Stress on Postal Ser­vice didn’t start this spring

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - nstein­berg@sun­times.com | @NeilStein­berg

When Dorothy Parker heard that Calvin Coolidge had died, she quipped, “How can they tell?” Which about sum­ma­rizes my re­ac­tion to news that Don­ald Trump is wreck­ing the U.S. Postal Ser­vice.

With­out question, new Post­mas­ter Gen­eral Louis DeJoy has hurt the USPS dur­ing his brief ten­ure, par­tic­u­larly by end­ing over­time.

It’s also true that some changes he’s be­ing blamed for, like pulling out high-speed let­ter sort­ing ma­chines, were al­ready in the works.

“You can­not say hor­ri­ble ser­vice in Chicago started this spring,” said Mack Julion, a Chicago postal worker for 23 years and pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Let­ter Car­ri­ers, Branch 11. “Bad ser­vice in Chicago be­gan at least a year ago and got worse dur­ing the pan­demic.”

An in­sti­tu­tion as enor­mous as the post of­fice is like an ocean liner. It takes time to turn. DeJoy showed up in June.

“The directives we hear are com­ing from his of­fice have yet to hit the work­room floor in Chicago,” Julion said. “The bad that is bad now, that’s ba­si­cally Chicago man­age­ment. He can make it worse. You can’t cut over­time in Chicago be­cause we don’t have enough car­ri­ers to de­liver the mail. Here, that’s un­think­able.”

And un­work­able. Be­fore go­ing out on their routes, let­ter car­ri­ers “case” mail, sort it for de­liv­ery.

“We pack ev­ery­thing up and go out on the street,” said Tierra Meeks, a let­ter car­rier in Naperville. “Now they want us to come in and take all the mail we have at that mo­ment and go straight to the street. Their whole plan is to cut down on over­time, to save them money. But it doesn’t. It gives us more work to do, and in re­al­ity it’s go­ing to de­lay de­liv­er­ing the mail.”

Cut­ting over­time to save money is one of those small changes that do great harm; it’s like try­ing to cut mil­i­tary spend­ing by elim­i­nat­ing am­mu­ni­tion. Still, some postal work­ers give DeJoy the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

“Whether this new post­mas­ter gen­eral is truly just an or­ga­ni­za­tions guy from the pri­vate sec­tor with great ideas or kneecap­ping the postal ser­vice — lim­it­ing your over­time, elim­i­nat­ing your equip­ment, ne­far­i­ously . . . — you could be­lieve he’s set­ting us up to fail,” said Ken Labbe, pres­i­dent of NALC Lo­cal 4099.

I chat­ted with Labbe while he was work­ing in Mount Prospect, walk­ing the route for a col­league on va­ca­tion.

“Routes av­er­age 12 miles of walk­ing,” he said. “It’s a great job, if you like to walk.” Lately though, the job has been less great. DeJoy ap­peared be­fore Congress Fri­day and re­turns Mon­day. He claims he is sus­pend­ing his changes un­til af­ter the elec­tion.

“I’m re­ally grate­ful for that,” Labbe said. “Th­ese changes be­ing halted is a good op­por­tu­nity for him to ex­plain, un­der oath.”

DeJoy hasn’t ex­plained much, so let me try.

Trump is like a bel­liger­ent drunk who gets kicked out of a bar and then re­turns to set the back door on fire, not re­al­iz­ing he is also burn­ing down the apart­ment build­ing above.

In strik­ing out at the USPS — to pun­ish Ama­zon for the crime of run­ning the Washington Post, to con­fuse the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in case he loses — Trump is also hurt­ing se­niors and vets who de­pend on the mail for es­sen­tials, like medicines.

“I have a lot of el­derly peo­ple on my route, and they haven’t been get­ting their medicine on time,” Meeks said. “Usu­ally, they have it sched­uled so they get it cer­tain days. One cus­tomer, her medicine was sup­pose to come on Mon­day, she didn’t get it un­til Fri­day.”

And the rea­son be­hind the de­lays makes them worse.

“I def­i­nitely be­lieve it is all a po­lit­i­cal game they’ve been play­ing,” she said.

“This is not new to us,” Julion said.

But it still ran­kles car­ri­ers.

“Not de­liv­er­ing the mail, in­ten­tion­ally de­lay­ing first-class mail. We’ve al­ways been taught that’s against the law,” Julion said. “For our su­per­vi­sors to be sud­denly com­fort­able de­lay­ing first-class mail. This did not start with DeJoy but got the stamp of ap­proval with DeJoy . . .

“The postal ser­vice is a proud work­force. The re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­liv­er­ing the United States mail, for us, is ev­ery­thing. The fact that the Amer­i­can peo­ple are gal­va­niz­ing be­hind us now is very grat­i­fy­ing.”

Mack Julion

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