While President Trump leaves office Jan. 20, the man he tapped as Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, will remain in that job, and a top official of the largest postal union covering New York and New Jersey said that while the financial squeeze faced by the United States Postal Service has eased a bit, other problems including delivery delays persist.
"People are trying desperately to catch up," Chuck Zlatkin, the legislative and political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, said in a phone interview. "The percentage of on-time delivery keeps going down, and people are pulling overtime shifts to try to deal with the backlog."
Improve or Undermine?
Mr. DeJoy, a businessman who made his fortune in logistics, was brought in last spring by Mr. Trump—a harsh critic of the Postal Service—to ostensibly streamline its operations.
But his orders to sharply curtail overtime and end the practice of holding delivery trucks five or 10 minutes past their scheduled departure time if it allowed them to transport significantly larger shipments provoked an outcry by the American Postal Workers Union—of which the New York Metro is an affiliate—that those moves were designed to harm service and slow the delivery of mail ballots for the presidential election, which Democratic voters were using to a far-greater degree than Republicans.
After Mr. DeJoy also ordered the dismantling of dozens of sorting machines, suspicions about his motives intensified, and he was called before two congressional committees in mid-summer to explain the changes. After tough grilling, he agreed to return to the prior practices, although the sorting machines were not reassembled, until the election was concluded.
While complaints about late deliveries continued, enough mail ballots came in before Nov. 3 that they played a decisive role in Joe Biden's victory over Mr. Trump. But while Mr. DeJoy said that 50,000 temporary workers were brought in to help with the huge increase in mail volume that typically occurs in December, Mr. Zlatkin was skeptical based on the delays at two large mail-processing plants represented by the MAPU.
'Not Just Christmas Gifts'
"This is very real to people," he said regarding the roughly 2,800 members at those plants. "It's not just the Christmas gifts to the grandkids" that in some cases were delayed. "It's medications being late and small businesses suffering from late deliveries."
One oddity that contributed to an unusually high mail volume is that private carriers such as United Parcel Service and Fed-Ex, which he said focus more on delivering large packages, "put in [the mail] all these small things because it's cheaper for the USPS to deliver them the last mile than doing it themselves."
Mr. Zlatkin continued, "There's fatigue and there's also worry, because the number of people testing positive [for the coronavirus] is going up, to about 10 a day, in the area we represent in Manhattan, The Bronx and New Jersey."
He said of the Postmaster General, "He's praising the workers for all the work they're doing, but the way he's cutting, there are gonna be fewer hours for workers."
Expectations for Biden
There are currently three vacancies on the nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors, with another board member expected to leave shortly. Four of the six current Governors are Republicans, Mr. Zlatkin said, which played a key role in Mr. DeJoy's being approved to run the USPS.
"Biden in the campaign said he would put on people who were pro-postal service," the union official noted. "The focus of unions is to remind Biden about his campaign promise to make sure there are good people in there."
Noting that a $10-billion allocation to the USPS last spring from the first coronavirus stimulus package that was originally designated a loan has been upgraded to a grant, Mr. Zlatkin said, "It would be great to have the $10 billion spent by people who care about the Postal Service."
Besides Mr. Trump's criticism of the USPS, at one point calling it "a joke," congressional Republicans have long been hostile to the post office. Fifteen years ago, when they held the majority in the House of Representatives, they pushed through a mandate that the USPS pre-fund health-care obligations for a 75-year period. The USPS, which traditionally had been profitable strictly based on what it charged for various services, has been running a deficit since.
With Democrats now holding slim majorities in both houses of Congress and Mr. Biden stepping into the White House, there is hope that some relief will be provided regarding that mandate.
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