By LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN and OLIVIA RUBIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Postal union leaders in five battleground states told ABC News that they have seen few concrete steps to reverse or halt a set of cost-cutting measures that have slowed mail service, despite assurances last week from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that he would “suspend” those initiatives until after the general election.
DeJoy’s announcement led to confusion among some in the Postal Service ranks as to whether he meant there would not be cutbacks in addition to the ones already in place, which include reductions in overtime and limiting mail carrier trips, or if it meant a return to prior operational standards before the cuts altogether.
For now, the union officials said DeJoy’s initiatives remain in place — despite a deluge of legal and legislative efforts to reverse them. As a result, and with the clock ticking on election day, many of them said the mail continues to pile up in sorting facilities.
Nick Casselli, the president of the Philadelphia postal union, said overtime pay has not come back fully, post offices are still operating with slashed hours, and trucks are still being instructed not to stay and wait for all of the mail to be loaded on in an effort to keep to a stricter schedule, instead of staying later.
“Nothing has changed,” he said, echoing concerns from postal union leaders in major cities in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Colorado.
In a press release issued last week, DeJoy said he would “[suspend] these initiatives until after the election is concluded … to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
He specifically stated that “retail hours at Post Offices will not change,” “mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are,” and “[reasserted] that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed.”
Despite his promise to suspend the measures, however, some lawmakers and postal workers said they want them fully reversed. On the matter of mail sorting machines, for example, DeJoy pledged to halt removals — but refused to reinstall those that have already been taken offline.
When asked for clarification on DeJoy’s comments, a Postal Service spokesperson referred ABC News to the postmaster general’s congressional testimony.
With a record-setting number of Americans expected to vote by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic, critics said they fear the measures he enacted could threaten the election and undermine voter confidence in submitting absentee ballots.
DeJoy, a former logistics company executive and longtime Republican donor, said during his congressional testimony last Friday that any allegation he is using the cost-cutting measures to “[try] to have any negative impact on the election is an outrageous claim.”
The postmaster general has acknowledged a “dip” in service levels since enacting the cost-cutting measures earlier this summer. But he claimed to lawmakers during a hearing on Monday that the agency is already “seeing a nice recovery” in mail delivery times.
Union leaders told ABC News that simply pausing the changes does little to curb delays, saying the cuts already in place are still impacting mail service in their areas.
“The mail is still being delayed,” said Daleo Freeman, a postal union president in Cleveland. “The damage has been done.”
Meanwhile, legislators in Washington, D.C., said they are planning their next steps to ensure the Postal Service follows through on its pledge to suspend changes.
“Like I said when Louis DeJoy, under pressure, announced a suspension of changes: talk is cheap,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, said in a statement to ABC News. “I’ll be watching DeJoy’s actions, not just his words — and working with my colleagues to hold him accountable.”
‘We hear verbal promises all the time’
In Cleveland, Freeman said he and other postal workers were first made aware of the cost-cutting initiatives during a meeting in June, shortly after DeJoy’s arrival. Since then, he said, workers have not observed any reversals implemented on the ground, nor have they been told of plans to suspend the changes.
Keith Combs, a postal service president in Detroit, said the same applies to workers there. He said that as far as he knows, the postal service is “still to this point operating per the initial instructions from Postmaster General DeJoy.”
“The union is quite used to management saying one thing and doing another,” Combs added. “We hear verbal promises all the time, and we cannot rely on those promises.”
Cuts to overtime and diminished truck trips persist, the union leaders said. Mail sorting machines remain offline, too.
When defending the decision not to reinstall the sorting machines that already had been taken out of commission, DeJoy told lawmakers they were simply “not necessary.”
Postal workers feel strongly otherwise, according to the union officials. Caselli, Philadelphia’s union president, said removing the mail sorting machines is akin to “taking a rifle off a soldier in a battle.”
“We can’t deliver the mail without these machines,” Caselli said.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Miriam Bell, the local union president, said at least eight of the 28 mail sorting machines at her facility have been removed. Bell echoed her fellow presidents in saying she had not heard any directives that changes to other protocols would be reversed.
Even in states where mail delays have not yet set in, fear of impending service drops remain. In Colorado, where delivery times remain steady, Robert Helmig, the president of a statewide postal union, said he worries cuts to overtime could lead to a “snowball effect” in mail pileups.
“It hasn’t hit us yet,” Helmig said. “But you can see the clouds forming and the skies darkening and the lightning off in the distance. And it’s like, yep, it’s going to storm. It’s coming. We’re going to get hit.”
With lawsuits and legislation, Democrats push back
In anticipation of what they are concerned could be further damage to the Postal Service, Democrats in state governments and Congress have sought to hold DeJoy accountable for his pledge to suspend the cost-cutting initiatives.
Democratic attorneys general in 24 states plus Washington, D.C., have cumulatively filed three separate lawsuits targeting the Postal Service and the postmaster general.
One of the lawsuits, led by Washington state, charges the postmaster general with hindering the states’ constitutional right to conduct free and fair elections. Another, led by New York, claims mailing executives failed to seek approval for the changes from a regulatory board with oversight of the agency.
All three will attempt to reverse DeJoy’s initiatives.
“We are seeking to overturn those changes – go back to the way they were delivering mail in a timely manner before,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is leading a third lawsuit.
“Our lawsuit is full steam ahead,” he added. “And we will pursue this on an expedited basis in court, so that the mail can begin to flow again regularly and that people can have faith that their ballots will be mailed and received in a timely manner.”
When asked about lawsuits before they were filed, White House Deputy Press Sarah Matthews dismissed them as “politically motivated.”
After back-to-back hearings in the House and Senate, some Democratic lawmakers remain unconvinced of DeJoy’s commitment to roll back initiatives, despite assurances that election mail will be made a priority.
“We can’t take DeJoy’s statements at face value,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., tweeted after hearing the postmaster general’s testimony.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, introduced a bill this week meant to de-politicize appointees to the Postal Service Board of Governors and executive positions.
The Postal Service inspector general’s probe of cost-cutting changes and DeJoy’s financial interests also remains ongoing.
Meanwhile, postal workers on the ground remain in limbo, told of changes publicly without evidence of concrete steps — all while they say the mail continues to pile up in warehouses.
“They have given the promises, but I haven’t seen anything in writing,” said Combs, from Detroit. “We’ve been asking: for everything that’s going to be reinstated, tell us about it. Put it in writing. I still today haven’t received anything in writing.”
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