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USPS Workers Union: Postmaster's Policies Caused 'Irreversible Damage'

Decommissioned sorting machines sit behind a fence at Cleveland's main post office. [Tim Dubravetz / ideastream]
Decommissioned sorting machines sit behind a fence at Cleveland's main post office.

The Postmaster General on Tuesday  suspended new policies that have caused delays in mail processing and delivery. But local postal unions said the changes have already created a backlog of work.

The changes included the removal of mail sorting machines, new delivery schedules and restriction of overtime use. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a statement Tuesday saying those steps would be suspended until after the November election.

“[There] are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic,” DeJoy said. “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”

USPS will also engage “standby resources” in all areas of operation to meet demand, DeJoy said, effective Oct. 1.

“That’s good news, but it’s all irreversible damage,” said Dominic Corso, president of American Postal Workers Union Youngstown Area Local 443.

The changes already instituted have slowed down the process of sorting and delivering mail significantly, Corso told ideastream.

“A lot of that included unplugging machines and dismantling and tearing them down at one time. That’s irreversible,” Corso said.

Two sorting machines were dismantled in Youngstown, according to Corso, and the local Postal Service is facing up to 150,000 delayed pieces of mail a day. Previously, the number of delayed parcels was next to none, he said. It only takes a few days to create that kind of backlog, Corso added.

“It’s easier to keep up than to catch up, and right now the post office is playing catch-up,” Corso said. “It’s a snowball effect, and it just isn’t happening.”

The Youngstown Postal Service ran a sample mailing to test delivery times ahead of Election Day, Corso said. Mail took four days to receive the necessary postmarking reserved for ballots, he said, and took a full week to be delivered. That creates concerns for meeting the deadline for ballot returns, he said.

“This is the most horrific and terrible, devastating time ever,” Corso said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and in addition to that, there’s only a small window for the mail-in ballots to be processed and sent out.”

If DeJoy’s suspension of the changes allows for more overtime work and for more staff to come in on days off, Corso said, it could help alleviate some of the burden.

“Postal workers are very dedicated. They’re going to work very hard regardless of what conditions are thrown at them,” Corso said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) met with local Postal Service officials and union members in Youngstown and Akron Tuesday to discuss the challenges facing the Postal Service.

Conversations about how to improve USPS operations are welcome once the election is wrapped up, Ryan said.

“There’s no reason to have this discussion right now. There’s no reason to inject the chaos right now,” Ryan said. “I am happy and I’ll be there after the election to have a more comprehensive discussion.”

John Dyce, president of the Ohio State Association of Letter Carriers, appeared alongside Ryan at the Akron press conference. The Postal Service provides an essential service, Dyce said, especially to Americans in rural areas.

“Postal Service belongs to the people of this country. It is not something to be treated as a business. It is a national treasure,” Dyce said. “We should make sure that the funding is there so people can continue to communicate.”

Other state officials are discussing possible methods to ensure Ohio residents have access to mail-in ballots as boards of elections receive record-high numbers of ballot requests. Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Tuesday he plans to ask the Ohio Controlling Board to fund postage for Ohioans who wish to vote by mail.

Postage does present a barrier to some vulnerable populations in Ohio, said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

"We need to make voting for ALL no matter what party affiliation as accessible as possible, especially in the light of COVID-19,” Budish said in an emailed statement supporting LaRose’s decision. “People who might have gone to vote in person but who are vulnerable will be voting by mail.”