Federal Judge Reaffirms USPS Must Approve Overtime in Run Up to Election
Postal Service has faced five consecutive losses in lawsuits challenging Louis DeJoy's reforms.
A federal judge reaffirmed on Tuesday that the Postal Service must authorize overtime in the run up to the election, defying an effort by the mailing agency to resist that mandate.
The overtime dispute was the lone outstanding issue that the Postal Service and an array of plaintiffs that have successfully sued it had yet to resolve. USPS has now lost in five preliminary decisions against reform efforts instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, leading to the agency agreeing to walk back all of those changes through the election. The federal judges in those cases issued nationwide injunctions after finding DeJoy’s efforts led to mail delays that risked disenfranchising voters preparing to vote by mail during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“USPS shall authorize, and instruct, overtime to be used for the time period beginning Oct. 26, 2020 and continuing through Nov. 6, 2020 to ensure the timely delivery of election mail,” U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York Victor Marrero wrote in his order in the case Jones v. USPS.
He had previously required the Postal Service to pre-approve all overtime requests for those dates, but modified the language slightly after postal management and the Trump administration sought a change. Still, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case called the result a “huge win” as it does not allow USPS to deny overtime it deems unnecessary. The language was “clarified in the best way possible,” said Ali Najmi, one of the attorneys. “Overtime for USPS employees during election time is secure.”
The Postal Service had taken issue with the mandate to universally approve all overtime, saying such an approach could lead to financial disaster and administrative difficulties. While USPS asked the court to allow it to determine when overtime was necessary for facilitating ballot delivery, Marrero countered that he specifically was taking that discretion away to prevent any miscommunications to local supervisors. Postal management must approve overtime related to the timely delivery of election mail, though Marrero narrowed his original order requiring approval of all overtime for any reason.
In addition to the overtime issue, Marrero has ordered USPS to treat all election mail as first-class mail for the purposes of expedited delivery, identify and take all steps necessary to restore on-time delivery to its 2020 high point, and tell employees that late and extra trips are allowed and facilitate the prompt delivery of mail. The two parties agreed to implement those parts of the order. Following another court order in Washington state, USPS last week sent a directive to employees that would appear to bring the agency in compliance with them. Three additional injunctions subsequently issued in other cases this week largely mirror the requirements of the original two cases.
DeJoy has insisted that he never issued any agency-wide guidance calling for a reduction or elimination of overtime. Some employees at facilities around the country have reported overtime cutbacks, but USPS data show it has remained level across the organization since DeJoy took office. As they did with decisions to leave mail behind that in turn caused widespread delays, postal officials said efforts to slash overtime were based on misinterpretations of DeJoy’s policies by local supervisors.