On top of mounting court injunctions and ongoing investigations by members of Congress, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is running up against another key source of resistance as he attempts to implement sweeping changes to the U.S. mail service just ahead of the November election: letter carriers and other rank-and-file Postal Service employees.
Angered by DeJoy's efforts to overhaul longstanding USPS policies designed to ensure mail is delivered on time, postal workers across the nation have been slow-walking and outright defying instructions from leadership to leave mail behind, dismantle sorting machines, and cut back on overtime in an effort to limit the damage to a service that millions rely on to vote, receive life-saving medications, and run small businesses.
"There's a point where I got angry. I'm not happy at all that I'm being politicized. I'm literally trying to do my job, and they're telling me that I can't."
—New York postal worker
That's according to the Washington Post's Jacob Bogage, who reported Tuesday that as DeJoy—a Republican mega-donor to President Donald Trump—moved aggressively in recent weeks to implement "cost-cutting" measures that resulted in dramatic mail slowdowns nationwide, postal workers across the nation responded with tactics ranging from "insubordination to small acts of neighborly heroism."
"Mechanics in New York drew out the dismantling and removal of mail-sorting machines until their supervisor gave up on the order," Bogage reported. "In Michigan, a group of letter carriers did an end run around a supervisor's directive to leave election mail behind, starting their routes late to sift through it. In Ohio, postal clerks culled prescriptions and benefit checks from bins of stalled mail to make sure they were delivered, while some carriers ran late items out on their own time. In Pennsylvania, some postal workers looked for any excuse—a missed turn, heavy traffic, a rowdy dog—to buy enough time to finish their daily rounds."
More than a dozen USPS workers and union leaders in eight states told the Post that employee morale has fallen sharply since DeJoy began disrupting USPS practices over the summer, when he was appointed to lead the agency despite his potential conflicts of interest and complete lack of experience working for the Postal Service.
Postal workers, who have been instructed by USPS leadership not to speak to the press, "say they are prepared to defy directives that would limit how they do their jobs," Bogage reported.
One anonymous USPS mechanic in New York told the Post that "it's disheartening to hear from my boss that he wants me to do something that could very potentially cripple the system."
"It's disheartening to hear that people think we're going to fail. We handle this kind of volume all the time," the worker said. "But if they do these things with delivery times and we get high volume around holiday season and the election, it will fail. No question. It will fail. We should get the ballots out. We really should, but all it would take is one person in a nice shiny suit to say, 'Leave those ballots, take the other mail.' And everyone would say, 'Yes sir.'"
"There's a point where I got angry," the worker continued. "I'm not happy at all that I'm being politicized. I'm literally trying to do my job, and they're telling me that I can't."
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Referring to cutbacks to overtime that's often needed to deliver mail on schedule, a Philadelphia postal worker told the Post, "I can't see any postal worker not bending those rules." On Thursday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ordered the Postal Service to suspend DeJoy's operational changes, the fourth such federal court order in less than two weeks.
NEW: There's a quiet revolt happening inside your post office.#USPS workers are pushing back against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor. They're finding ways to bend his new policies, to deliver "every piece every day."
Read more: https://t.co/8xLT6kvmrk
— Jacob Bogage (@jacobbogage) September 29, 2020
Chris Lu, a fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, said that while postal workers shouldn't be forced to defy leadership in order to deliver the mail on time, "it's a good reminder to thank your letter carrier for the important work they do."
In the face of accusations that he is intentionally sabotaging the mail service with the goal of boosting Trump' reelection chances, DeJoy has repeatedly vowed to ensure that election mail is delivered "fully and on time" for the November election, which is less than 40 days away.
But state officials have raised alarm over recent election-related moves by the DeJoy-led Postal Service, including its decision to send out mailers to every U.S. household containing potentially misleading information about mail-in voting.
"This may have started off as a well-intentioned effort by USPS, but their refusal to listen to election experts combined with the recent postal slowdown in some parts of the country is beyond suspect," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said earlier this month after learning of the USPS mailers.
As TIME reported Monday, election officials in several states are also scrambling "to avert a possible crisis" after the Postal Service "stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current."
"A USPS spokesperson acknowledged the failure," according to TIME, "and said that at least 1.8 million new changes of address had not been registered in the database." Internal USPS emails obtained by TIME attributed the change-of-address problem to an unexplained "error."