By Andy Sullivan and Heather Timmons
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A shakeup of the U.S. Postal Service is leading to mail delays, union officials said on Tuesday, heightening concerns that an ally of President Donald Trump is destabilizing the service as millions of Americans consider whether to cast their ballots by mail in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has donated $2.7 million to Trump and his fellow Republicans since 2017, has ordered operational changes and a clampdown on overtime in a bid to fix the financially troubled service, which reported a net loss of $2.2 billion in the last quarter. [nL1N2F91F9]
The reorganization, introduced in July, has resulted in thousands of delayed letters in southern Maine, as delivery drivers follow a new directive to leave on time, even if the mail has not been loaded, said Scott Adams, who represents about 550 workers as the president of American Postal Worker Union Local 458.
Another new directive requires mail carriers to head out on their routes immediately in the morning, carrying only packages and letters that were sorted the night before, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. That is requiring some carriers to double back to pick up a second batch later in the day, said Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union.
"It is on the ground costing more in manpower and man-hours than it is saving," Karol said.
Deliveries from online shopping during the pandemic had already stretched the post office to its limits. Delays have also been reported in at least 18 other states, according to media reports.
Internal Postal Service documents seen by Reuters acknowledge that the changes may lead to delays.
"One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that -- temporarily -- we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks," says one memo, dated July 10. The plan hopes to eliminate 64 million working hours nationally to reduce personnel costs, according to another memo.
The Postal Service has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, and a measure passed in 2006 requiring it to prefund 75 years of retiree health benefits over the span of 10 years at a cost of more than $100 billion.
In a speech on Friday, DeJoy said managers would try to quickly fix problems when they arise. "We will aggressively monitor and quickly address service issues," he told the Postal Service Board of Governors.
The disruptions have stirred concerns that DeJoy may be seeking to undermine confidence in the Postal Service before the Nov. 3 election, when coronavirus concerns may prompt up to half of all U.S. voters to cast their ballots by mail.
"You've got the customer looking and saying, 'Is the Postal Service reliable, and now am I going to vote by mail?'" Adams of Local 458 said.
Democrats in Congress are calling on the Postal Service to reverse the changes, saying they threatened to interrupt Americans from receiving paychecks and absentee voting.[nL1N2F82SP]
Karol said the USPS and its 600,000 employees are still ready, willing, and able to handle the 2020 election. “We have a system in place that has served them for 200 years. That system isn't broken," she said.
Trump, who has voted by mail himself, has repeatedly said without evidence that the method could lead to widespread fraud. Election experts say it is as secure as any other method. [nL1N2EE02V]
DeJoy said the Postal Service would uphold election-mail standards that have been in place for years.
"The Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so," he said.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Heather Timmons; Editing by Heather Timmons and Aurora Ellis)