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Union Leader Explains Recent Delays In Mainers' Mail

Caitlin Troutman
Maine Public
Collection boxes outside of the Post Office in Westbrook.

Maine’s congressional delegation is demanding the U.S. Post Office stop delaying mail.

The delegation, consisting of two Democratic House members, independent Sen. Angus King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins, have sent letters to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy urging him to rethink recent changes that have caused delays in mail delivery.

Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz takes a closer look at the changes that are behind delayed delivery with Scott Adams, general president of the Portland local of the American Postal Workers Union.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: Can you explain the service standards the Postal Service used to meet?

Adams: The Postal Service, in order to meet the standards of efficient, reliable service, has utilized flexibility in order to get mail delivered. And that would include sending trips out late, scheduling over time, scheduling extra trips, doing those things that are needed to adjust when things don’t go so smoothly.

All right, what is changing?

We have a new postmaster general who came onboard in June. He comes from outside of the service and doesn’t quite understand the concept of service and looks at this as a business. So in a flash, he wants to make serious changes. And some of those changes affect the way that we are able to provide the service to the customer.

What are the things he’s having workers do differently?

Well, two of the recent changes are a mandate for on-time transportation, what they’re calling no late trips, no extra trips. And sometimes that doesn’t work out so well. We saw that Monday morning at the southern Maine processing center, where mail was just behind being delivered, the trucks could have left 10 minutes late, provided tens of thousands of pieces delivered to neighboring towns, but we’re told to leave on time even if you leave without the mail.

Another mandate is no overtime, but overtime is a necessary evil. One of the recent examples is that we lost power at the southern Maine plant Tuesday night through Wednesday last week for six hours. That means once power comes back up, machinery starts running, it’s clearly going to run into a need for overtime to get that mail out of the building and to the customer that day.

You mentioned the 80,000 pieces of mail that were delayed because the trucks had to leave 10 minutes before they were ready. So that mail is going to get delivered a day later. Why is that so terrible?

Delivering mail outside of the parameters of what the customer expects gives the public a discouraged look at the Postal Service. Are we no longer reliable, are we no longer efficient, are we no longer effective? And the public will know this because when the letter mail is processed on the machinery at the plant, a photo is taken of those pieces of mail, and that’s provided in a new service to the public called Informed Delivery. And if a customer looks at Informed Delivery and they see they have four pieces of mail coming, say two of them are bills and one’s a check, and they open their mailbox and it’s not there, the integrity of the Postal Service is in question.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said he remains confident that the Postal Service will properly handle the likely flood of absentee ballots, voting by mail, that will occur in November. Do you share his confidence?

I do. I think Secretary Dunlap is absolutely correct. And the Postal Service in the past and currently, even under any changes, has extra steps to make sure that political mailings are handled properly and efficiently — absentee ballots and those ballot returns. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do this. The big question is, is the consumer confident in utilizing vote-by-mail?

As you look at these changes that have occurred in the management of the Postal Service, what is that doing to the morale of your fellow postal workers?

Well, I think our morale has significantly changed from “How do we cope in a COVID environment?” We did pick up an increased volume of mail from other facilities, including Morgan Station in New York due to the pandemic, and we stepped it up. But now, with Postmaster General DeJoy, the concern is what’s going to happen for us in the future. And he has made one sweeping change already to restructure areas. And he did what last Friday was known as the Friday Night Massacre, where he basically went through his entire top staff and he swept house. And I think that puts a fear in the lower levels. The next step is to restructure districts and that makes it more difficult for the Postal Service to operate at the local levels.

And you’d mentioned before that Postmaster General DeJoy is operating more as a businessman and that he doesn’t come through the ranks of the Postal Service. In fairness, other postmaster generals have also not come through the ranks, though it has been quite some time since a nonpostal employee has been postmaster general.

That’s true. We had Marvin Runyon, I believe he was in the Tennessee Valley Authority, that was brought onboard and he immediately earned the nickname Carvin’ Marvin. So we know that what he was doing was, again, “Let’s do this as a business, not a service.”

We’re not here to make a profit. We’re here to provide a public service. And in some places the service will gain money and in other places, it will cost money. And that’s part of the universal service obligation to get out to rural America. And it’s a difficult thing to do. And I think privatization or changing the Postal Service mostly impacts rural communities.