7 mail sorting machines removed in Charlotte, official says, as protests continue
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Seven mail sorting machines have been removed from service at a post office facility in Charlotte as Democrats and postal workers amped up their protests Tuesday against changes underway at the agency ahead of the fall election.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat who has demanded that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy resign, led one of those protests in uptown Charlotte.
The machines were removed from service at the United States Postal Service facility at 2901 Scott Futrell Drive, near Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to Miriam Bell. Bell is a 23-year employee of the Postal Service and president of the American Postal Workers Union Charlotte Area Local, 375.
The seven that were removed are out of an estimated 25 to 28 machines at the central distribution facility, Bell said. Workers said they didn’t know why the machines were removed.
On Tuesday afternoon, as political pressure mounted and states threatened lawsuits, DeJoy announced he was suspending certain moves until after the election. Retail hours will not change, mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are, no mail processing facilities will be closed and overtime will continue to be approved as needed, according to a statement from DeJoy.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” Dejoy said.
It was not immediately clear whether the machines removed in the Charlotte facility would be restored.
The sorting machines have been removed from service in spades across the country, and a spokesperson for the agency has said that the practice is normal amid shifting trends in mail.
The removal from service of the machines is just the latest controversy in an ongoing nationwide postal crisis. DeJoy had restricted overtime and removed some mailboxes across the country, among other changes.
As a result, vital mail, such as medicines, aren’t being delivered on time in some cases, postal workers say. The crisis at the agency could potentially undermine the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 presidential election, which will see more mail-in votes than ever before.
“They call all the time, saying ‘I’m expecting my medicine, where is it? Can you find it?’,” said Teresa McClellan, a Charlotte area postal worker with 20 years of experience. “Your heart just drops, because you want to help this person and you don’t know if they’re out of medicine.”
DeJoy, an N.C. businessman and major Republican donor, announced a reorganization of the Postal Service on Aug. 7, saying it would “align functions based on core business operations and will provide more clarity and focus on what the Postal Service does best; collect, process, move and deliver mail and packages.”
DeJoy was appointed by Trump in May and took over in mid-June.
In July, the Postal Service instituted new policies on overtime and delivery schedules to save money. The changes come on the eve of the presidential election, leading many of President Donald Trump’s detractors to claim that the changes are being made to bolster Trump’s re-election effort.
Trump has been highly critical of mail-in voting, suggesting without evidence that it could result in a fraudulent election.
“Mail is being left and delayed a day, which may not be critical if it’s a letter from a friend but if it’s your medication and you need it, yes, it’s critical,” Bell said.
McClellan, the postal worker, said her facility has started to receive hundreds of calls every day about delays in mail delivery.
‘ATTEMPT TO SABOTAGE’
On Tuesday, Adams led a protest outside the post office at East 5th Street and North McDowell Street in uptown Charlotte with Bell and other postal workers.
“There is a deliberate attempt to sabotage this election,” said Adams, who has a P.O. Box at the uptown post office. “Why in the hell aren’t we working overtime?”
Adams called for DeJoy to resign on Aug. 8, becoming the first member of Congress to call for his removal or resignation. Several hundred people protested the Postal Service changes at DeJoy’s Greensboro home Sunday.
DeJoy will testify Friday before a Senate committee and Monday before a House panel. Adams said she plans to ask DeJoy why the Postal Service has turned off mail sorting machines across the country.
The Postal Service lost $8.8 billion in fiscal year 2019, the 13th consecutive year that the agency has lost money. This year, during the coronavirus pandemic, the Postal Service has experienced a sharp drop in mail services, but a huge uptick in shipping and package.
The persistent financial losses have led conservatives to call for its privatization, but others defend the agency as a necessary function of government that isn’t about turning a profit, like the military.
“It’s a postal service, not a postal business,” Bell said.
DEPENDING ON THE MAIL
Despite rapid changes in shipping and delivery, millions of Americans still rely on the postal service for crucial services. The Veterans Administration uses the USPS to send prescriptions out to veterans, for example.
“Our population is very dependent on the mail. I have to say I’m one of them,” said Joyce Dunn, mayor of Carolina Shores. “During COVID, it’s really been a blessing to get what we need through the mail reliably. I wouldn’t want to see that go away. We have too many elderly people who depend on the mail for the resources they need.”
Trump, a vocal and persistent opponent of universal mail-in voting, tied the unimpeded functioning of the Postal Service to mail-in balloting together in an interview on Fox News. Several states, mostly in the West, are voting exclusively by mail in this election.
Other states, like North Carolina, are seeing a large uptick in absentee by-mail balloting.
“Now, they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said this month. “Now if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get that money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
In North Carolina, there have been over 250,000 requests for absentee ballots so far this election cycle, according to J. Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College in Salisbury.
That’s already more requests for absentee ballots than in 2016, when nearly 200,000 people voted by-mail in the presidential election, almost two months out from the Oct. 27 deadline to request absentee ballots. But in the ongoing mail crisis, USPS and state election officials have said that date might be too late for voters to receive their ballots and return them with an Election Day postmark.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. House is expected to vote Saturday, returning from a recess, on a $25 billion package for the Postal Service that would block certain organizational and policy changes.
As many as 20 states, including North Carolina, are planning to file lawsuits against changes that could delay election mail, The Washington Post reported. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has said he is “very concerned about the undermining of the Postal Service going into the elections.”
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