Union president: Slashed overtime and other changes amount to ‘intentional’ effort to weaken mail service

Written by on August 17, 2020

Union president: Slashed overtime and other changes amount to ‘intentional’ effort to weaken mail service

By Sam Dunklau, WITF

August 17, 2020

FILE PHOTO: USPS carrier Stephanie Starr pushes a mail cart from her carrier vehicle to the loading dock area of the Columbus, Ind. Post Office, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Starr said that although she is used to delivering in inclement weather, her rural route takes about two hours longer to complete when there is heavy snow. Photo |  Joel Philippsen/The Republic / AP Photo

The head of Pennsylvania’s postal workers union denounced the Trump administration’s move to scale back services and funding as an “egregious attempt to sell off” the USPS. The criticism came as Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Tom Wolf criticized President Trump’s remarks about withholding funding to prop up the agency.

Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union President Mike Stephenson represents post office clerks, maintenance and vehicle workers.

Since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took control of the USPS in May, Stephenson said workers are no longer allowed to work overtime hours, which has led to processing and delivery delays. Mail carriers are even being asked to hold mail that is not delivered by a certain time until the next day.

Stephenson said there’s also been talk of reducing Saturday hours at some post offices. He said the Trump administration’s approach is part of a years-long effort to hobble the USPS, then sell it to a private entity.

“I’ve never seen it as exaggerated as it is right now,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the past, and it created some problems, but I’ve never seen anything like what’s happened.”

Postal Service executives and the White House have denied any intentional effort to slow mail delivery, though conservative politicians have long wanted to streamline the Postal Service.

Stephenson, though, argued that post office operations are too complicated and expensive for any other business to take on.

“Nobody can take over the entire post office. There’s no business big enough. Nobody can do every door. They can’t. You know, where we make money, it covers where we don’t make money, and in the rural areas and the urban areas we lose money,” he said.

Official election mail is also no longer being prioritized, which means some of Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots may not arrive on time.

Election workers are expecting a high volume of mail-in ballots during this election cycle, and data from the US Census Bureau shows that type of voting was already popular among voters before the pandemic. Forty percent of eligible American voters cast their ballot through the mail in 2018, and Pennsylvania lawmakers took action last year to greatly expand eligibility for mail-in votes in the state.

Postal Workers Union Vice President Kevin Gallagher said even with a surge in election mail expected this fall, mail sorting machines considered “excess” are being removed from facilities across the commonwealth.

“The removal of these mail processing machines means there is no ability to handle a large volume of mail, rendering mail vote ballots being delayed by many days,” Gallagher said in an email.

If cost cutting measures keep up, both Stephenson and Gallagher said Pennsylvania residents can expect service delays well beyond then.

In response, several commonwealth politicians have criticized Trump’s position on the USPS.

Congressman Brendan Boyle (D, PA-2) tweeted against President Trump’s desire to withhold Postal Service funding, calling for any future coronavirus relief package to include funds for the organization.

Congressman Dwight Evans (D, PA-3) simply tweeted a political cartoon of a mail truck disabled by several parking boots.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, meanwhile, refrained from any direct criticism of the Trump White House and USPS executives in an emailed statement. Wolf urged Pennsylvanians to apply for mail-in ballots now to avoid anticipated delivery delays closer to Election Day.

“Our nation must do everything it can to provide a safe and fair election, and that includes ensuring the USPS has the funding and support to get ballots to voters and back to county election offices on time. Anything less should be unacceptable to all of us.”

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