U.S. Postal Service workers in Washington state are raising concerns about shrinking resources and more work ahead of the U.S. presidential election, which will likely rely heavily on USPS for mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last-minute changes to the postal service such as the removal of mail drop-off boxes and mail sorting machines have fueled worries that millions of the mail-in ballots may not be received or counted in November.
According to news website The Center Square, USPS sent a plan to union leaders in May outlining the discontinuation of several machines, including a mail cancelling machine and three delivery bar code sorters at a Tacoma mail processing and distribution plant.
Internal USPS documents obtained by The Center Square indicated that the national mail service planned to decommission 969 mail machines nationwide. It was reportedly the first time USPS leadership had informed postal union leaders about the plan and preceded a string of such changes in the Puget Sound region over the following three months.
In June, the Puget Sound Area Local APWU (American Postal Workers Union) received a letter from a Tacoma process and distribution center manager noting that one of the facility’s bar code sorters would be removed. The next month, a Seattle district plant manager sent a letter to local APWU presidents announced an “operational change” that would redirect Tacoma’s letter and flat mail to Seattle for sorting. In August, eight machines were uninstalled at the USPS Tacoma plant, according to internal documents.
On August 18, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced the suspension of any further changes to the postal service. The same day, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government by 14 states, including Washington.
APWU’s president in Yakima said that workers in the area are handling more packages than ever during the pandemic as residents shop online from sites like Amazon, which in turn relies heavily on USPS for its deliveries.
“It’s been Christmas-like levels all summer,” he told The Center Square. “We never get a reprieve. It’s peak season all the time.”
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