USPS Workers Don’t Know What to Make of So-Called ‘Friday Night Massacre’

It’s a massive, agency-wide reorganization announced suddenly that’s not supposed to impact employees. What gives?
August 10, 2020, 4:44pm
Postal truck
Image: Aaron Gordon

Around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on Friday afternoon, postal workers around the country started seeing a post on the internal post office network announcing yet another seemingly massive and confusing change to the United States Postal Service.

The new policies, which were first reported by the Washington Post, amount to an executive and management shakeup. The memo announced a management-level hiring freeze and the beginning of a process to accept voluntary early retirement from non-union employees in the management class. The USPS will also consolidate by enlarging regions and operations areas. For example, instead of dividing the U.S. into seven retail and delivery operations areas, it will now be divided into four.

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Typically, such changes to any government entity would barely be noticed by most of the employees within the organization, much less those outside of it. But these are not typical times at the USPS. Its every move has become highly politicized due to the critical role it will play in the upcoming election and the suspicion that the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a longtime Republican fundraiser and Trump donor, is intentionally disrupting the USPS so as to aid in his preferred candidate’s re-election. And DeJoy has wasted no time making lots of moves.

DeJoy made one of his first orders of business desecrating the sacred notion that every piece of mail gets delivered every day no matter what, causing widespread mail backups and package delays across the country. At Friday’s Board of Governors meeting, DeJoy called on Congress to “enact reform legislation that addresses our unaffordable retirement payments” while also promising to make more changes in the future to “focus on improving operational efficiency and pursuing other reforms in order to put the Postal Service on a trajectory for long-term financial stability.”

But Democrats don’t see a small-business Republican cutting costs from a bloated bureaucracy—which lost $2.2 billion in the most recent quarter, roughly on par with the $2.3 billion lost in the same quarter last year—as DeJoy would have them believe. Instead, they see a “trojan horse” sabotaging the postal service.

Pennsylvania Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon called the new policies another “Friday night massacre” by the Trump administration, even though it does not appear anyone lost their job. “The announcement on Friday set forth a change to organizational structure only,” USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told Motherboard. “The announcement did not include any terminations or layoffs and very specifically stated that the changes did not initiate a reduction in force and there were no immediate impacts to USPS employees.”

But the term made headlines over the weekend nonetheless. Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly tweeted it was “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election.” Senator Elizabeth Warren asked “How many ways can the new Postmaster General sabotage the USPS?” In a press release, Congresswoman Alma Adams of North Carolina and Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon called for DeJoy to resign or be removed from office.

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While many postal workers are wary of DeJoy’s actions and motivations, the three postal workers at various levels Motherboard spoke to don’t know what to make of the changes announced Friday, partly because the changes are so vague it’s hard to know what the changes really mean. But they’re also leaving open the possibility the changes could have some positive effects. A bloated, wasteful management structure that obstructs productivity rather than enabling it has been one of the most consistent complaints among postal employees for decades, according to dozens of interviews conducted with postal workers over recent weeks.The question is whether the new changes address that or merely shuffle the problem around.

Do you work for the post office? Have you been told how this reorganization will affect your job? We’d love to hear from you. Email Aaron Gordon at aaron.gordon@vice.com.

At the surface level, DeJoy’s reorganization echoes what has occurred in the private sector as logistics management has become more sophisticated. A 2010 blog post by the USPS Office of Inspector General explained that, since 1992, the USPS conducted an increase in the number of regions and areas of management from five to nine in 2006 (it has since been reduced to seven). But private sector companies like UPS and Walmart did the opposite, reducing the number of operational regions over that same time.

What, exactly, these changes mean for the USPS’s ability to deliver mail, packages, medication, and ballots remains to be seen. A powerpoint presentation obtained by Motherboard lays out a four week “transition plan” schedule beginning today, August 10, and ending September 4.

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While some have criticized Trump for appointing DeJoy as postmaster general even though he’s never worked for the post office, the new divisions will at least be headed by longtime Post Office employees for now, according to the PowerPoint presentation. For example, the head of delivery operations, Joshua Colin, has worked for the USPS since 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. The new Vice President of retail, Angela Curtis, has worked there since 2011. Mike Barber, the new head of processing and maintenance operations, is in his 40th year at the organization.

That being said, the current postal workers Motherboard spoke to—on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak to the media—are worried not so much by what is being done as they are the speed with which it is occurring, especially when it’s implemented by a postmaster general with questionable motives, who has been on the job for less than two months. As one person familiar with the reorganization plan put it, there have been “too many major changes for DeJoy who has not had the time at the helm to fully understand the organization, which is not like any other business.”

Likewise, the USPS also announced a “new organizational structure” broken down into three units: Retail and delivery operations, logistics and processing operations, and commerce and business solutions.

This announcement confused some postal workers who don’t understand how it’s different than what currently exists. “We do have a separation between retail and delivery services and processing services and commercial services,” said a postmaster from New England. “Those are all different people in my district.” This person is unsure how a reorganization that doesn’t change anything can lead to efficiency and savings.

Even more concerning is the degree to which these changes have been seemingly coming out of nowhere. Typically the postmaster in New England will get some details from the district manager about what changes are coming before they’re announced. But that’s not how it’s happened under DeJoy. “I didn’t have any sense this was going to happen at all.”