This is part two of a three-part series on why mail is slow and what needs to done to correct it.
Slow mail in the West San Gabriel Valley seems generally to have been taken for granted by area residents and businesses.
By William J. Kelly
“At our office, there have been some minor delays,” said Paul Little, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce executive director, “but only by a day or two at most. I think there have been delays and confusion.” He added that these result from “policy and funding decisions made at the federal level that could be easily remedied by decision-makers.”
Meanwhile, South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Wheeler said she has heard no groundswell of complaints. Likewise, Vroman’s Bookstore, which both receives books through the mail and mails orders to customers, reported shipments largely have been running smoothly.
The slowdown of mail did not begin recently. Instead, it has grown gradually worse since Patrick Donahoe became Postmaster General under President Barack Obama in 2010.
Donahoe began centralizing mail sorting. In 2012. Mail that once had been dropped in slots in Pasadena and sorted locally was shifted to a sorting facility in Los Angeles. Mail that once had been sorted in South Pasadena was shipped to a big sorting facility in Santa Clarita. The result was that a letter sent from one place in Pasadena or South Pasadena to another in the same city or nearby began taking two days to arrive instead of one.
Donahoe made the belt-tightening moves as the volume of first class mail declined and the U.S. Postal Service dealt with a major financial constraint placed on it by Congress in 2006. Congress required the Postal Service to fully fund health insurance for its future retirees 75 years in advance. According to a spokesperson for the American Postal Workers Union, no other business or government agency faces such a requirement. Donahoe also proposed shutting post offices on Saturday, but swift Congressional backlash squelched the plan.
By the time Louis DeJoy was appointed as Postmaster General, the requirement to prefund retiree health insurance had put a $6 billion burden on the Postal Service, preventing needed investments in modernization and staffing, according to a February 19 House Committee on Oversight and Reform memo.
DeJoy quickly mandated that airmail largely be shifted to trucks. Next, he ordered that all trucks leave postal facilities according to an appointed schedule, whether all mail had been loaded or not. Mail that couldn’t be loaded was left behind to be trucked the next day. The Postal Workers Union spokesperson explained that this marked a major break in customary practice at Post Offices and sorting centers to hold trucks until all mail received that day could be loaded. That change in practice further delayed deliveries.
Next came the election
Next came the election and DeJoy’s well-known moves to dismantle sorting equipment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused widespread illness among postal workers. By the beginning of this year, 20,000 Postal Service workers were quarantined due to exposure to the virus or illness. Others had simply left employment to care for children no longer going to school.
At the same time, increased online commerce and the resulting explosion in package shipping caused backups at postal facilities. There simply wasn’t enough staff or space to handle all the boxes that were piling up.
Some of Dejoy’s moves were reversed under Congressional pressure, and delays around the election and holidays have since eased a bit. Mail service remains historically slow, however, and it will continue to be sluggish unless legislation currently being drafted in the House ultimately becomes law.
Tomorrow: How to improve postal service.
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