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Flanked by members of the Illinois congressional delegation, Mack Julion, president of Branch 11 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, speaks about the importance of the United States Postal Service during a press conference outside the USPS Chicago Headquarters, Tuesday morning, Aug. 18, 2020. From left, U.S. Reps. Sean Casten, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Jesús “Chuy” García and Robin Kelly look on as Julion speaks. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS103

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‘The bad that is bad now’ began a long time ago

Trump’s postmaster general, Louis DeJoy is hurting the post office. But he didn’t invent the practice.

When Dorothy Parker heard that Calvin Coolidge had died, she quipped, “How can they tell?”

Which about summarizes my reaction to news that Donald Trump is wrecking the U.S. Postal Service.

Without question, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has hurt the USPS during his brief tenure, particularly by ending overtime.

It’s also true that some changes he’s being blamed for, like pulling out high-speed letter sorting machines, were already in the works.

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“You cannot say horrible service in Chicago started this spring,” said Mack Julion, a Chicago postal worker for 23 years and president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 11. “Bad service in Chicago began at least a year ago and got worse during the pandemic.”

An institution as enormous as the post office is like an ocean liner. It takes time to turn. DeJoy showed up in June.

“The directives we hear are coming from his office have yet to hit the workroom floor in Chicago,” Julion said. “The bad that is bad now, that’s basically Chicago management. He can make it worse. You can’t cut overtime in Chicago because we don’t have enough carriers to deliver the mail. Here’s, that’s unthinkable.”

And unworkable. Before going out on their routes, letter carriers “case” mail, sort it for delivery.

“We pack everything up and go out on the street,” said Tierra Meeks, a letter carrier in Naperville. “Now they want us to come in and take all the mail we have at that moment and go straight to the street. Their whole plan is to cut down on overtime, to save them money. But it doesn’t. It gives us more work to do, and in reality it’s going to delay delivering the mail.”

Cutting overtime to save money is one of those small changes that do great harm; it’s like trying to cut military spending by eliminating ammunition. Still, some postal workers give DeJoy the benefit of the doubt.

“Whether this new postmaster general is truly just an organizations guy from the private sector with great ideas or kneecapping the postal service — limiting your overtime, eliminating your equipment, nefariously ... — you could believe he’s setting us up to fail,” said Ken Labbe, president of NALC Local 4099.

I chatted with Labbe while he was working in Mount Prospect, walking the route for a colleague on vacation.

“Routes average 12 miles of walking,” he said. “It’s a great job, if you like to walk.”

Lately though, the job has been less great.

DeJoy appeared before Congress Friday and returns Monday. He claims he is suspending his changes until after the election.

“I’m really grateful for that,” Labbe said. “These changes being halted is a good opportunity for him to explain, under oath.”

DeJoy hasn’t explained much, so let me try.

Trump is like a belligerent drunk who gets kicked out of a bar and then returns to set the back door on fire, not realizing he is also burning down the apartment building above.

In striking out at the USPS — to punish Amazon for the crime of running the Washington Post, to confuse the presidential election in case he loses — Trump is also hurting seniors and vets who depend on the mail for essentials, like medicines.

“I have a lot of elderly people on my route, and they haven’t been getting their medicine on time,” Meeks said. “Usually, they have it scheduled so they get it certain days. One customer, her medicine was suppose to come on Monday, she didn’t get it until Friday.”

And the reason behind the delays makes them worse.

“I definitely believe it is all a political game they’ve been playing,” she said.

“This is not new to us,” Julion said.

But it still rankles carriers.

“Not delivering the mail, intentionally delaying first-class mail. We’ve always been taught that’s against the law,” Julion said. “For our supervisors to be suddenly comfortable delaying first-class mail. This did not start with DeJoy, but got the stamp of approval with DeJoy....

“The postal service is a proud workforce. The responsibility of delivering the United States mail, for us, is everything. The fact that the American people are galvanizing behind us now is very gratifying.”

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