While political pundits debate whether the unprecedented participation of 150 million Americans in this year's presidential election signified enthusiasm for President-elect Joe Biden or strong feelings pro and con about President Trump, New York Metro Area Postal Union President Jonathan Smith believes the answer is in the mail.
More than 65 million ballots were returned via the U.S. Postal Service, by far a record for mail-balloting, and Mr. Smith said by phone following a Nov. 17 rally outside the James A. Farley Post Office in Midtown that the popularizing of voting in that fashion was responsible for generating the record returns.
'A Major Contribution'
"I think it had a major contribution in the turnout," he said. "It enabled people to participate in the election who might not have done it before."
And the ability of postal workers to handle that volume of ballots despite stops and starts in their operations since early summer due to reductions in service—ordered in June by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy but rescinded a couple of months later under pressure from angry legislators at congressional hearings—Mr. Smith said, meant that "the Postal Service was fundamental to democracy."
Despite Mr. Trump's claims—none of which have been substantiated—of fraud in the gathering and tallying of mail ballots, the Metro leader said he believed "vote by mail is here to stay" as a convenient alternative for tens of millions of Americas even after the danger from the coronavirus subsides.
The rally, which he and other union leaders said attracted a small "but very spirited" crowd in blustery conditions, was designed to thank postal workers for their efforts but also to stir public support for a Democratic-backed stimulus bill in Congress that would, among items including significant funding for state and local governments nationwide, provide $25 billion to the USPS to offset its losses related to the pandemic.
A Lot More Than Voting
"We're asking them to pass the Heroes Act with that $25 billion the Postal Service needs," Mr. Smith said. "What we do is a lot more than the voting. The Postal Service is about that elderly person who needs his medications, the small businesses that are trying to survive against the big conglomerates, those veterans across the sea serving the country and waiting for mail from home, and veterans who served the country for 20 or 30 years and now depend on the Postal Service to serve them."
AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez voiced similar sentiments in a separate phone interview.
In his address to the crowd, he said, "I was thanking the workers for what they've done; bringing mail, from medication to other packages and Social Security checks, and second, they delivered with respect to the election. Vote-by-mail was a real success."
Particularly important, he said, was that postal workers "had a commitment to not only delivering the ballots but making sure the election was a success by doing it in a nonpartisan way."
And they did it despite obstacles that went beyond the toll taken by the coronavirus, Mr. Alvarez said.
'DeJoy, Trump No Help'
"They have thousands of workers that are out sick and about a hundred that died," he said of the USPS. "And they've had no help from the President and Postmaster General DeJoy," who in early summer eliminated overtime and ended the practice of postal trucks leaving their stations a few minutes late in cases where it allowed tens of thousands of additional pieces of mail to go out with them. It was not until the congressional hearings in late summer when he faced tough questions about whether the service cuts were meant to help Mr. Trump's campaign, rather than for the professed reason of streamlining operations, that Mr. DeJoy agreed to rescind the economy measures until the election was concluded.
Mr. Alvarez said that in addition to giving the Postal Service desperately needed financial relief via the stimulus, Congress should also look at expanding the services the USPS is authorized to provide.
In particular, he said, it should give serious attention to creating postal banking centers, a subject he said he and Mr. Smith had been pursuing with New York representatives whose districts included The Bronx so far back that one meeting took place when Joe Crowley was still the Congressman representing portions of that borough and Queens and nobody had heard of the woman who unseated him two years ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"The Bronx is a tremendously under-served, underutilized community," Mr. Alvarez said. A major challenge in areas like that and other, less-urban but equally under-served parts of the nation, he said, is "how do we bring services to those communities?"
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