Workers told “nothing” will change despite Louis DeJoy’s vow to stop removing machines: union leader

"Employees were told that...nothing was going to change in our office,” Iowa union chief Kimberly Karol tells Salon

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 20, 2020 3:45PM (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)

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's vow to suspend operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is not expected to affect the ongoing mail slowdown, according to lawmakers and union leaders.

Postal workers were told one day after the announcement that "nothing" would change, Kimberly Karol, the president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, told Salon.

DeJoy has "no intention" of returning mail sorting machines or rolling back other operational changes at the USPS in spite of his pause on further changes ahead of Election Day, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday.

DeJoy, a top donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, is set to appear before Congress to testify about changes under his leadership which have slowed mail deliveries across the country. Mail sorting machines were inexplicably removed from post offices in numerous states, and the agency also began removing mail collection boxes before DeJoy announced this week that further changes would be suspended through November "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail." But DeJoy's "misleading" announcement was "not a solution," Pelosi said in a statement after meeting with the postmaster general.

"The postmaster general's alleged pause is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked," she said. "The postmaster general frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works."

Pelosi said the changes which have already been implemented "directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color." She also expressed concern that "the slowdown of the delivery of medicines to veterans is not being sufficiently addressed."

The USPS planned to remove roughly 15% of all mail-sorting machines, or about 502 in total, before DeJoy's announcement, according to Vice News. Despite the pause, 95% of mail-sorting machines slated for removal were already scheduled to be removed by August, according to CNN.

"The machines are important, because they are workhorse for processing letter mail . . . That's a lot of mail," Karol said. "Without these machines, we're not able to get that mail sorted efficiently and reliably."

It remains unclear how many machines have been removed at this point. About 40% of mail-sorting machines, or 23 in total, have been removed in the Seattle area. At least a dozen machines have been removed in Massachusetts, according to postal workers. There have also been reports of machines being removed in Maine, Michigan and Oregon.

Karol said DeJoy's announcement "did not" change anything.

"Locally, the announcement came on Tuesday," she said. "And on Wednesday — at the beginning of the day, the employees were told that we were not going to be seeing a change. That we're going to continue the pilot program — and nothing was going to change in our office. We'd already been impacted by that — the changes that were put in place."

The pause was prompted by public pressure, Karol said. One day later, "we were told that they were going to cancel the pilot program," and "there is some indication that they might be putting machinery back into the building."

However, the machines in Iowa were "in some cases left out in the open, where the weather is going to impact the ability of the machine to be able to continue to operate," Karol continued. "So it's my understanding that they don't intend to replace these machines."

"It's possible," she added, "but we don't have any indication that that's going to be operational again."

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer did not respond to Salon's questions about how many such machines have been removed. Partenheimer referred Salon to DeJoy's statement announcing the pre-election pause, adding that the postmaster general would have more to say on the issue in his appearances before Congress.

DeJoy said in the aforementioned statement that some of the changes "predate my arrival" at the USPS. He vowed that the agency was "ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall."

Attorneys general from 20 states filed a federal lawsuit against DeJoy over changes at the USPS this week ahead of his announcement. About 100 Democratic lawmakers have called for DeJoy to be removed, writing to the USPS Board of Governors that he "has already done considerable damage to the institution, and we believe his conflicts of interest are insurmountable."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, told The New York Times that the changes have caused delays for people awaiting medication, and the state found evidence of mail being left in boxes and trucks due to reductions in overtime. He said the state's lawsuit against DeJoy would move forward until the postmaster general agreed to roll back all changes which have caused delays.

"I want to see evidence and binding agreements that roll back the illegal changes they've already made and concrete commitments to not make any other changes going forward that don't go through the regulatory process," he said.

Karol said her union has been vocal about the issue, because the moves "appeared to be a change in service standards without going through the regulatory process for making changes to delivery standards."

"There are rules that we have to follow in order to change delivery standards," she said. "Anything that might affect the public has to be presented to the public, and this was not happening."

Karol point to the inexperience of DeJoy, who took over the agency despite no experience at the USPS.

"It was not well thought-out, and probably if Mr. DeJoy had some experience in the Postal Service, this may have been done better — differently," she said. "But the end goal was exactly what happened."

The only reason that DeJoy made his announcement — and the only way to press the agency to go further — is through increased public pressure, Karol said. She acknowledged "how grateful we are" for the American public's support and pushback.

"It's really because of the public" that the changes have been paused, she said. "It's wonderful to see Democracy in action in this way."

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.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Kimberly Karol Louis Dejoy Nancy Pelosi Politics Reporting Republicans Usps Voting By Mail