Delivery Changes Met by Media Criticism

Changes to mail processing and delivery procedures being adopted by the Postal Service have been met with criticism in the general media.  News articles frequently cite customer and labor union concerns over delays in mail delivery and fault the USPS for placing budgets ahead of service.

Many examples

Not surprisingly, the quickest to criticize the changes ordered by new PMG Louis DeJoy was The Washington Post, likely because of DeJoy’s political affiliation with the administration, itself a frequent target of the newspaper’s barbs.

“… After taking the helm at USPS, DeJoy began looking to cut costs in the name of ‘efficiency.’  Among his methods was banning the use of overtime – if you’re a mail carrier and because of a large volume of mail you can’t finish your route on your scheduled shift, you’ll just have to leave the leftovers for tomorrow.  Then things keep backing up.

“In a memo obtained by The Post, USPS workers were told, ‘One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks.’

“The inevitable result is that the service all of us receive from the Postal Service becomes slower and less reliable.  To Trump – who calls the USPS ‘a joke’ and threatened to veto any stimulus bill that helped the agency stabilize its finances – that’s a feature, not a bug.”

The Post also tied in the changes’ impact on vote-by-mail:

“Thirty-five states now either allow no-excuse absentee voting or vote entirely by mail, and during this pandemic, more people than ever will choose to avoid polling places and cast their ballot that way.  That already means that the Postal Service will have to handle more absentee requests and ballots than ever before – and Trump’s postmaster general has forbidden its workers from working overtime.

“Now here’s the kicker.  In 34 states, under current law it’s not enough that your absentee ballot be postmarked by election day.  It has to be received by election authorities by election day. …

“So imagine you get your absentee ballot and finally fill it out on Saturday, October 31st.  The next morning you drop it in the mailbox – but there’s no pickup on Sunday.  It gets picked up Monday, but your local post office is so overwhelmed with thousands of mail ballots that your ballot doesn’t get delivered to your board of elections until Wednesday, November 4th.  If you live in one of those 34 states, your vote won’t count.”

Beyond the Beltway, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News picked up the Post’s story and offered its own comments:

The Washington Post this week got hold of a memo from the postmaster general to postal workers, telling them to leave mail behind at distribution centers, if necessary, in order to stay on their delivery schedules.

“This save-it-for-tomorrow approach goes against how postal workers traditionally are trained, which is to make sure today’s mail is delivered today.  Maybe delivery people are supposed to be deterred by neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, but we always just assumed they would be carrying today’s mail when they finally made it.  The point isn’t necessary to get the mail early each day, especially if it’s yesterday’s mail, or mail from the day before, or the day before that.

“As any procrastinator can attest, once a backlog starts, it tends to grow.

“Critics say this new policy will drive away customers.  No kidding?  The Postal Service, perpetually in economic distress, already faces tough competition from private parcel delivery services. ...

“...  Even before this week’s memo, the 2020 record wasn’t good.  One day after this year’s Wisconsin primary, postal workers discovered three buckets of absentee ballots – about 1,600 in all – that were supposed to have been delivered to the nearby cities of Appleton and Oshkosh.

“Thousands more voters there claim they never received absentee ballots they had requested.  In some cases, filled-out ballots arrived at official counting sites without any postmark at all, making it impossible to know if they were mailed on time. …”

Norfolk (VA)’s WVEC-TV ran another story:

“Some Hampton Roads residents are experiencing mail delivery delays, which could be happening due to the US Postal Service cutting back on overtime hours.

“Suffolk homeowner Wulf Berg served 21 years in the United States Air Force. … Berg’s concerned about the announcement from postmaster general about cutting overtime for workers to save money due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Under this plan, mail deliveries could be delayed. 

“For Berg, this could be a problem; he tells us he lives at the end of the driver's daily route and is already experiencing major issues. … ‘You don’t cut the service and have a plan at a later date.  You need to have a plan first, and then implement the plan,’ countered Berg.

“He also questions how this delay in the mail will affect the upcoming presidential election voting process.”

The Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle reported:

“… Scattered delays in delivery appear to be occurring across the state and across the country, the apparent result of a ban on overtime and an edict from the new postmaster general that every process start and stop on time, even if work isn’t finished.

“… Two Rochester-area letter carriers, who asked not to be identified by name for fear of recrimination from management, said the effects of the new polices are showing up in this market.  Carriers at the downtown office were out past 7:30 pm Saturday, for instance, because they were doing the work of absent co-workers.  ‘They’re splitting up work among people who are here, rather than calling in workers on their day off,’ one letter carrier said.  ‘The operations plants are a mess.  There are days when the (sorting) machines don’t run,’ the carrier said. ‘And if mail coming out of the plant doesn’t make the truck, normally the truck would be held.  Under the new guidelines, the truck leaves even if the mail isn’t ready.  The mail’s held to the next day.’

“As a consequence, delivery can be late.  A colleague of the carrier reported earlier this week that there was a deluge of mail to be delivered in Webster.  Most of it had been mailed from within the town or from other nearby locations, a week earlier.”

Youngstown (OH)’s WKBN reported on local postal facilities posting notices of shortened lobby hours, attributed to USPS “steps to increase operational efficiency.” made a political connection in its report:

“... Many are concerned about the fact that Dejoy has no experience as a letter carrier, and instead, worked with the postal service as a contractor.  People are also concerned with some changes that are being made that were revealed by a veteran letter carrier in a letter to the Inspector General. …

There is also the question of Dejoy’s loyalty and whether he is committed to the success of the postal service or if he is more concerned with impressing Trump.  Despite all these concerns, it does not seem likely that Dejoy will be leaving his position unless Trump decides to fire him.  Dejoy’s exit from the position might depend on Trump seeing him as an enemy, instead of, an ally.  With the election just a few months away we will see if 

Dejoy fixes the issues with the postal service or makes them worse as millions of Americans depend on the post office when they vote.”

(The article incorrectly states that the PMG can be fired by the president; only the USPS governors can hire or fire the PMG.  Whether the governors would bow to a demand from the White House is speculative.)

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also expressed concerns over changes before the elections:

“…Yet Postal Service leaders plan implementing intentional delays in mail delivery and processing – some of which are already underway.  This simply cannot happen.  Not now, before a crucial national election.

How the Postal Service can even think about those changes right now is beyond comprehension.  It is clear changes need to come to the Postal Service – but not these changes and not now.  The delays have already started and mail is being slowed by a day or more in many parts of the country.

“… For the long term, delays in mail delivery should be among the last measures chosen to save money.”

How long the current level of publicity will continue – about the operational changes and their impact on vote-by-mail – remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful that the PMG’s statement (see page 1 of the August 3 Mailers Hub News) will do much at this point to reverse whatever criticism has been issued.

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