One other thing that became even more obvious on Friday is the extent to which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is involved in everything from DeJoy’s selection to his plans to disassemble this critical service. Mnuchin was the leader of a special White House task force dedicated to overhauling the Postal Service after Trump decided that package delivery pricing was too friendly to Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. Not only did Mnuchin help to put “logistics guy” DeJoy into the driver’s seat, it seems very clear that he was seeking to raise prices across the board, not just to make it harder on Bezos (and more expensive for consumers), but to boost the value of competitive services like FedEx and UPS.
DeJoy’s claim that the delays are caused by workers getting sick shows once again that essential workers are being placed in harm’s way every day of the pandemic. As with many other roles where people have to be physically present, that represents another threat to Black lives. Not just in the sense that Black workers are getting sick, but the restructuring of the Postal Service, closing of offices, and reduction in overtime means that one of the most stable jobs in many Black communities has become destabilized. Postal workers may not be predominately Black, but Postal Service incomes play an outsized role in Black communities, and the loss of those incomes is being felt.
Earlier in the week, Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey launched an investigation into the changes made by DeJoy. The goal of the investigation is intended to determine the real cause for mail delays, and the role that the changes instituted by DeJoy—which include changes in how trucks are scheduled and dispatched as well as the removal of sorting machines, reduction in mailboxes, and refusal to approve overtime—are playing in delays that are being reported across the nation. The investigation will also look into the massive organizational changes DeJoy has made, with long-time Postal Service employees displaced from key roles. The investigation was announced after Rep. Joaquin Castro toured San Antonio’s main post office and was told that the order to remove sorting machines came straight from Washington. The San Antonio office also attempted to prevent Castro from discovering the large piles of undelivered mail still lingering at the facility.
The machinery being disassembled at San Antonio is just a small part of a national story, and in Michigan a worker found a graveyard of former postal equipment. Sorting machines were being dismantled in Grand Rapids just days after DeJoy had promised to halt such actions. The disassembly did not halt, and the current condition of the machines means it would be impossible to put them back.
The direct impact of the delays in mail delivery has states scrambling to address concerns about mail-in ballots. Since restricting the ability to vote by mail has been a primary effort in Trump’s attack on the Post Office, and DeJoy has already both warned states that ballots may be late, even as he also threatened to raise the price for delivering mail-in ballots. With Trump he continues to spread lies about the security of mail-in ballots, and states are having to work extra hard to both reassure voters and plan for how ballots can be tallied in time to provide results within a reasonable period.
Vote by mail is also being made even more difficult by a rule change that DeJoy slipped in. U.S. Postal Service employees are now being told they can’t serve as witnesses on a ballot, a role they have always played in the past. That’s happening even in states where the ballots explicitly say that postal employees can serve as witnesses. This appears to be a national change, and while it’s currently affecting only those few states where early ballots are already being turned it, it will become a serious impediment to vote by mail if not addressed quickly.
Democracy turned out to not be the only thing imperiled by DeJoy’s intentional slowdown. Farmers around the country are finding their livelihoods endangered and chickens are dying by the thousands. It may seem unusual, but the Postal Service has been the main way in which young chicks are delivered to farms and farm supply stories for decades. But live chicks packed into cardboard boxes require prompt delivery, and slow service means that chickens are dying, even on what should be relatively short routes. Not only is this incredibly cruel to the starving chicks, it represents a major threat to farmers dependent on these deliveries.
It’s not only Trump, DeJoy, and Mnuchin who played a role in this attempted destruction of a vital institution. Plenty of Republicans can claim partial credit, like Susan Collins, who introduced the bill that forced the Postal Service to set aside decades of health and retirement benefits. No other agency, department, or company is required to match these retirement payments, and the deep fiscal hole created by Collins’ bill is the primary reason the Postal Service is so deeply in debt.
Right now, at least 20 states have filed suit against the Postal Service in an attempt to restore service. That includes California joining in on Friday. However, it’s unclear how any of these legal remedies will move through the courts fast enough to protect an election just over two months away.
All of these stories on the Post Office have appeared in the last two days. This is an explosive issue that’s immediately understandable to even a casual follower of politics, and of vital need in both cities and rural areas. People get the threat that destroying the Post Office represents, so don’t expect this story to go away quickly.
The Postal Service is just that—a national service. It’s not intended to return a profit any more than the U.S. Army or the National Weather Service. It enables a profit at thousands of businesses and meets a critical need for millions of Americans. That need can’t be addressed by private businesses looking to turn a profit, because the basic role of the Postal Service means that it goes everywhere and treats everyone equally, no matter how remote or difficult to reach.