On Tuesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced what seemed to be an about-face on some of his most controversial policies, suspending the removal of sorting machines and a rollback of overtime to "avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail." The announcement came days before DeJoy and USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan will testify before the Senate on Friday and the House on Monday, and days after White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows foreshadowed the announcement by telling CNN's Jake Tapper that the post office will not remove any sorting machines before the election.
The announcement received widespread news coverage and seemed to indicate a change in policy that assuages some concerns from Democrats about the way DeJoy, a longtime Republican fundraiser and major Trump donor, has run the post office since he assumed office on June 15.
But, it's not clear what, if anything, is actually changing. Some of the changes DeJoy has made to the post office have already been implemented, and cannot easily or quickly be rolled back. And the USPS declined to provide any further comment before DeJoy testifies in Congress.
"The only thing I take from it is that he is slowing down his plans," said a postal worker in a processing and distribution facility, "not stopping them.'
In the press release, DeJoy said that he wanted to "assure Americans" that "mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are." This comes in the wake of Motherboard's reporting that hundreds of mail processing machines have been decommissioned. But, CNN reports 95 percent of the machines that were planned to be removed already have been. Some have been dismantled and discarded. Motherboard obtained recent photos from a facility in California where sorting machines had been dismantled and put in a dumpster. Three postal workers in other parts of the country familiar with the machines verified the heaping scrap of metal in the dumpster is a sorting machine. And photos obtained by Motherboard from a facility in Pennsylvania shows decommissioned sorting machines in a parking lot. The assurance that machines will "remain where they are" also means little for the untold numbers of tarped-over sorting machines sitting in facilities waiting to be removed, since it says nothing about whether they will be maintained or put back into service.
Do you work for the USPS? What do you think of DeJoy's announcement? Have you been told how this will impact your job? Email Aaron Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Likewise, DeJoy's announcement regarding overtime is similarly hedged. The new overtime policies have been inconsistently applied around the country. Postal workers in various roles, from clerks to carriers to sorters in processing facilities, told Motherboard little has changed and they still get overtime when needed, just through a different approval process. Others have said it is now much harder to get overtime approval. In places where managers are restricting overtime, it has slowed down mail and resulted in backlogs. From the beginning, DeJoy has asserted that these delays are temporary hiccups while they adjust to a more efficient operation. But the delays have persisted.
In his statement, DeJoy didn't exactly promise any changes: "We reassert that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed." This sounds more like a doubling down on the existing company line that there were never any substantive changes to overtime to begin with that impacted mail delivery.
Similarly, the promise not to alter retail hours or close processing facilities before the election is less of a substantial statement than it sounds. When DeJoy moved to do this at the end of July, union and elected officials believed it was in violation of required timelines before such policies could be implemented (USPS later said it was all just a big misunderstanding). Closing retail locations requires 120 days' notice per federal law. Closing sorting facilities likewise requires a study and consultation with the union. To announce these closures won't happen before November is little more than saying they won't violate federal law or existing labor agreements before doing so.
The announcement doesn't seem to have appeased some Democrat lawmakers. "Actions speak louder than words," said West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in a statement to Motherboard. "The Postal Service must immediately reinstate all critical machines and equipment that have been idled or removed from operation since Mr. DeJoy’s tenure began and extend this moratorium on major changes through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes no closures of post offices, no reduction in hours, and the continued treatment of election mail as first-class mail. The USPS is a vital public service and the American people must receive their medications, Social Security benefits, and election ballots.”
DeJoy made an announcement that the post office wouldn't face major changes ahead of the election. But many major changes that are detrimental to delivering the mail in a timely fashion had already been implemented, So the question on some postal workers' minds is what will happen if Americans stop paying attention to the post office's internal politics after the election. One postmaster from the northeast summed it up by telling Motherboard they never thought DeJoy's changes were about mail-in ballots. "The truth is that his plans are bigger than any single election. Now he'll just wait till people aren't paying attention before he resumes degrading mail service."
Update: Shortly after publication, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying she spoke to DeJoy and he “frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works. All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color. At the same time, we are highly concerned that the slowdown of the delivery of medicines to veterans is not being sufficiently addressed.”
Subscribe to The Mail, Motherboard’s newsletter about the USPS, voting security, and democracy.