Mail sorting equipment being “removed” from post offices, leaving mail to “pile up”: union leader

A union chief says the changes, which have been more drastic than people realize, are costing more money — not less

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 12, 2020 11:22AM (EDT)

Mailed-in ballots sit in US Postal Service bins inside the office (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
Mailed-in ballots sit in US Postal Service bins inside the office (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

Mail sorting equipment is being removed from U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offices amid a slew of operational changes implemented by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, according to the head of the Iowa Postal Workers Union.

Numerous reports have detailed how changes made by DeJoy, a top donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, have cut overtime and changed policies, which have slowed down mail delivery across the country. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week that DeJoy had "confirmed that contrary to prior denials and statements minimizing these changes, the Postal Service recently instituted operational changes" shortly after he assumed office.

"We believe these changes, made during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, now threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans," they wrote in a letter to DeJoy, calling the cost-cutting measures "counterproductive and unacceptable."

The USPS, which underwent a controversial staff shake-up after DeJoy took over, recently advanced a proposal that would nearly triple states' postage costs for mail-in ballots and is also reportedly planning service cuts. But Kimberly Karol, the head of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, told NPR that there have been even more changes than previously reported.

"We are beginning to see those changes and how it is impacting the mail. Mail is beginning to pile up in our offices, and we're seeing equipment being removed," she said on Tuesday. "So we are beginning to see the impact of those changes."

"Curious," exclaimed host Noel King, "I hadn't heard about this one. Equipment being removed. What equipment?"

"The sorting equipment that we use to process mail for delivery," said Karol, who is also a postal clerk. "In Iowa, we are losing machines . . . so that also hinders our ability to process mail in the way that we had in the past."

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told Salon that the equipment removal was among actions the agency was taking "focused on increasing operational efficiency."

DeJoy, who took over the cash-strapped agency in June, said the USPS was "vigorously focusing on the ingrained inefficiencies in our operations" in a Friday statement.

"By running our operations on time and on schedule, and by not incurring unnecessary overtime or other costs, we will enhance our ability to be sustainable and to be able to continue to provide high-quality, affordable service," he said, adding that the agency would "aggressively monitor and quickly address service issues."

DeJoy said the operational changes were "necessary" given the cash crunch.

"This realignment will strengthen the Postal Service by enabling us to identify new opportunities to generate revenue, so that we will have additional financial resources to be able to continue to fulfill our universal service obligation to all of America," he said.

Karol said DeJoy's changes have alarmed postal workers "all across the country."

"His policies — although they've only been in place for a few weeks — are now affecting the way that we do business and not allowing us to deliver every piece every day as we've done in the past," she said.

She also disputed that the changes were cost-cutting measures.

"I don't see this as cost-saving measures. I see this to undermine the public confidence in the mail service," she said. "It's not saving us. We are spending more time trying to implement changes, and in our office, it's costing more overtime."

Democrats included $25 billion to help the USPS in their coronavirus relief proposal in May, but Trump and Senate Republicans have balked at providing additional funding. Democrats have accused Trump and DeJoy of trying to "sabotage" the mail service ahead of an expected surge in mail voting in November's election, which the USPS has adamantly denied.

Democrats called on the USPS inspector general's office to review changes made during DeJoy's tenure, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the committee which oversees the agency, launched his own probe, too.

Despite her concerns about the mail slowdown, Karol expressed optimism that the USPS was prepared to handle the expected increase in mail-in ballots.

"The Postal Service has been in place for over 200 years. We have a history of being able to process mail, and we've been developing and perfecting our methods for all that time," she told NPR. "So although the postmaster general is taking actions that are starting to impact that, by having that preparation in advance of this election, we still have the system that will do that."

But she warned that the agency's leaders were trying to "circumvent the rules that have been set in place to safeguard the public by making changes that don't require public comment but have the same impact as closing offices and changing delivery standards."

"So this is a way to avoid that kind of public comment. So we are trying to make sure that the public understands that they need to make comment," she said. "We are trying to activate people all across the country and notify the public."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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