Postmaster general’s changes causing mail delays, USPS workers say

Postmaster general’s changes causing mail delays, USPS workers say

Workers at the United States Postal Service (USPS) say changes being implemented by recently appointed postmaster general and major Donald Trump donor Louis DeJoy are causing major delays, with mail carriers struggling to keep up.

DeJoy was appointed on 15 June, and has since made controversial changes at the USPS to cut costs, which critics argue are tactics to undermine the agency as the US president seeks re-election in November.

Trump himself has admitted to wanting to starve the postal service of funds so that mail-in voting will become difficult, as tens of millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Leading Democrats, including Barack Obama and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, have decried the moves as a threat to the election.

In July, DeJoy instructed USPS employees to leave mail behind if it delayed carriers from their routes and prohibited employees from working overtime. On 7 August, DeJoy announced a management hiring freeze and is planning to seek early retirements of non-union employees.

“Essentially, by ordering us to leave behind mail, we are being instructed to break federal law,” said Zack Finley, a city mail carrier in Midland, Texas, and local union shop steward with the National Association of Letter Carriers. “For first-class mail, there is federal law that says it must be delivered on the day it is received by the office, or have delivery attempted.”

Finley added: “By following an order to break federal law, each individual carrier assumes liability for their own action that breaks the law. Not everyone understands that, but the union does. It puts the carrier in an impossible to win situation. Obey the law and potentially lose your job or obey the order and possibly be arrested.”

He also noted conversion of non-career employees to career employees with benefits has been halted, and mail carriers are being forced out on to their routes without being given enough time to complete their office duties, leaving those tasks to gradually pile up, causing further delays.

Trump said on 13 August that he opposes providing additional funding to the USPS to make it more difficult to deliver mail-in ballots. The USPS has now warned that mail ballots in 46 states and Washington DC may not be delivered on time to be counted.

The USPS has struggled financially due to budget cuts and measures imposed by Congress.

In 2006, Congress forced the USPS to create a $72bn fund to fully pay for post-retirement healthcare costs for employees 50 years into the future, which applies to no other federal agency or corporation. Since Congress’ actions, the USPS has reduced its number of employees by about 200,000 workers to cut costs. The fund created a deficit within the USPS over the past several years, and the coronavirus pandemic has hurt the agency further amid revenue declines.

Several workers at the USPS who spoke to the Guardian requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

One in the Richmond, Virginia, area said mail carriers are being forced to come in later in the morning, and truck drivers who deliver mail to USPS stations have also had hours cut, resulting in less time to conduct deliveries and complete workloads. Mail carriers are also being forced to return to stations earlier.

“They want us out on the street by 10am and some cases want us back at 4.30pm. If you’re not back in the time they want you to return, they write you up,” said the mail carrier. “The mail is really being delayed and it’s overwhelming to the carriers.”

The mail carrier explained USPS workers are already working understaffed due to callouts and leaves requested by employees due to the pandemic, with the recent changes causing first-class mail to get out of order, and mail to pile up in stations. The carrier took two days off from work, and returned with four days’ worth of mail to try to deliver on their regular route.

“There are buckets of mail sitting, and we are only able to take out as much as we can. It’s heavy. I’m on a walking route. Just imagine having to do a whole street with 50 houses, you have 60 magazines in your arm, plus packages and your bag. It’s time-consuming,” they added.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a mail carrier explained mail and packages are piling up because there aren’t enough workers as usual to handle the mail loads.

“I’m forced to lie to customers about their mail or if their mail is coming out,” said the carrier.

A carrier outside of Chicago claimed their station has experienced occurrences where mail trucks failed to deliver post to the USPS station on time, forcing carriers to go out on routes with practically no mail.

“As part of the postmaster general’s new ‘pivot’ plan, anything that is not ready for dispatch gets held back for the next day. This is problematic for a lot of packages, because if they don’t make the truck in time, they used to just go on a later truck, but now they get held back till the next day, or the next day, or the next day, if it doesn’t make the truck,” said the mail carrier.

“Customers depend on us to get their parcels when they’re supposed to get them, and certainly not nine days after it is supposed to get there. I take pride in my job, and I’m ashamed when I have to deliver stuff like that,” the carrier added.

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