Weary Postal Workers Hope Biden will Bring Change

PORTLAND, Maine -
Postal carrier Josiah Morse heads out to deliver mail and packages, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The U.S. Postal Service’s stretch of challenges didn’t end with the November general election and tens of millions of mail-in votes. The pandemic-depleted workforce fell further into a hole during the holiday rush, leading to long hours and a mountain of delayed mail.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has vowed to make improvements after facing withering criticism and calls for his removal for his actions that slowed delivery of mail before the election. Some critics hoped President Joe Biden would fire DeJoy, but a president can’t do that. Instead, Biden could and likely will use appointments to reshape the Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday for the first time since his election.

It’s unclear how swiftly Biden’s administration will move. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on upcoming appointments.

Despite the pandemic, on-time rates for first-class mail topped 90% for most of the year until DeJoy took office in June and began instituting changes that raised concerns about the delivery of mail-in election ballots. Workers decried DeJoy for limiting overtime and late or extra trips, resulting in delayed mail, and the dismantling of sorting machines ahead of the election.

All told, the Postal Service successfully delivered more than 130 million ballots to and from voters during the general election.

But by the time December arrived, it had gotten so bad that more than a third of first-class mail was late, a dismal performance, even though DeJoy had backtracked on some of his changes by then.

At the holiday peak, tractor-trailers chock full of mail were left idling outside some postal-sorting facilities across the country because there was no room inside. Packages and letters piled up in distribution hubs. Delays grew by days, and then weeks.

A number of factors contributed to the nightmare.

Americans were using the Postal Service at unprecedented level because of the pandemic. Overtime couldn’t make up for the impact of postal workers’ COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines. Commercial flights that transport mail operated on reduced schedules. And FedEx and UPS dumped packages on the Postal Service when they reached their limit.

The Postal Service contends it has now returned to “pre-peak” conditions, and DeJoy and six members of the board said they’ve learned from the election and the record holiday season in which more than 1.1 billion packages were delivered. The postmaster general and board are working on a 10-year plan that will include improvements.

“We must confidently plan for our future — which we believe is bright for the Postal Service and for America,” they said in a statement.

Critics have called for DeJoy to be fired. And Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, wants Biden to fire the entire Postal Service Board of Governors for what he called dereliction of duty.

The Board of Governors, which selects the postmaster general, is currently made up of Trump appointees. The vice chair resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s actions. That leaves a chairperson, Robert Duncan, who is a former Republican National Committee chair, along with three other Republican members and two Democratic members.

If Biden fills all vacancies, then Democratic members would hold a majority, though the board is officially bipartisan. No party may hold more than five seats on the nine-member board.

The postmaster general and deputy postmaster general vote on some but not all issues brought before the board.

Reporting by the Associated Press.