Following Trump Administration Efforts to Undermine USPS, Merkley Inspects Portland Processing Facility to See Impacts Firsthand

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today inspected the large U.S. Postal Service (USPS) processing and distribution facility in Portland to investigate a number of issues around the ability of USPS to deliver ballots on time in November.

Merkley met with local USPS management, and then with members of the Portland, OR Area Local American Postal Workers Union (APWU). For video following his tour, click here.

In one week, Merkley has received more than 1,100 phone calls from Oregonians concerned about President Trump’s efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the postal service. Mandates from the Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy—including prohibiting overtime, instructing workers to leave mail behind, the removal of blue mailboxes, dismantling of mail processing machines in major distribution centers, and other measures used to deliver mail on time—have resulted in massive delays in mail in some places.

“These delays are of great concern for a number of reasons. Particularly in rural communities, I’ve heard from seniors whose medications are more than a week late. We’ve heard of medicines that need to be kept cold arriving so late that they become warm, making them useless. Veterans who receive mail-order pharmaceuticals from the VA have reported delays.

“There are concerns around paychecks and benefit checks being slow to arrive, at a time when families have no margin and are living paycheck to paycheck. Small businesses are suffering as they rely more on e-commerce, and have backed up orders of cleaning supplies that they need to keep their workers and customers safe. And of course we have concerns about getting ballots in on time; already in Multnomah County, people were advised to mail their ballots a day early because of delays.

“That said, I came away with some improved confidence that the Oregon postal system will be able to deliver mail effectively for the November election. The distribution center I inspected has dismantled nine out of 30 sorting machines, but they believe that the remaining machines can, at 70 percent productivity, continue to run on time through peak load times. And, with the speed at which the machines process ballots, they could process all of the ballots coming through that site within 15 hours.

“Despite these assurances, many concerns remain. I was concerned to learn that 130 blue boxes have been removed in Oregon and Southwest Washington this calendar year alone. While those boxes may not be needed day to day, they serve an important function during high-volume mail times, such as holidays and, of course, election season. Those boxes should be reinstalled.

“Also of concern is the new ‘leave mail behind’ policy put forward by the postmaster general. It was explained to me that in the past, if a load was still on the deck, carriers would work extra minutes to make sure the full load made it onto the truck to be delivered that day. Now, with no flexibility on timing, loads are being left behind, creating a backlog. APWU reported to me that a letter carrier was formally reprimanded after waiting just one minute to get the full load for her delivery route. While trucks running on time has always been USPS policy, the new enforcement is clearly a deliberate effort to slow delivery and undermine workers.  

“I’m also deeply concerned about the president’s efforts to block desperately needed funds. The House has tried to deliver $25 billion in relief, but the president and Senate leadership have refused to act. We need action, without delay.

“The informal USPS motto has always been, ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers.’ The new motto is, ‘packages, checks, ballots and medicine can be left behind.’

“We need to restore USPS from this political sabotage. Our entire congressional delegation—and more importantly, the American people—will continue to fight to restore our postal service. It is one of our country’s most beloved institutions, and we will not allow President Trump to continue to destroy it.”

The Portland, OR Area Local APWU said, “Members of the American Postal Workers Union are dedicated to providing the same high quality service that the American People have come to expect for the last 245 years. If we are to continue to provide the level of service the American people deserve, the Senate must act. This vital COVID relief funding, requested by the Board of Governors and approved by the House of Representatives, will ensure that prescriptions, greeting cards, e-commerce, and election mail are processed and delivered on time, in 2020 and for years to come.”

For video following Merkley’s tour, click here.

For photos of changes at the USPS facility, click here.