As Wildfires Blaze Across California, Postal Workers Stand Together to Get the Job Done
(This article first appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
Devastating natural disasters struck the U.S. again. Thousands of people were affected, including APWU members. In October, wildfires destroyed over 245,000 acres of land, 55,000 homes – at least three belonging to APWU members – and took over 40 lives across northern California. The fires mercilessly burned across Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties. As this issue went to press in December, ravenous fires had broken out across the southern part of the state.
‘We Got the Job Done’
Redwood Empire Area Local Executive Vice President Valerie Schropp said as the fires broke out, all postal operations moved to the North Bay Plant in Petaluma. She said the area her local covers, which includes 95 post offices, was totally evacuated for about four days.
Although the plant in Petaluma was 20 to 30 miles away from the fire, when workers “walked into the plant, it was hazy because of all the smoke,” Schropp said, adding that their “eyes were burning because of all the ash.”
Special N65 face masks were handed out to protect workers while sorting mail. Pallets of bottled water and food were also brought in. “It was quite an operation,” Schropp said.
Since the southern part of Santa Rosa remained untouched, postal services slowly moved back to the carrier annex there. At times, more than 100 people were waiting in line, trying to find out where their mail was.
“Every day they had the mail stacked up. We had to try to get it together, so when someone came in, they would get all of their mail at once, instead of some of it,” explained Redwood Empire Area Local President David Swaney. “It was an effort by everybody to get the mail out…It’s been a hassle.”
Schropp added, “Post office operations were all messed up, but we got the job done.”
‘Community Comes Together’
Schropp said three APWU members living in Santa Rosa have not been able to return to work because they lost their home.
Schropp said due to astronomically high housing costs, one member had to live in a parking lot for the first few days. The Redwood Empire Area Local donated a $2,000 check to each member who lost their home. “Because it’s such a high cost area to live in, more than anything they just need cash,” she said.
Schropp recalled handing one member who lost her home a check, who told her, “I can get new shoes now.” When Schropp looked down, she saw the mem- ber was only wearing slippers.
“It’s all very traumatic. The fires were so hot, there are people who had fireproof safes guaranteed to burn for four hours, and those safes completely melted…they are having a hard time finding anything [in the wreckage],” Schropp said.
Members who lost homes are also eligible for relief from the APWU National’s Disaster Relief Fund.
Swaney said that even after the fires were put out, air quality was bad “for days and days.
“It’s going to be years before it gets back to normal,” he said. “People were burned out of their homes and will still be out for a couple of years because they have to rebuild. It’s a big mess.”