Postal workers in Maine are demanding the replacement of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and a permanent end to recent operational changes that have caused mail delays and other problems here and across the nation.

They’re also urging passage of a coronavirus relief package that includes $25 billion in federal aid to help the U.S. Postal Service weather the pandemic. The House has approved the legislation, but the Senate hasn’t acted on it.

And they’re calling for an end to a postal retiree health care pre-funding requirement, part of a 2006 bill co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that requires the USPS to fund retiree health insurance 50 years into the future. While the House voted overwhelmingly to repeal the law in February, the Senate hasn’t taken action.

“We must end the insane pre-funding requirement,” the unions said Thursday in a written statement. “The postal service is the only agency required to do this and it is the single biggest cause of USPS’s financial challenges.”

The Maine AFL-CIO and leaders of four postal union locals held an online news conference Thursday, criticizing President Trump for calling the postal service “a joke” and continuing to undermine the public’s trust in their agency on the threshold of a national election.

“The postal service can handle it,” said Scott Adams, president of American Postal Workers Union 458 in Portland, which represents 550 postal employees.

“It’s offensive. We’re not a joke,” Adams noted later.

On replacing DeJoy, Adams said, “it’s just not a good fit for him” and “we need a permanent cessation of his initiatives.”

Union leaders called Thursday’s news conference after it came to light Wednesday that two of 10 mail-sorting machines have been removed from the postal service’s Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough. Each machine can sort 36,000 letters per hour.

They also claim the postal service has intentionally delayed the delivery of first class mail and priority mail to push delivery of Amazon packages; is reducing regular hours and limiting overtime hours for flexible staff in some locations in Maine; and using a new sorting system that forces mail carriers to work longer hours and causes mail to be delayed.

Postal customers tell them they’re worried about whether their prescription medications, bill payments and birthday cards to loved ones will be delivered on time.

“As postal workers it bothers us deeply to see mail delayed for political and ideological reasons because we care deeply about our customers and communities,” said Patrick Donovan, president of National Postal Mail Handlers Branch 122.

The House has already approved $25 billion in funding for the postal service as part of the Heroes Act, a COVID-19 relief bill, that passed in May but has been sitting in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House is prepared to vote Saturday on a standalone bill that would give the USPS $25 billion in emergency funding. It also would require the postal service to treat election mail as first class mail and explicitly reverse any changes already made that delay mail delivery.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have supported funding for the postal service, which has experienced financial struggles for years that have only worsened during the pandemic.

Collins and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, announced Thursday that they are pressing Senate leadership to quickly pass their bipartisan bill to give the postal service up to $25 billion for expenses and losses resulting from COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 public health emergency has underscored the vital role of the USPS while also posing challenges for this essential agency,” Collins and Feinstein said in a joint statement. “The pandemic has contributed to declines in first class and marketing mail volumes, while adding new costs, including for personal protective equipment and other safety measures.”

Even with increased package shipments during the pandemic, the postal service anticipates that the pandemic will increase net losses and accelerate its cash crisis, they said.

Collins also defended the 2006 pre-funding mandate, saying that it was pitched by the postal service and part of a bill that was passed unanimously by Congress, had broad employee support and relieved the agency of billions of dollars in crushing financial liabilities.

She called arguments against the pre-funding mandate “spurious” because the postal service hasn’t made a single related payment in nearly a decade. She said the 2008 recession, written communication diverted to the internet and increased operational costs also contributed to the postal service’s financial troubles.

The House voted to repeal the 2006 law with 87 Republicans in support.

Union leaders said two mail-sorting machines were removed from the Scarborough facility before DeJoy announced Tuesday that he would suspend all operational changes until after the November election. He had ordered that hundreds of sorting machines be removed from postal facilities across the nation by the end of September.

One machine was removed from the Scarborough facility in early June and scrapped, Adams said Thursday. The other was dismantled in mid-July and its parts will be used to upgrade other machines in Scarborough and at a processing center in Hampden.

Union leaders questioned why the machines were removed during the pandemic, when their usefulness cannot be gauged accurately. They also said they don’t expect the machines to be restored to the Scarborough facility, which DeJoy confirmed Wednesday in a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District, called the removal of the two machines in Scarborough a “dangerous move” by the Trump administration that’s meant “to hinder voting by mail and destabilize our elections.”

DeJoy’s policy changes have already wrought mail delays in Maine, union leaders say.

This month, more than 65,000 pieces of mail were delivered late after trucks failed to wait an extra 10 minutes for the mail to be sorted. And Maine farmers who regularly order live chicks through the postal service said many of the chicks they’ve ordered recently are arriving dead because they were apparently mishandled, leading to large financial losses.

Union leaders also say postal service delayed first-class and priority mail on three occasions in June and July in order to prioritize the delivery of fourth-class Amazon packages. Carriers estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 first class and priority packages were delivered late each time this happened.

Last Friday, the postal service warned 46 states – including Maine – that it could not guarantee timely delivery of absentee ballots in the November election, and it urged some states to change deadlines for ballot requests or take other steps to provide more delivery time.

Asked about the removal of the two machines in Scarborough, regional USPS spokesman Stephen Doherty referred to the postmaster general’s statement on Tuesday.

“The postal service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said. “Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards. The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day.”

DeJoy said retail hours at post offices will not change, mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are and no mail processing facilities will be closed.

DeJoy is scheduled to appear Friday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Some states have filed lawsuits. Some Democrats, including Pingree, have called for his resignation.

DeJoy is a North Carolina businessman who has given $1.2 million to Trump’s campaigns and has claimed to have, along with his wife, between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, the Washington Post reported.

DeJoy was elected postmaster general in May by the postal service’s board of governors, who are six men appointed by Trump. Four are Republicans, two are Democrats. The president can appoint as many as nine board members, with no more than five from the same political party. Two members resigned in May and June, following DeJoy’s appointment.

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