Labor leaders representing Maine postal workers are calling on Congress to pass $75 billion in coronavirus relief funds and renewing their calls to stop cost-cutting measures that will reduce service.

More than 60 million Americans relied on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver ballots during the presidential election, and with a second wave of coronavirus infections sweeping the nation, people are increasingly relying on the post office to deliver basic goods, Scott Adams, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 458, said during a virtual news conference Tuesday.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed by the Postal Board of Governors this summer, has pushed aggressively to cut costs, resulting in delayed mail service and fewer deliveries. DeJoy oversaw the dismantling of mail sorting machines and implementation of new policies that prohibited overtime, as well as making second trips to deliver packages rather than delivering them the following day.

He also implemented policies to prevent letter carriers from waiting at terminals for more mail to be loaded before they embark on a delivery run, further extending delivery times.

Election security groups and others went to court to block those measures and ensure ballots were delivered and counted on time. But now that the election is over, the Postal Service is again subject to cuts and new rules that will affect service, including forbidding workers from clocking overtime and making late or extra trips, closing postal facilities and scrapping mail-sorting equipment.

“Louis DeJoy doesn’t reflect the same values or the understanding that Postal Service workers have about how the service runs, as a service and not a business,” Adams said. “All those policies that DeJoy put in place were put on hold through the election. However, the election’s over and we anticipate he will re-enact his measures to the detriment of the service and to the American people.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, DeJoy congratulated the postal workforce for its efforts during the election, but said the agency cannot continue to operate as it has in the past, and indicated he would continue to pursue changes to make the service “self sustaining.”

“It is my fervent hope that we can work together to save the Postal Service, which is an essential part of the federal government, and collaborate on new solutions that preserve six-day delivery, strengthen our universal service obligation, and ensure that we are self-sustaining,” DeJoy said. “It’s now time to put away the harsh rhetoric and lower the temperature, and to work collaboratively to do the hard work of protecting, preserving, and enhancing the vital American institution that is the Postal Service, so that we can have a bright and vibrant future in service of our nation for many years to come.”

The Postal Service delivered 136 million mail-in ballots with little drama. Locally, labor unions worked with postal managers to take extra steps to ensure ballots in Maine were not left behind at postal sorting facilities and that election-related mail was prioritized.

In Maine, about 70 percent of all ballots cast – about 508,000 – were absentee, and many of them were delivered by mail, up from about 30 percent in previous election years, said Anna Kellar, executive director of League of Women Voters of Maine, and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

During the next election, Keller said, it should not require heroic efforts seen by postal workers and unions this year to ensure voters can exercise their right to participate in democracy.

“Despite COVID, despite all of the barriers that were put in our way, we had an election with record-breaking turnout, (with) completely unprecedented voting by mail,” Kellar said. “They were able to rely on the Postal Service to make sure their ballots were delivered in time and were able to be counted.”

Kellar added later: “I agree, voting by mail is here to stay.”

The U.S. Senate has balked at passing emergency coronavirus relief funding for the USPS. The $75 billion legislation includes $50 billion for COVID-related expenses and to carry the agency through the rest of the pandemic, and $25 billion for “shovel-ready” projects to improve facilities and replace the fleet of aging postal vehicles, many more than 30 years old and are spontaneously bursting into flames at an alarming rate.

As the pandemic drags on into winter, the Postal Service is also seeing an increase in the number of packages it’s delivering as more people shop online for items they would normally purchase in person locally. While the increased business helps revenue, packages are also more expensive to handle and deliver, making it more important for Congress to reinvest in the postal service, Adams said.

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