Letter Carriers union files nationwide grievance against mail slowdown scheme
Letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility in McLean, Va, July 31, 2020. The Letter Carriers union has filed a national grievance against the new postmaster's mail slowdown scheme. | J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON—The Letter Carriers union has filed a national grievance, an unusual move, against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who took over the agency, promptly fired 21-31 top staffers, and imposed shutdown actions and an overtime ban that slows the mail down.

The union’s grievance, which also demands mandated talks over DeJoy’s moves, comes just after 84 lawmakers from both parties wrote to him denouncing the shutdowns and work ban, and as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted DeJoy’s schemes in a weekend press conference via Zoom.

And Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chair of a House subcommittee that deals with postal service legislation, tweeted DeJoy’s slowdown scheme “is absolutely an attempt to interfere with the (November) election.”

“One way to suppress (mail-in) votes is to slow down delivery of the mail,” Connolly tweeted.

“NALC initiated a national-level grievance regarding the Postal Service’s unilateral implementation of the delivery initiative test called Expedited Street/Afternoon Sortation (ESAS),” union President Fredric Rolando’s formal legal filing said.

An internal USPS document the lawmakers obtained admits the result may be “mail left behind and mail left on the workroom floor or in docks” because Letter Carriers would be banned from using overtime and/or making extra trips to deliver it.

“The ESAS test raises the same fundamental issue NALC raised in previous national level disputes: Whether the Postal Service may suspend compliance with the National Agreement (the contract) or applicable regulations under the guise of conducting a ‘test.’ It remains our position that management may not unilaterally implement tests which are inconsistent with regulations outlined in handbooks and manuals without first reaching an agreement with the union,” Rolando’s filing said.

Rolando went on to explain DeJoy notified the union on July 16 that the ESAS test was scheduled to start at 400 sites nine days later. ESAS, the union said, “substantially alters delivery practices and procedures” in the Postal Service’s own handbooks for workers.

“These changes directly impact terms and conditions of employment of city letter carriers” and violate the USPS contract with the 200,000-member union, Rolando said.

The altered practices are no overtime and leaving undelivered mail to be taken to addresses the next day or the day after, further slowing down those days’ mail, too.  That got lawmakers’ attention, and drew their ire against DeJoy, a major Republican donor. Open Secrets reports he’s given $16,200 to Trump’s campaigns and another $5,000 to a Trump PAC. And he’s given almost $1 million to the national party.

The delays could not only affect delivery of vital items, such as food and medicines, but also cost consumers money by delaying bills so long people would have to pay finance charges. Some other objectors, including Mark Dimondstein, president of the Postal Workers, the other big postal union, add delays could also prevent people from successfully voting this fall.

Nonpartisan analysts estimate three-fourths of people in the U.S. are eligible to vote by mail on or before the Nov. 3 election. In its delayed primary on Aug. 8, Hawaii became the seventh state to switch to totally voting by mail.

But voting by mail assumes USPS delivers ballots to voters on time and that it postmarks returned ballots on or before Election Day. DeJoy’s delays throw both propositions into doubt.

It was those delays, including for medicines and ballots, that drew the congressional protests.

DeJoy justifies his moves with the same explanation prior GOP-named Postmasters General used: The need to cut costs due to the Postal Service’s flood of red ink. He did not mention the real reason for the ongoing yearly deficits, but Rolando frequently does: The annual $5 billion the USPS must fork over to prepay future health care benefits for current and future workers.

That mandate, which a GOP-run Congress imposed in 2006, sent the USPS deep into the red ever since and kept it there. The current coronavirus-caused depression and resulting closures have only made matters worse, leading the USPS board to approach Congress for a $25 billion grant as part of the next pandemic economic stimulus package. The House approved it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposes it. So does Trump. He threatens to veto any legislation with it.

DeJoy’s “changes include eliminating overtime and restrictions on certain letter carrier activities,” the lawmakers said. USPS’s own document  “states ‘If we cannot deliver all mail’ as a result of staffing shortages, ’the mail will not go out.’”

“The document goes on to state these measures are aimed at cutting costs and ‘making the USPS financially solvent.’” Congress shares the USPS solvency goal, their letter adds.

But “the rhetoric used in the document compares the Postal Service to a private company concerned only with the bottom line, rather than the constitutionally mandated public service it is.

“While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner—an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election.

“In addition to the swift nature and negative impacts of these reported changes, the Postal Service did not consult with any relevant unions, the mailing and package industry, or other stakeholders before taking these drastic actions. The Postal Service also failed to consult with relevant members of Congress who are in ongoing negotiations over additional financial support and possible reform legislation for the Postal Service,” they said.

Their letter asked DeJoy, a white North Carolinian corporate owner and investor, if the memos are official USPS “policy and practice,” and whether DeJoy got the USPS board’s OK for them. Trump named the entire USPS board. The lawmakers also want to know why DeJoy instituted this “experiment” before unveiling a long-term solvency plan for the USPS.

And they want to know the practical impact of DeJoy’s moves in slowing down the mail. They did not ask if the GOP Trump regime ordered DeJoy’s experiments. Trump caters to right-wing demands to “privatize” the USPS, cut pay and benefits, and dump union contracts for its 604,000 workers, most of them women, people of color, veterans, or combinations thereof.

However, responding to a prior letter from House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., on the DeJoy’s changes, USPS said on July 22 that “these changes did not originate from Postal Service headquarters,” the committee reported. It will call DeJoy to testify on Sept. 17 on his moves.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.