Pending Postal Service Changes Could Delay Mail And Deliveries, Advocates Warn

July 29 , 2020 2:41 AM

Letter carrier Henrietta Dixon, a nearly 30-year veteran, sorts mail to be delivered before she sets out on her route in Philadelphia in May. Changes within the U.S. Postal Service could make some deliveries late.

On his first day on the job last month, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy addressed the nearly half-million U.S. Postal Service career employees in a video message.

He talked of a "trajectory for success" and said that "we will focus on creating a viable operating model that ensures the Postal Service continues fulfilling its public service mission."

That message has since been followed by a number of directives and orders that prompt some to wonder just what DeJoy has in mind for the agency, which dates back to the nation's earliest days.

DeJoy, the nation's 75th postmaster general — a line that stretches back to Benjamin Franklin — is a major donor to President Trump and other Republicans. He previously headed a North Carolina-based logistics company.

Managers have told postal workers that under DeJoy, the post office is about to embark on what's been called a long-overdue "operational pivot." It means that among other things, late-arriving mail will now be left behind by carriers and delivered the next day. Overtime will be eliminated.

Those moves upset some workers, who take seriously the unofficial motto of the Postal Service that holds: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" — a phrase from the Greek historian Herodotus chiseled into the granite of New York City's general post office.

"There seems to be a sea change here," says Philip Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University and a former letter carrier. Rubio says DeJoy seems intent on making the Postal Service more of a business than a service.

"If they're talking about delaying mail, if they're talking about sending letter carriers out to the street, even if the truck is late, that means there's a lot of first-class mail that's going to be left on the workroom floor. And there's an almost cavalier attitude about this," Rubio says.

Agency in difficulty

The Postal Service, which doesn't receive any tax dollars for its operating expenses, has longstanding financial issues.

It reported a loss of nearly $9 billion last year. Some of that is due to a congressional mandate that the post office prepay the health care costs of retirees. Some of it is due to a years-long decline in the volume of first-class mail.

The coronavirus pandemic has also meant a reduction in some mail. But it also meant an increase in package shipping as people shop online from their homes. That has postponed an imminent cash crisis the Postal Service had predicted might strike earlier this summer.