Thanks to Court Order, USPS Is Re-Activating Some Sorting Machines

I've got a short intro for you today about the federal injunctions against the USPS and what it means for mail service, then we'll get to the links and postcards. I'm also hard at work on Part II of the Working For USPS series. I haven't decided yet if we'll run Part II on Tuesday or wait another week so I can do some more reporting. Either way, you'll get something from The Mail on Tuesday as usual.


The big USPS news over the last week started Friday when a federal judge in Washington state issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that essentially ordered the USPS to reverse pretty much all the stuff that's happened over the past several weeks, including the orders from the infamous July memo telling carriers to leave mail behind if it meant they'd be late, significantly reducing late and extra truck trips, and treating election mail as anything other than first class. And on Monday, another federal judge in New York ruled basically the same thing.

The injunctions are especially interesting because it puts to the test a fundamental claim the USPS has been making these past few weeks. In short, the USPS's argument has always been that they didn't actually do the stuff the lawsuits say they did. The July memo was unauthorized by USPS headquarters, lawyers argued in various filings, and did not reflect official policy. And they said they didn't reverse or change any election mail policies. The only change they've acknowledged has been reducing the late and extra truck trips, something DeJoy insisted was actually good even though it resulted in a lot of delayed mail.

The injunction will put this argument to the test. Barring any appeals, the USPS is legally obligated to do what the court says. So this is where the rubber hits the road. Either the USPS was doing these things and now has to knock it off or it wasn't.

It's only been a few days since the injunctions came down, but it seems some changes are already starting to take place. For example, a union official told me three of the seven Delivery Bar Code Sorter (DBCS) machines at the South Jersey processing and distribution facility in Bellmawr have been re-assembled and put back into service. In West Virginia, two of the three DBCS machines are back. And in New Hampshire, a DBCS machine that has been offline for weeks was back in operation. None of the workers or union officials I spoke to said managers explicitly tied the changes to the injunction, but they all took place after the injunction was ordered.

When I asked the USPS if they have implemented any changes since the injunction, spokesperson Dave Partenheimer issued the following statement via email: "While we are exploring our legal options, there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives. Our number one priority is to deliver election mail on-time.”

To be clear, plugging DBCS machines back in isn't happening everywhere, at least not yet, and many can't be put back into service. Several other postal workers around the country told me nothing has changed in their neck of the woods. Nor do I have a great sense on what is happening with the on-time truck trips. I'll keep looking into it and let you know what I find out.

This Week In Mail

Mail-in-Voting News

  • A bunch of good news on the mail-in-voting front. First, Wisconsin avoids a scare that it would have to cancel and reprint all of its absentee ballots to include the Green Party candidate just days before they were scheduled to start being sent out, which would have been a logistical nightmare. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled they won't have to do that.

  • Other good news: my colleague at VICE News reports on a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that any ballots received through November 6 at 5 p.m., the Friday after election day, will still count as long as they are postmarked by election day. Given that Pennsylvania is predicted to be a key swing state and Philadelphia is one of the areas hit hardest by mail delays, this was an important ruling.

  • I wrote about the whole USPS post card kerfuffle and why I think we're overthinking things a bit when it comes to communicating how to vote by mail.

General USPS News

  • A good government group called American Oversight quietly dropped 10,000 pages of documents obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request about the USPS's response to coronavirus. The Washington Post, which first reported on the trove, highlighted that the USPS had a plan to mail five masks to every person in the country before the White House quashed it. But the documents also provide an unprecedented window into Amazon's relationship with the USPS. I've only had a chance to look over a few thousand of the pages so far, but it's clear the deal with Amazon is profitable for the USPS, and indeed critical to their survival as long as the USPS has to be self-sufficient. You'll be absolutely shocked to learn Trump has no idea what he's talking about

  • Trump continues his long tradition of stiffing contractors by stiffing the USPS on payments for a coronavirus-related postcard. 

  • The LA Timeshas been doing some good reporting on how USPS policies have created mail delays in California.

  • There are very few things about which postal workers are in unanimous agreement about. It's a massive agency with 630,000 workers in every place of the country. A good example of that is how the USPS has dealt with COVID-19. Many postal workers I talked to about this have been generally happy with the USPS's handling of COVID because of the generous time off policy which allows workers to quarantine if necessary while still getting paid. But, as ProPublica reports, that also impacts mail delivery for the short-staffed agency. And, of course, the positive experiences have hardly been universal.

  • eBay is activating a plan to shift business from USPS to UPS because of DeJoy slowing down the mail. As the Washington Post highlights, eBay generated some $743 million in revenue for the USPS last year. You know you're a brilliant businessman when you swiftly cause your new company to lose one of its largest customers.
    This is especially ironic because in 2006, then-USPS Postmaster General John Potter spoke at an eBay convention in Las Vegas and told 15,000 eBay power sellers "I have one message today for the entire eBay community: We, the Postal Service, we love you."

Postcards

Our stack of postcards is getting mighty high, it's very cool. More, more I say!

Our address is:

VICE Media c/o Aaron Gordon

49 S 2nd St.

Brooklyn, NY 11211

That's the most elegant handwriting I've ever seen in my life. I am now ashamed to write anything.

"Wash hands, wear masks, write letters" is the new official sign-off for this newsletter. Thank you, D.

What D. said,

Aaron