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The U.S. Postal Service has been in the spotlight this year as millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But actions by the Trump administration to cut into funding to the Postal Service has drawn scrutiny and raised questions about whether voters can be sure their ballot will get where it needs to be on time. KUNM caught up with Ken Fajardo, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Local 380, Albuquerque.
KUNM: So, postal workers have a job that's important every day. But right now, there's a lot of pressure on post offices. It kind of seems like our democracy is counting on you all. How does that feel for yourself and the people you work with?
KEN FAJARDO: It's very gratifying. Postal workers are very conscientious and very proud of the work that we do. Not that we're in it for the recognition, but it's nice to be recognized. We're up to the challenge. We do it every election.
KUNM: And it's something where people have not really, you know, paid attention to that in years past. People have been voting by mail for decades now. I think that's something with 2020, we're recognizing how important some of the things we take for granted are. Is that kind of the feeling that you and your colleagues are having?
FAJARDO: The spotlight is on the Postal Service. We do this year in, year out, day in, day out. We always get the job done.
KUNM: Now, how can we voters help you all out in completing this very important task?
FAJARDO: My recommendation: Request the application for a ballot as early as possible. Once you receive the application, send it out as soon as you get it. And once you receive the ballot, get it in the mail as soon as possible. Do not wait til the last day, because at that point, your vote may be in jeopardy.
KUNM: Do not waste any time. Earlier in the summer, when there were changes made at the Postal Service, one of the things that was talked about was the disassembling of mail sorting machines. And come to find that one was removed from Albuquerque. Why did that happen?
FAJARDO: They did it according to the postmaster general to cut costs. But I think the timing of the removal of the machines has to be called into question. We were earmarked to lose an additional three on top of that, but they have since pulled back.
KUNM: So what does this mean for postal workers right now? What extra burden does that put on you?
FAJARDO: Like I said, we're up to the challenge. But we need the tools, the resources to get the job done. If you're pulling out these machines, that's one less machine that we have the capacity to run the mail that needs to be run.
It's not uncommon to have a machine that's not utilized. But these are very high-tech machines, and they tend to break down on occasion. Sometimes it takes a while to get them up and running again. So it's good to have that backup.
KUNM: And your fear that this one particular backup is being taken down, so given the flood of extra mail that you're expecting in the coming weeks, having this backup down is potentially going to slow down the process of doing what you all do every day.
FAJARDO: The potential is there.
KUNM: Do you have any worries at all about this election season?
FAJARDO: You know if you would have asked me that a month and a half ago, Yeah, without a doubt. But postal management, the powers that be up in D.C., they're now putting the emphasis where it needs to be, which is the elections. It's a priority. Just the fact that they pulled back on their agenda to pull out machines puts us in a better position. Granted, we did lose that one machine, but it's better than losing four machines.
KUNM: Now, the president is saying that there will be voter fraud because so many people are using absentee ballots. What's the post office’s role in making sure that that doesn't happen?
FAJARDO: The post office takes the elections very seriously. We have managers that are working very closely with the county clerks to ensure that there is no fraud or delays in mail. Election mail is basically put at the top in order to expedite it. That is taken very seriously.
As for fraud. I'm not aware of any fraud going on.
KUNM: How do you think your colleagues are holding up? I know you are ready to take the challenge and to do this job that you've been doing every day.
FAJARDO: We lean on each other. And it has been a very stressful year. In light of the pandemic, we've been dealing with package volume equivalent to Christmas time. So this is basically like Christmas on steroids for the last eight months.
This interview originally aired as part of Sunday’s episode of our show No More Normal, which is all about voting rights. Full episode below.