Postal workers, union officials and Maryland political leaders urged citizens Monday to rally behind the U.S. Postal Service, saying public pressure can help reverse significant cuts at an agency “under attack.”
“We need everybody,” said Sherry McKnight, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 181, which represents about 1,600 Baltimore-area postal workers.
“I definitely think it would be of great impact,” McKnight said, if people voiced their objections to recent cost-cutting moves that have caused a political firestorm in a presidential election year in which mailed ballots are expected to play a critical role.
The nation’s new Postmaster General has imposed restrictions on overtime pay for postal workers and ordered the removal of mail equipment, such as mail sorting machines and mail boxes, including in Baltimore. As a result, people are reporting delayed or missing mail and growing concern about the mailing of medicines, paychecks and other important documents and items.
McKnight’s comments followed a news conference — held across E. Fayette Street from the Postal Service processing and distribution center in Baltimore’s Jonestown neighborhood — that included Maryland’s U.S. senators, state Senate President Bill Ferguson and other local leaders.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Brian Frosh said in an interview that his office is considering joining with other attorneys general in legal action to try to restore Postal Service cuts that Frosh said have “the potential to do great harm” to the Nov. 3 election.
“I know there are a number of attorneys general looking at ways to try to prevent that harm from occurring,” Frosh said. “Stay tuned.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has summoned the chamber back to work on a bill to address Postal Service issues.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said the Democratic-led House is expected to “overwhelmingly pass” legislation to help the Postal Service. He said public pressure could compel Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to take up the legislation, but there are no plans for the Senate to do so.
“The question will be to Mitch McConnell: ‘Do you want to make sure that seniors in your state can get their medicine on time? Do you want make sure your Social Security recipients can get their Social Security checks on time?‘” Van Hollen said at Monday’s news conference. “I think it’s going to raise a lot of pressure on him.”
At an event Monday in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s complaints about mail operations. But the Republican leader also declined to recall senators to Washington, vowing the Postal Service “is going to be just fine.”
Also attending the Baltimore news conference were U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and U.S. Reps Kweisi Mfume and John Sarbanes. All are Democrats. The party has broadly supported Pelosi’s call to bring the House back into session weeks early to confront the changes at USPS.
Mfume, whose district includes parts of Baltimore, called on the U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, to resign, as has Pelosi and top Senate Democrats.
DeJoy is scheduled to testify Aug. 24 at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee.
Trump defended DeJoy on Monday, but also criticized postal operations and claimed that universal mail-in ballots would be “a disaster.”
“I want to make the post office great again,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” Later at the White House, he denied asking for a mail-delivery slow down.
“Shame, shame, shame,” Mfume said Monday of the postal cuts.
Cardin said that postal workers, who have delivered all-important documents, medications and checks during the COVID-19 pandemic, ought to be receiving hazard pay, rather than overtime reductions.
Louise Martin, a retired veteran from Montgomery County, said the postal delays are taking a toll on her.
“My hypertension drugs are 10 days late,” she said at the news conference.
Martin said people needed to support postal workers by “causing good trouble.” She wore a “Good Trouble” T-shirt as a nod to the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, who was known for using that phrase.
Postal worker Courtney Jenkins said the service was doing the best it could, but its workers felt “under attack.”
Jenkins said he wanted citizens to understand that “that postal clerk, that letter carrier — they’re not making the decisions. They’re pushing back as much as they can,” said Jenkins, who is also legislative director with the postal workers union in Baltimore.
Young highlighted Baltimore’s needs in his remarks.
“Baltimore is home to a medically at risk population, many of whom depend on the work that you do to get the necessary medicines and other essential goods delivered to them,” Young said. “No one is more sympathetic to solving all of the challenges posed by this unprecedented COVID-19 situation than me.”
The news conference came days after several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Postal Service leadership complaining of “major mail delivery issues” at 14 locales in Baltimore City as well as in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. In the Baltimore area, elected officials say they have been receiving constituent complaints about mail delivery, particularly in Dundalk and Essex
Residents of Baltimore City’s Abell neighborhood voiced concerns after a mailbox there was removed recently, but officials say it was taken away due to a construction project, and will be returned once the project is complete.
On Friday, a representative from the local postal union said that six mail processing machines — four in Baltimore and two in Linthicum — were taken out of use in early August and are being dismantled. Election mail typically runs through the machines, according to McKnight.
McKnight said there were “approximately 33″ of the delivery bar code sorters remaining at the Baltimore site. About 10 of the machines remained in Linthicum, union leaders said.
USPS regional spokesperson Freda Sauter did not respond to messages left Monday afternoon.
The issues have caused many to be concerned about the looming November election, with many states encouraging the use of mail-in ballots instead of in-person voting to limit the spread of COVID-19. Maryland will offer limited in-person voting centers in November but expects 50% of voters to participate in the election via absentee ballot.
In late July, the Postal Service warned 46 states, including Maryland, that their deadlines for requesting absentee ballots might not provide “sufficient time” for ballots to be mailed to voters and returned to the elections office with the required Election Day postmark.
The Maryland elections board has since voted to move that deadline to Oct. 20, which is still one day fewer than the 15 before Election Day that the Postal Service says is the minimum time span.
Trump, a vocal critic of voting by mail, said that the Postal Service cannot handle the millions of vote-by-mail ballots that are expected to be sent this fall because of its inability to access emergency funding he acknowledged he is blocking.
The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reporters Emily Opilo, Christine Condon, Sameer Rao and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.