Local postal workers union concerned about cost cuts on cusp of election

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The president of the union representing local postal workers expressed concern Friday about cost-cutting measures coming down from Washington, D.C. amid the coronavirus pandemic and as they prepare for a presidential election expected to see unprecedented usage of voting by mail.

Karen Byars, American Postal Workers Union Dayton Area Local president, said up to half of the mail sorting machines at the postal distribution center on East Fifth Street in Dayton are being mothballed, hours are being cut, and in a pilot project at post offices in Huber Heights and Dayton View carriers are being told to leave mail that isn’t sorted when they get to work until the next day.

“We don’t understand why we’re being so aggressive in this moment,” she said. “Now is not the time to start cutting back on machines and holding back on mail.”

Meanwhile the Dayton Daily News found Friday that the U.S. Postal Service has decommissioned at least a handful of blue mailboxes in

downtown Dayton, citing weak mail volumes at the collection points.

Postal Service officials responded to questions from the Dayton Daily News with a statement from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy saying long-sought legislative and regulatory reforms are needed for the agency to become solvent, and the agency needs to find efficiencies. It says a recent report found the Postal Service spent $1.1 billion in mail processing overtime and penalty overtime, $280 million in late and extra transportation, and $2.9 billion in delivery overtime and penalty overtime costs in FY 2019.

“The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, and a broken business model,” the statement says. “We are currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission and other legal obligations. Because of this, the Postal Service has experienced over a decade of financial losses, with no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis.”

Byars said staffing shortages and other measures from the coronavirus have already slowed mail delivery by a couple days on average. These new changes haven’t added to that yet, she said, but she expects they will as mail volumes increase with the U.S. Census, the election and general uptick in usage they are seeing as people get out more.

Senators react

Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns that President Donald Trump— who put DeJoy over the Postal Service in May — is undermining the Postal Service to hinder mail-in voting for political reasons.

U.S. Senate Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, sent a letter to DeJoy this week asking about reports that recent changes increase delivery times and costs for election mail.

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“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy,” the letter says. “Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic.”

Emmalee Kalmbach, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Friday that Portman supported a provision in the CARES Act that allows the Postal Service to borrow up to $10 billion to help cover increased operating costs caused by the pandemic.

“Rob believes that every eligible Ohio voter who votes by absentee ballot within Ohio’s deadlines should have confidence that his or her vote will be counted,” she said.

Can ballot be delivered on time

Postal Service officials Friday expressed continued confidence in their ability to handle election mail.

“The Postal Service’s financial condition is not going to impact our ability to process and deliver election and political mail,” said agency spokesperson Naddia Dhalai. “The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected election and political mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She said the Postal Service recommends that voters request absentee ballots as soon as they can and no later 15 days prior to the election, and that area voters should mail their ballots at least one week prior to the due date.

Ohio law allows voters to request absentee ballots up to three days before the election, but elections officials say voters shouldn’t expect to be able to receive or cast a ballot by mail if they wait that long. A Dayton Daily News investigation in May found thousands of absentee ballot requests from voters in this year’s primary didn’t arrive at area boards of election until after Election Day.

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The Washington Post reported Friday that the Postal Service sent letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia, warning it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted.

Mailboxes removed

Among the mailboxes marked for removal in Dayton include those next to City Hall, the Dayton municipal and Montgomery County courts buildings, the Dayton Public Schools administration building and along West First Street. They have notices attached saying the collection points were scheduled for removal, many with deadlines that passed earlier this month.

The notices say recent studies found these boxes had insufficient mail volumes.

The decommissioned mailboxes in downtown are within blocks of mailboxes that remain in service. A couple of mailboxes with posted removal notices are right next to boxes that appear to still be in operation.

A mailbox next to City Hall has been removed from service. But there are other boxes nearby, like this one on West Third Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
A mailbox next to City Hall has been removed from service. But there are other boxes nearby, like this one on West Third Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The U.S. Postal Service has removed mail collection boxes from other U.S. communities, which officials attributed to declining mail volume during the coronavirus outbreak.

Byars said her biggest concern is that these changes made during the pandemic will hinder their ability to increase mail delivery when the pandemic is over and mail volume picks back up.

“The last thing we need is to start losing customers because they don’t think we’re reliable,” she said. “The postal employees are Republican, Democrat, Trump supporters, independent, no affiliate but we are all committed to one thing, and that’s getting that mail out and providing good customer service. This is about our jobs.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report