DeJoy, USPS Look to Strike Down Court Restrictions Blocking Reform Efforts
Postal Service is appealing injunctions issued prior to the election that prevented controversial initiatives.
With the election behind it, the U.S. Postal Service is now looking to shake the restrictions that have prevented it from moving forward with a number of controversial reforms that led to slower mail delivery.
USPS is appealing a series of preliminary defeats it suffered in federal courts across the country as federal lawmakers, state officials and concerned citizens fought back on new initiatives implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this year. In each case, judges issued injunctions on the Postal Service blocking DeJoy’s efforts, which caused widespread pushback in the run up to the November election.
Various judges blocked DeJoy’s initiative to cut back on late and early mail transportation trips, which he said were costly and unnecessary, as well as efforts to decommission mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes. They also enjoined USPS from slashing overtime. The operational changes had led to widespread mail delays, which continued through the election despite largely successful efforts to expedite ballot delivery. While the judges’ orders primarily focused on postal operations prior to and in the immediate aftermath of the election, they have yet to lift their injunctions.
DeJoy cautioned before the election—and has reiterated since—he only intended a pause on some reform efforts he issued prior to the court orders to be temporary, with more dramatic changes still slated for 2021 and beyond. The postmaster general told reporters last month that the Postal Service’s problems can be solved “but we need to get on with the difficult business of solving them.” He promised to “modernize retail and processing operations” as part of a new strategic plan USPS will release in the coming months. In a more recent discussion with large-scale mailers, DeJoy more explicitly signaled a return to his initiatives from the summer while finding new ways to grow revenue. The cash-strapped agency may soon receive some financial relief, as a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package currently being discussed on Capitol Hill would convert a $10 billion line of credit for USPS to a cash grant.
The Postal Service also paused a pilot program designed to get letter carriers out on their routes first thing in the morning, which would effectively force them to leave some mail behind each day. The National Association of Letter Carriers filed a national grievance over the program, saying management should have negotiated over its implementation. DeJoy has not specifically suggested whether he plans to resume that test initiative.
USPS has so far appealed injunctions issued in Washington, D.C., Washington state and Pennsylvania. As the election drew closer, federal judges issued more specific instructions requiring postal management to notify employees that DeJoy’s reforms were null and void. USPS headquarters officials repeatedly argued in court the postmaster general’s initiatives only led to mail delays because front-line workers misinterpreted their directives, though the employees themselves pushed back on that narrative. While DeJoy said USPS would quickly be able to recover from the setback and resume meeting its on-time delivery goals, the Postal Service never fully recovered from its performance dip.
Even though the election has passed, many of the obligations the Postal Service incurred by judicial fiat remain in place. Under judges’ orders, USPS has continued to provide data to federal courts on late and extra trips, mail delays and ballot delivery (a special election for Georgia’s two Senate seats is currently underway, with final in-person voting occurring on Jan. 5). The “extraordinary measures” USPS implemented to ensure on-time ballot delivery, meanwhile, were set to expire Nov. 24.
USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall declined to elaborate on the Postal Service’s plans, instead simply suggesting the original injunctions were erroneously awarded.
“While we do not intend to comment about the appeals we are pursuing, it remains our view that none of the election mail lawsuits are justified by the facts or supported by the applicable law,” Marshall said. “We will continue to defend the integrity and credibility of our leadership and workforce, and the collective allegiance of our entire organization to our non-partisan service mission.”