Postmaster Backs Down; Ryan, Postal Workers Speak Out

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Planned operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service have been put on hold, but U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan still wants to hear from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about his proposals.

DeJoy has been under fire over announced cost-cutting measures that critics charge would curtail the Postal Service’s operations in the run-up to a Nov. 3 general election, which is expected to heavily depend on vote-by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 20 Democratic attorneys general were making plans to fight the changes in court before DeJoy announced Wednesday he was pausing those plans until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” DeJoy is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate this week and the House of Representatives next week.

DeJoy also said overtime would continue to be approved “as needed” and he would expand the service’s leadership task force on election mail to enhance its “ongoing work” with state and local elections officials. Additionally, he pledged to engage standby resources “in all areas” of the Postal Service’s operations “to satisfy any unforeseen demand” on the system.

The postmaster general has been under bipartisan pressure in recent days. Last week, the entire Senate Democratic caucus, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, called on him to provide answers regarding the proposed changes. This week, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, joined Ohio Republicans in a letter to DeJoy calling on the Postal Service to implement procedures, in collaboration with the state of Ohio, “to ensure the timely and accurate delivery of election-related materials” before the November election.

“I’m glad to see the postmaster general has finally listened to the voices of the American people and our postal workers and letter carriers,” Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said. “However, we must remain vigilant and demand Mr. DeJoy’s testimony and cooperation with the Congress moving forward.”

DeJoy’s announcement came just hours after Ryan held a news conference Friday in front of the main post office downtown, joined by about two dozen active and retired postal workers. There the congressman and others criticized the proposed operational changes, some of which already have been implemented.

Protesters gathered outside of the USPS office downtown to address changes being implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

Part of the problem is the recommendations were made based on a study of postal operations during the pandemic, when mail volume was down 30%, said Jim Varner, motor vehicle craft director for American Postal Workers Union Local 443. The unit represents nearly 300 postal truck drivers and mechanics in a five-county region.

Local mail already is delayed because it is now shipped to Cleveland for sorting when it is collected and sent back to the downtown processing operation for distribution to the local post offices. Changes such as decommissioning of equipment and curtailing overtime will lead to mail being left behind before trucks go out, exacerbating those delays.

On orders from DeJoy, bar code readers were extracted from two of the seven letter-processing machines at the Youngstown branch, Varner reported.

“They basically took the eyes out of the machines so that they can no longer be used,” he said. Losing their capacity will slow processing speed in Youngstown by 30%, which could present a problem if there is heavy mail-in voting close to the election, he warned.

Some critics of the changes believe they were intended to help President Donald Trump in his re-election campaign. Trump has criticized mail-in voting as contributing to election fraud, though he has offered no evidence of that, and has opposed efforts to provide the Postal Service with additional funds to assist with the expected increase in mail-in voting.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to call the U.S. House of Representatives back into session to vote on a bill that would provide $25 billion to the Postal Service and block the planned operational changes.

There is “no evidence” that more Democrats than Republicans would utilize mail-in ballots, Ryan said.

“It is irresponsible for the president to cast doubt and aspersions on the Postal Service and their ability to be able to process this,” he said. “To inject chaos into the election, it is very, very irresponsible.”

At the news conference, he called for addressing the many issues facing the Postal Service at some point after the election. “This is no time to work the kinks out,” he remarked.

Hearing the stories about what is going on now at the post office and what is being planned concerns Marian Wilson, who worked in management at the downtown post office for 28 years before retiring in 2008, she said.

“We were never allowed to leave one piece of first class mail,” she recalled. “When I was here, if we left one piece of first class mail we had to report that to Cleveland.”

Henry Gomez, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Local 385, and John Dyce, a Local 385 member and president of the Ohio State Association of Letter Carriers, both attested to the ability of their members to carry out the job, even with the potential increased volume created by mail-in ballots

“Absolutely. We’ve been doing it since our inception,” Dyce said. “It’s not a problem of capacity. It’s a problem of the policy that’s going on right now. We handle some 500 million packages a day.”

Postal Service employees also handle the holiday season influx of cards with no problem, he said.

“We pretty much haven’t skipped a beat here in Youngstown,” Gomez said.

“As far as the election mail goes, we’ve been doing that for years,” he added.

Ryan also threw his support behind expanded use of drop-off boxes, a subject of recent debate in Ohio. Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered that county boards of elections could continue to utilize the single drop box at each board’s office that was authorized by state legislation earlier in the year, when the state’s primary election was moved in response to the outbreak.

In a letter to state lawmakers last week, LaRose said he was aware of no “other provision in temporary law” or the Ohio Revised Code that permitted him to install a “secure receptacle” at any location other than the county elections boards’ offices.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Everything has changed,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to preserve the elections, the most important thing to our country, so to have alternative drop boxes I don’t think is that big of a deal.”

Both Varner and Gomez said they were cautious in their optimism when they heard that DeJoy temporarily paused the planned changes.

Gomez credited bipartisan pressure from members of Congress, postal employees and, most importantly, the American public with prompting DeJoy to change his mind.

“I hope he’s true to what he’s saying,” he said.

The move was a “positive development,” Varner said, but the processing capacity at the downtown post office already has been reduced with the equipment modifications and likely will remain that way.

“They were going to do that with 600-plus machines nationwide. I don’t know how far along that was in the plans so that would be a concern,” he said.

Gomez agreed with Ryan that the system’s challenges need to be addressed.

“Clearly we do have some difficulties that need to be discussed,” he said. “Changes do need to be made, but hopefully the right changes to help us move into the future and not gut us.”

“We’re not Democrats [or] Republicans. We’re postal workers. We want to get everybody’s ballot counted,” Varner said.

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan speaks to a group of protesters Tuesday at the USPS office in downtown Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.