South Texas lawmakers demand better work conditions for mail carriers

SAN ANTONIO – South Texas lawmakers want to ensure mail carriers can take necessary breaks from the heat without retaliation.

In a recent letter to the postmaster general, they also asked mail carriers to be able to pick up water bottles without penalty.

Twenty-year mail carrier Homer Hernandez said the only way he can describe the current work conditions is: “it’s damn hot.”

Last month, the US Postal Service stopped providing bottled water and returned to water fountains, given the ending of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Only problem with that is, is they haven’t maintained the drinking fountains the way they’re supposed to be,” said Louise Jordan, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Alamo Branch.

Hernandez added, “Actually, at my station, at Dobie station off of East Houston, we don’t have a water fountain working.”

Louise Jordan said stopping for water on the shift isn’t the issue, but choosing between hydrating and staying on schedule is.

“There have been threats that there could be discipline if they deviate,” said Jordan.

Hernandez adds, “If you dont make your timelines, they’re going to get after you one way or another.”

In a statement sent to KSAT, USPS said potable water is available to employees. It goes on to say they also have a heat illness prevention plan that includes posters and stickers to remind employees about the signs of heat-related illness, along with required heat safety training.

“There is now a national grievance because they paper whipped a lot of that training, and it actually did not happen with the carries,” said Jordan.

We followed up with the postal service on the allegations about falsifying training hours and the lack of maintenance on water fountains.

In an email, a spokeswoman told us the USPS had no comment.

The letter sent by lawmakers includes Greg Casar, Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar, and Tony Gonzales. The full letter is below:

“Today, San Antonio Representatives Greg Casar (TX-35), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), and Tony Gonzales (TX-23) are calling on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to resume providing water for letter carriers on their routes. According to San Antonio letter carriers, the USPS had previously provided water bottles, but then stopped during this summer’s historic heat wave. The Members of Congress ask the USPS to reverse this needless decision.

The members released a letter today urging USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the San Antonio Postmaster to “immediately create a plan to ensure letter carriers have access to cold water and are safe while on their routes.”

Earlier this summer, a Dallas letter carrier named Eugene Gates Jr., 56, collapsed while delivering the mail and died as the heat index reached 115 degrees. Reps. Casar, Castro, Cuellar, and Gonzales also recently sent another letter to the Postmaster General asking for air conditioned vehicles to be sent to San Antonio USPS workers, because the current vehicles can reach over 110 degrees without A/C.

“San Antonio’s working families deserve to be safe in this heat wave, including the men and women who provide the vital service of delivering the mail six days a week,” said Congressman Greg Casar (D-Texas). “Why would USPS choose to make it harder for workers to get a drink of cold water on a 105 degree day? When San Antonians need a package delivered, or when we need medicine shipped, we can count on our letter carriers to deliver in support of our community. The least USPS can do is make sure that no letter carrier suffers heat stroke while they provide this vital service. Every single worker deserves the right to a basic water break.”

“San Antonio’s letter carriers are dedicated public servants who keep our city connected, but they can’t do their jobs safely in record-breaking heat without cold water to keep them hydrated,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). “USPS must ensure that all workers have access to drinkable water without penalties. Every San Antonian deserves the basic right to a water break.”

“South Texas letter carriers work in the grueling Texas heat to deliver for our community. We must ensure they stay healthy and hydrated amidst triple digit temperatures that threaten heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). “I applaud my colleagues, Congressmen Casar, Castro, and Gonzales, for joining me in fighting for our letter carriers.”

“I have worked for the Post Office for 20 years, and USPS has been providing bottled water during the summer months. On July 14, 2023, management were told to stop ordering bottled water, Gatorade, and canteens,” said Homer Hernandez, Political Director of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Alamo Branch 421. “We, the letter carriers, work outside for about eight to 10 hours in the extreme heat. All we ask is to continue to provide bottled water, and to stop intimidating and harassing letter carriers when taking rest breaks. We have had some letter carriers fall out due to the extreme heat, as record breaking daily temperatures reach 103 degrees and higher.”

Several San Antonio letter carriers shared the following quotes anonymously for fear of retaliation:

“I have worked for the post office for 30 years, and I’m coming to the end of my service to the American public as a city letter carrier. Postal management has absolutely no concern for my well-being – my postal truck reaches temperatures of 130 degrees inside. I feel defeated, concerned, and afraid of how the lack of water and extreme conditions I’m required to work in are going to shorten my lifespan or affect my quality of life.”

“I have been a city letter carrier for 23 years, and the weather has been extremely hot for the last few weeks. Management used to provide us with bottled water, and suddenly they just stopped when we letter carriers needed it the most. Temperatures are now going over 105 degrees.”

“In the past, we used to get water in the station. But since the summer began, there has not been a single bottle of water. The summer weather is so hot, to the extent that some of my coworkers feel drowsy, including me.”

The letter urges DeJoy to create a plan to ensure that letter carriers are permitted to:

  • Take necessary breaks from the heat without retaliation.
  • Access cold water without having to pay out of pocket.
  • Visit a store or return to the station to pick up water bottles without penalty.

“Letter carriers provide an essential service to our community and do so with diligence and determination,” the members wrote. “They deserve the resources that they need to do their job safely. We strongly encourage you to reverse your recent decision to cut water bottles for San Antonio letter carriers.”

The letter can be viewed here.

About the Authors:

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.