By Sheri Williams
Following public outcry about attacks on the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, announced that he would halt any further changes to the service until after the Nov. 3 election.
While the reprieve was welcome news, unions across the country continue to sound the alarm about the need to protect the Postal Service with elections looming and the coronavirus making mail-in ballots critical to protect the health of all Americans.
However, according to many postal workers, the USPS and the critical services it provides remain in peril.
In recent weeks, letter collection boxes have been taken off streets. Operating hours at post offices have been reduced. Mail is being delivered at a slower rates and fears about voter disenfranchisement continue to grow.
In addition, many local offices have seen the removal of mail-sorting machines, and it is unclear if they will be replaced.
Under DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser who assumed the role of postmaster general in May, the U.S. Postal Service has been undergoing a major overhaul in a purported effort to save money. This includes removing 671 mail-sorting machines, or about 10% of its total, from facilities across the U.S. In California, 76 machines have been removed.
DeJoy’s cost-cutting also involves a reduction in overtime for employees and a disingenuous crackdown on workers making late delivery trips in an effort to get the mail out as quickly as possible, but with less efficiency.
The cuts have had a major impact in California, where people have seen delayed delivery of critical items such as prescriptions and unemployment checks. Some have said they have gone days without receiving any mail.
Omar Gonzalez, the Western regional coordinator for the American Postal Workers Union, told media that at least five high-speed mail-sorting machines were removed from a processing plant in Sacramento. Two machines were removed in Santa Ana and six in San Diego, Gonzalez said.
Each machine can process up to 35,000 pieces of mail per hour, including mail-in ballots.
“A lot of the machinery has already been gutted,” Gonzalez said to media. “Some of it has been dismantled and relocated or trashed. Although we welcome the news of the suspension of these changes, it’s just that — a suspension. The attacks and undermining of our operations will resume, maybe at the worst possible time, in December, our peak season.”
DeJoy on Aug. 18 released a statement that he is expanding a taskforce to enhance coordination with state and local election officials and better manage mail-in ballots. “Leaders of our postal unions and management associations have committed to joining this taskforce to ensure strong coordination throughout our organization,” it said.
The postal service previously had informed 46 states, including California, that some ballots might not be delivered in time to be counted.
Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this summer signed a law requiring that all ballots postmarked by election day and delivered by Nov. 20 be counted, an extension of the time that was previously allowed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has been outspoken on this issue, said she has communicated with DeJoy. She said he did not intend to restore the sorting machines that had been removed.