While some employees and lawmakers are sounding alarms over Postal Service reforms, stakeholders are taking a wait-and-see approach.
The U.S. Postal Service is continuing to implement sweeping changes to its operations in the face of backlash from unions, employees and lawmakers, some of whom have called on the new agency head to resign.
USPS announced a reorganization and corresponding executive shakeups on Friday, sparking immediate pushback from members of Congress who expressed concern that new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was consolidating power within the organization. The restructuring follows several moves DeJoy has implemented to alter mail processing and delivery, which the Postal Service has said could cause some delays. DeJoy defended his actions as being in the best interest of the mailing agency as it seeks to put itself on firmer financial footing after more than a decade of sustained losses.
The Postal Service will now divide its work into three business operating units: retail and delivery operations, logistics and processing operations, and commerce and business solutions. They will be led by Kristin Seaver, David Williams and Jakki Krage Strako, respectively, all of whom are long-time postal officials. As part of the shakeup, USPS moved nearly two-dozen executives.
A bicameral group of nine Democrats has asked the USPS inspector general to investigate the mailing agency’s operational changes, saying they threaten the public service especially in the run-up to the November election that promises a record number of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. They asked for details on the reforms DeJoy has implemented, the impact on delivery times and information on potential conflicts of interest for the postmaster general, who has raised millions of dollars for President Trump and the Republican Party. A spokesman for the IG said the office is reviewing the request for appropriate response and declined to comment on any ongoing investigations. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has already launched an investigation of his own into the changes.
More than 80 House lawmakers, including four Republicans, sent a letter to DeJoy last week raising “deep concerns” that the operational changes would cause “significant delays” in the mail. Two Montana Republicans, Sen. Steve Danes and Rep. Greg Gianforte, separately wrote to DeJoy calling on him to reverse course. The National Association of Letter Carriers has filed a national grievance against postal management for its pilot program to get letter carriers out on the street earlier in the day while postponing mail sorting to the afternoon, saying it has violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
At least two members of the House, Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Alma Adams, D-N.C., called on DeJoy to resign, following his reorganization announcement on Friday. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, stopped short of such a proclamation, but announced she would hold a hearing with DeJoy next month.
“The middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic with a national election around the corner is not the time to institute a major reorganization of the Postal Service,” said Maloney, who was part of the group asking for the IG probe. “This comes on top of the operational changes that are already causing severe mail delays across the country. I call upon the postmaster general to halt these changes now.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the Government Operations panel within Maloney’s committee, called the reorganization “deliberate sabotage.”
Multiple former senior postal officials who still work in the industry said the reorganization was actually routine for new postmaster generals, while highlighting that DeJoy had elevated long-time postal employees with vast and relevant experience.
“Virtually every postmaster general does this,” said Steve Kearney, president of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers who spent more than 30 years at USPS and personally saw his position shifted around on multiple occasions after new leadership took charge. “It didn’t seem unusual at all.”
Mike Plunkett, a former USPS executive and current president of PostCom, an association representing large-scale private sector mailers such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon, said it is too soon to measure whether the division of operations into three silos will add value to the agency, but suggested there is nothing inherently nefarious about the plan. Both he and Kearney, however, criticized DeJoy for his poor communication, saying it was a mistake to let his changes leak and the approach sowed significant confusion.
In his first comments at a public board of governors meeting on Friday, DeJoy sought to tamp down allegations that he is doing the bidding of the president, who has long feuded with the Postal Service.
“While I certainly have a good relationship with the president of the United States, the notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base,” DeJoy said.
Prior to DeJoy's swearing in, postal management sought $75 billion in financial relief from Congress, citing the damage the pandemic has done to its business. In a financial document released Friday, the agency said it can exercise contingency plans to continue operating through August 2021. DeJoy defended his reforms as necessary to offset significant financial losses and continue to meet its obligation to provide mail service to the entire country, saying they would eliminate “ingrained inefficiencies in our operations.”
“By running our operations on time and on schedule, and by not incurring unnecessary overtime or other costs, we will enhance our ability to be sustainable and to be able to continue to provide high-quality, affordable service,” DeJoy said. “I call on every executive, employee, union and management association leader to join me in pursuing this simple objective that every service organization needs to achieve in order to be successful.”
USPS data show 19% of the total work hours paid to city letter carriers in the current fiscal year were overtime. DeJoy has said this demonstrates the need for change, while critics of his plans say it instead shows short staffed post offices require overtime to make their deliveries on schedule. Plunkett, who generally called it “refreshing” to see the postmaster general go after the Postal Service’s costs, said his members have reported a “measureable deterioration in service” since the changes—including the prohibition on overtime—have gone into effect. In addition to the overtime ban, DeJoy said he would implement a hiring freeze and seek authority to make early retirement offers.
“This will drive more people out of the mail,” Plunkett said, “something the Postal Service doesn’t need right now.”
USPS was already experiencing service delays in April, May and June, the third quarter of fiscal 2020, which postal management attributed to increased rates of employees calling out sick due to the pandemic. Employees on the front lines of postal operations said they have felt the impact of the changes. One letter carrier based in Cincinnati said she has been instructed to leave mail behind if delivering all of it would require overtime.
“We are already short handed,” she said. “We don’t have enough people to get all the routes done without using overtime.”
Despite the directive, she and her colleagues have in some cases continued to work more than eight-hour shifts. Her supervisor has questioned why she needed to use overtime, but did not otherwise give her any issues. Like the former executives, she said she was accustomed to the changes, as every few years new leadership comes in at the local level and “tries to reinvent the wheel.” While she appreciated the need for some change, she cautioned that she felt DeJoy was taking the wrong approach.
“Cutting service to the customer is not the solution. That’s how we lose more money,” she said, adding of the postal workforce, “That’s upsetting to us.”
In his remarks, DeJoy repeatedly praised the dedication of workers and pledged to solicit their advice and that of their unions. He said USPS would work with state and local governments to ensure timely delivery of mailed ballots and oppose any effort to privatize the organization, though he did leave the door open to more administrative, legislative and regulatory changes going forward.
“We also are now in the process of developing a series of additional actions, which, if approved by the board, will include new and creative ways for us to fulfill our mission, and will likewise focus on our strengths to maximize our prospects for long-term success,” he said. “We will improve the products and services we provide, pursue new revenue areas and continue to operate more efficiently.”