PITTSFIELD — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday that he is "suspending" belt-tightening measures and will leave mail processing equipment alone until after the election, but a union president said Tuesday that two mail sorting machines have already been taken offline at a regional processing facility.
The announcement comes as the U.S. House of Representatives moves to vote as soon as this weekend on the `Delivering for America Act,' which would block the U.S. Postal Service from implementing or approving "any change to the operations or the level of service provided by the Postal Service from those in effect on January 1, 2020."
But there have already been changes at the bulk mail processing center in Springfield, which processes mail for parts of Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, according to Russ Evans, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 497.
Evans said a tarp has been draped over a second piece of equipment called a Flat Sequencing System, which he said has been taken out of use but has not been removed from the Springfield facility. The machines process and organize for delivery flat pieces of mail like magazines, newspapers and promotional fliers, he said.
The machines are not involved with processing election mail, according to Evans. He said management's stated rationale for taking the two pieces of mail processing equipment offline was a decline in mail volume during the pandemic, and leaves the Springfield facility with three of each type of machine remaining.
Flat mail volume has declined over the past six months, he said, though he expects volume will rebound as the pandemic eases and as business mailers go out for the holiday season.
While he hasn't received the formal notification the Postal Service is required to give before it makes any moves to abolish positions, Evans is expecting he'll have a fight on his hands to prevent positions from being cut now that postal workers are no longer assigned to the processing machines.
"Because they're doing away with the two machines, they're looking to cut some jobs but yet they've been lax in other departments, so we've got to fight to save jobs now. That will be our big fight," said Evans.
He slammed a new rule that requires trucks leave at a scheduled time, whether or not all of the mail on their delivery route has been processed and loaded onto their trucks. Trucks used to wait for all the day's mail to be loaded onto the trucks before departing, but now mail can be left behind until the following day.
"That comes down to processing. If something happens in mail processing, then the mail is processed late, and it gets dispatched late, and it's sitting there. Well, you're not going to get it out on time," he said. "That's wrong. That's just management delaying the mail."
Evans believes the purpose of the new rules and operational changes are to undermine service standards and decreased the popularity of the U.S. Postal Service in the eyes of the public. He said any reputational blows would in turn make more appealing in the eyes of the public what Evans thinks is DeJoy's aim, privatizing the postal service.
"By cutting machines out of here, they're trying to discredit the good hardworking people of the U.S. Postal Service," he said. "There's been rumors over the years about privatizing the post office, but now with this postmaster general, the writing is on the wall."
Still, Evans said the he has no doubt that the men and women of the local Postal Service apparatus can handle the increased number of vote-by-mail ballots this election season. But he cautioned against any further changes that could jeopardize readiness.
"There's no question in any postal workers' mind that we can do the job," he said. "We have the means and ways to do it, just don't take it away."
Evans pointed to how the postal service enjoys sky-high popularity among the American public. On a campaign stop in Pittsfield on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal also noted the federal agency's high approval rating, which he said "regularly polls in the 91st percentile."
Neal said Trump recently suggested that mail-in voting would lead to fraud, which he said is "is ill considered, because it's not true, it's not based on facts." He said the U.S. House of Representatives is set to take up a proposal to "push back" against operational changes he said are aimed at "eliminating opportunities for people to vote."
"Ballot access in a representative democracy is fundamental, and some of the proposed changes the postal service has proposed in recent days seem to me that they hint strongly at voter suppression," he said.
Ken Singer, president and chief executive of the Berkshire County Arc of Opportunity, joined Neal at the news conference and urged the community to do everything they can to support the Postal Service. Theresa Bianchi, who chairs the city's Council on Aging, said senior citizens rely on the mail to receive medication, Social Security checks and to vote absentee.
"The one solid thing that they could count on during this period of health crisis and fear was their mail, and to have that diminished is simply unconscionable," said Bianchi.
State Rep. Trisha Farley-Bouvier, who serves on the Joint Committee on Election Laws, and state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, also made an appearance with Neal at the news conference convened on the sidewalk outside the Post Office on Fenn Street.
Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, urged the public to get loud about the U.S. Postal Service.
"The postal service is being absolutely taken out by its knees by this president who is so scared of losing an election that he is willing to dismantle one of the most important institutions that we have in this country. He is that scared of losing an election that he wants to cheat," she said.
Amanda Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.