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Critics Say Changes To USPS May Completely Transform The Post Office

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A month ago, a new postmaster general took command at the U.S. Postal Service. Louis DeJoy is a North Carolina businessman and major Trump donor, and he's wasted no time implementing changes critics say will transform the post office from a public service to a delivery business. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: On his first day on the job last June 15, Louis DeJoy addressed the nearly half a million U.S. Postal Service employees in a video message.

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LOUIS DEJOY: We will focus on creating a viable operating model that ensures the Postal Service continues fulfilling its public service mission.

NAYLOR: That message has been followed by a number of directives and orders that have some wondering just what DeJoy has in mind for the agency, which dates back to the nation's earliest days. Managers have told postal workers that the post office is about to embark on a long-overdue operational pivot. It means, among other things, that late arriving mail will now be left behind by carriers and delivered the next day and that overtime will be eliminated.

PHILIP RUBIO: There seems to be a sea change here.

NAYLOR: That's Philip Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T and a former letter carrier. He says DeJoy seems intent on making the Postal Service more of a business than a service.

RUBIO: So if they're talking about delaying mail, if they're talking about sending letter carriers out to the street even if the truck is late, that means there's a lot of first-class mail that's going to be left on the workroom floor. And there's an almost cavalier attitude about this.

NAYLOR: The Postal Service has long-standing financial issues. It reported a loss of nearly $9 billion last year. Some of that is due to a congressional mandate that the post office prepay the health care costs of retirees. Some of it is due to a years-long decline in first-class mail. The coronavirus pandemic has also meant a reduction in some mail. But it's also meant an increase in package shipping as people shop online from their homes. And that has postponed an imminent cash crisis the service had predicted would strike earlier this summer.

Still, shippers aren't certain what the changes DeJoy is implementing will mean for their businesses. Art Sackler is manager of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group of companies that rely on the post office, including Amazon, Hallmark and others.

ART SACKLER: Having potentially a material change, if you like, without any kind of consultation is a disappointment and hopefully was just a mistake or a mix-up. It looks as if what they're proposing has the potential to do everything you just said - to delay mail, to have that mail that is being delayed accumulate from day to day.

NAYLOR: The unions representing Postal Service employees say they haven't met with DeJoy or been consulted about the changes either. Mark Dimondstein is president of the American Postal Workers Union.

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: So the union and the people that we represent - postal workers in general - are absolutely opposed to any policies that just slow down the mail in the name of whatever the name is - cost-cutting, in this case. It's about service. It's not the United States postal business. It's the United States Postal Service.

NAYLOR: Postal workers say these changes could mean medicine, census forms, even mail-in ballots might be delayed. For its part, the Postal Service says it's maximizing the Postal Service's strengths to ensure its long-term success.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PECAS SONG, "T-SHIRT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.