, in a 2016 incident, they hired an expert witness to argue that one carrier’s excess sweating was “not in any way” related to work and his supervisors weren’t at fault for not securing his safety
Meanwhile, in May, the USPS began using trackers in some areas to monitor carriers on their routes, track their movements, and make sure they keep the pace up. This summer, an OSHA inspector in Minnesota reported that while management was telling carriers to take breaks as needed, the carriers said, “[I]t was frowned upon if they did not finish their route,” because their supervisors were under pressure about “numbers and completion of routes daily.”
This is pressure coming from the top, from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy—who should not still be in this job—to deliver faster. Just 10 days after Gino Gates died, supervisors at the Oak Lawn Post Office in Dallas sent out this message to carriers via the scanners they have to carry: “BEAT THE HEAT!!! NO STATIONARY EVENTS,” it said. “KEEP IT MOVING!”
Congress needs to investigate this national problem, and to put the USPS on notice that protecting carrier safety is paramount before the next record-breaking summer heat.
And DeJoy still needs to go.
It’s not every day that the House expels one of its own, so of course we’re talking about George Santos getting the boot on this week’s episode of The Downballot. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard discuss the deep fracture inside the GOP that the expulsion vote, then handicap the special election to replace Congress’ newest ex-member. They also dive into the absolutely wild New York Times report detailing how former Rep. Tom Suozzi had to grovel before Gov. Kathy Hochul to earn her approval to run in that February election.