California seeks immediate reversal of U.S. Postal Service changes
California is seeking the immediate reversal of changes at the U.S. Postal Service that have caused widespread delays in mail delivery and have raised concerns that mail-in voting could be hampered ahead of the November election.
The legal move announced Thursday by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra follows reports in The Times and other outlets about rotting food and dead animals in stockpiled packages in mail facilities, and customers who have gone long stretches without income and crucial medication due to the delays.
Accounts from employees at California postal facilities provide a glimpse of the chaos amid both the pandemic and widespread cuts imposed by the USPS.
It also comes just after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was served a congressional subpoena Wednesday for records about the mail delays and his appointment to the job, as well as his calendar and communications between him and the Trump campaign.
DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major donor to Republicans and President Trump, has emerged as a focal point for Democrats concerned by the president’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting and claim that the Postal Service shouldn’t receive an emergency bailout because he wants to limit the number of Americans who can vote by mail.
The motion for a preliminary injunction by Becerra — acting as part of a multistate coalition of attorneys general who have sued DeJoy and Postal Service leaders over the changes — is an effort to immediately undo the changes, instead of waiting for the resolution of the existing lawsuit, which accuses the Trump administration of trying to hobble the Postal Service ahead of the election.
“The U.S. Postal Service is an American institution. For many, it’s a lifeline — their Social Security or paychecks, their medicine, their connection to loved ones. And for a vast, growing number, it’s their franchise to democracy,” Becerra said in a statement.
The move comes as the postmaster general backs off changes for now. California’s attorney general calls the changes an attack on a fair election.
Democrats have decried changes that include a mandate that mail delivery trucks leave exactly on time and avoid extra trips, practices that have led to mail being left behind and delayed. The directive runs counter to a longstanding Postal Service custom that mail cannot be left unprocessed, even if it means workers need to stay late or make additional trips.
At Southern California mail facilities, including a processing and distribution plant in South L.A., a surge in package volume and a cutback in overtime hours, combined with the stricter trucking schedule, created chaos, workers said.
Packages began piling up in July, workers said. Soon, the backlog had grown so large that boxes sat unsorted for days, some with meat and other perishable foods rotting inside.
During hearings in Congress last month, DeJoy said under oath that the only changes he had personally ordered at the Postal Service were an executive shakeup and a mandate that the agency’s trucks hew to their schedules and leave on time.
He said other changes that were highlighted in the news — including the removal of blue collection boxes and mail sorting machines — were part of long-running plans at the organization that preceded his tenure. First-class mail has long been in decline, he noted, prompting the removal of mail sorters.
“I had nothing to do with the collection boxes, the sorting machines, the post office hours, or limiting overtime,” he said at the hearing.
California reached a milestone Friday in its ongoing legal feud with President Trump when Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced he had filed his 100th lawsuit against the administration, this time challenging changes in environmental rules.
DeJoy, who took office June 15, said Aug. 18 that he would suspend some operational changes until after Nov. 3 to avoid the appearance of interfering with the election.
But he said he did not plan to roll back his requirement that trucks leave on time or that extra trips be avoided.
“I would not know how to reverse that now,” DeJoy said. “Am I to say, ‘Don’t run the trucks on time?’”
An audit by the Postal Service’s inspector general that was published the week DeJoy was sworn in found that the agency spent $280 million in the 2019 fiscal year in late and extra transportation costs — an “absolutely astonishing” amount of money, given its finances, DeJoy said.
DeJoy said that since he imposed the stricter schedule requirement, on-time performance for the agency’s trucks has risen from 88% to 97%, and late trips have dropped from 3,500 to 600 a day.
“We had some delays in the mail,” DeJoy said. “Our recovery process in this should have been a few days, and it’s mounted to be a few weeks.”
Critical prescriptions are being delayed, placing many Americans’ health in jeopardy. New credit cards, rent checks, stimulus payments from the Internal Revenue Service — all have been stalled.
DeJoy also said he had not changed the agency’s overtime policy since becoming postmaster general.
A widely circulated Postal Service memo that said overtime would soon be eliminated because it was not “cost effective” had not been sent on his orders, DeJoy said. He said he did not know which of the agency’s 50,000 managers had sent the memo, and had “purposefully not tried to find out.”
A spokesman for the Postal Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.