If Louis DeJoy wasn't hired expressly by a Trump-owned U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors in order to destroy the agency, then it's really hard to explain just how disastrous a mistake they made in installing him. A Los Angeles Times deep-dive into his key operational change—making the trucks run on time—exposes just how much sabotage he's been able to achieve in a very short time. Of all his changes, the transportation schedule is the one he refuses to change, and it's the one doing the most damage.
The removal of mail sorting machines got a lot of attention, but forcing drivers to leave post offices and distribution centers on a strict schedule, as well as restricting extra trips to pick up the missed mail, is what has upended the system, according to the Los Angeles Times investigation. Its reporters talked to postal employees who laid out what this obsession with the trucks being on time has meant: "Some trucks have traveled empty, and mail left behind has accumulated at massive processing centers, creating backlogs in a system that is not designed to store mail. Loading dock managers have falsified records so it appears that trucks are departing earlier, some mail has been sorted twice, and in at least one case, a large shipment from Amazon was turned away because facilities had no space to process it."
Saintil Perry, president of a local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union in California, described how a post office in Carmichael ran out of space and turned away about 1,500 Amazon packages—in one day. “That’s a no-no. That’s revenue, regardless of how heavy the shipment is,” Perry said. “But they literally don’t have space. The letter carriers don’t have space. If they take on this mail, they won’t have time to leave because they would have to process it.” They don't have the space because they have backlogs of mail that hasn't gone out because it didn't get on the trucks on time, sometimes missing the deadline by mere minutes. Will Khong, president of the postal union’s Orange County-area chapter, told the paper it also means that at a distribution center in Santa Ana, "tractor-trailers began pulling away from the docks even if workers were in the middle of loading them."
Mail is sorted in the exact order for delivery on the carrier routes. When it's left behind, it has to be sorted a second, maybe a third time in the next delivery so that it's in the right order for the next day's delivery. “We were just shaking our heads,” Khong said. “Why would you have a policy where you then have to run the mail twice—if all you have to do is have the trucks wait a few more minutes?”
That's led to the slowdowns detailed in Sen. Gary Peters' report looking into this summer's fiasco of missing prescription drugs and late checks and dead baby chicks. Those delays haven't been entirely rectified, even with DeJoy halting some of the process changes, because he refuses to ease restriction on the transportation schedule. The Times tested it by mailing 100 letters to five cities in late August, and found that "at least 22 of the envelopes arrived late or were never delivered. One letter sent from Sylmar took 11 days to get to Austin, Texas," the Times reports. "Another item mailed from Malibu sat in the Los Angeles processing center for three days before being delivered to a San Francisco suburb four days later."
When DeJoy took over, the USPS trucks were on time 88% of the time. He wanted to push that to above 90% to avoid $1 billion in late fees and labor costs. An audit that was completed at about the time DeJoy started in June did find that about 20% of trucks leaving processing facilities were delayed, but the auditors didn't recommend strict adherence to a transportation schedule. That was in part because the USPS was dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, with postal workers declared essential workers. They grappled with illnesses, the need for workers to quarantine, and a massive influx of shipping to deal with because so many more people were shopping mail order and online. The auditors recommended that “once the impacts of COVID-19 subside,” a plan for dealing with staff shortages should be worked out, and that the USPS leadership work out a new automated system to figure out integration of transportation, processing, and delivery operations.
DeJoy ignored all that and instituted his trucking policy, while at the same time USPS managers at lower levels started restricting overtime. That was the recipe for the disaster they all cooked up. Mark Jamison, a retired postmaster in North Carolina, said DeJoy just doesn't get how the agency is supposed to work as an integrated network: “DeJoy worked in logistics and probably does know that end of it. But when it comes to the rest of the system, I don’t think he knows his eyeball from a hole in the ground.”
DeJoy is going to get his better on-time numbers, but they're going to be a lie. Bob Waterhouse, executive vice president of the San Diego chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said that postal clerks are seeing managers falsify records to show tasks like sorting being completed before they are, or trucks being loaded when they're not. “This is a way to show that the policy is working when it is not actually being practiced,” Waterhouse said. He also said that managers are threatening to discipline employees who try to correct the false records.
Robert Bockman, a tractor-trailer operator and vice president of the Puget Sound-area union chapter in Washington state, says that it's gotten so bad managers are telling drivers to leave loading docks five minutes early, even if they're not loaded up. “I feel like I’m in a day care,” he said, talking about signs that have shown up in area processing stations that have clip art of a stopwatch and say “5 Minutes Early Is The New ON TIME!” with the phrase “NO EXCEPTIONS” in bold red type. “The micromanagement has really caused issues in the workplace,” Bockman said. “It’s stressful. You don’t want to be late, and you sure as hell don’t want to be talked to by supervisors.“ He says as many as four times of a week, he's leaving distribution centers with an empty trailer because he's been forced to leave early.
That leaves more mail piled up, where facilities don't have room, and where it has to be sorted all over again. “Leaving mail behind would increase on-hand volumes, disrupting the control processes and system balance,” Robert Fisher, a former Postal Service executive and owner of Fisher Postal Analytics, explained.
But the trucks must leave the
station post office on time. Yeah, it's an apocryphal historical reference but, boy does it sure fit this administration.