New work rules implemented by new U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are significantly delaying delivery of the mail in Michigan, according to Roscoe Woods, Jr., President of Michigan Postal Workers Union Local 480-481.
And Woods says the removal of several mail sorting machines at two of the state's mail distribution centers could cause problems closer to Election Day, when mailed-in ballots are expected to surge.
Woods' local includes workers at the Pontiac distribution center, which distributes a large portion of Michigan residents' mail, from the border near Toledo, to Jackson in the west, and Saginaw in the north.
He says Dejoy implemented a series of new work rules this summer that have wreaked havoc with timely delivery of the mail, including eliminating overtime, requiring mail trucks to depart on a strict schedule, even when there are bins of mail waiting to be loaded, and instituting time limits for processing mail for each town, leaving large amounts of mail waiting until the next day.
The result was entirely predictable, he says.
"Mail began to just pile up and what is a processing facility, it started turning into a warehouse," he says.
Woods says the ban on overtime was lifted in order to clear the facility of undelivered mail, after Democratic U.S. Senator Gary Peters and Democratic U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence announced a visit.
But he says the two were able to witness the removal of two of the facility's mail sorting machines; machines that can process 60,000 letters an hour. Several other mail sorting machines have been removed from the Grand Rapids sorting facility, according to a union official there.
Woods says in his opinion, the slowdown has been intentional. He believes the changes are meant to degrade public confidence in the mail and discourage people from voting by mail in November.
"And by discouraging people from voting by mail in the midst of a pandemic, I think it's discouraging people to vote," he says.
But Woods hastens to add that he believes the U.S. Postal Service is capable of handling the volume of ballots that are expected to be mailed in Michigan, as long as the new work rules are loosened. He thinks public outrage will ensure that happens.
In an emailed statement, a USPS communications specialist said:
“The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes. Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline. Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations and better service for our customers. “
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, in his first remarks to the USPS Board of Governors on August 7, defended the work rule changes, while denying they were politically motivated and intended to slow the delivery of mail prior to the election, or intended to destabilize USPS in advance of a sale to private concerns.
He said the actions are meant to make the Postal Service more efficient, as well as to save money. He said the financial situation of the Postal Service is dire, and without dramatic changes, "we face an "impending liquidity crisis."
So far, there are no reports of USPS letter collection boxes being removed from Michigan neighborhoods and commercial locations, but many have been removed in other states, including New York, Oregon, Montana, and Indiana.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) is conducting an investigation of delayed mail, and is collecting reports from citizens on his website, and U.S. Representative Bill Pascrel (D-New Jersey) announced in a tweet that he has made a criminal referral to the New Jersey Attorney General, asking him to empanel a grand jury to look at "subversion of NJ election laws by donald trump, louis dejoy and other trump [lower case, sic] officials in their accelerating arson of the post office."