Throughout the fall, Democrats warned of an impending crisis at the United States Postal Service, where Trump appointee and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy attempted to make severe cuts — an effort that the president admitted was to ensure the USPS was “not equipped” for the massive expansion of mail-in voting in the pandemic election.
The November 3 doomsday scenario did not play out, after the cost-cutting measures were put on hold by several federal judges. But the confusion over the measures, pandemic strain, and an increased surge in holiday demand has resulted in tremendous stress at the agency responsible for shipping the nation’s stuff.
According to the Washington Post, the back-and-forth over DeJoy’s cutbacks earlier this year has led to delays as the USPS has appealed some of the measures blocked by judges. “Those battles have created uncertainty in the ranks about specific delivery procedures,” the Post states. “No parcels are moving at all,” one postal worker in Michigan told the paper. “As bad as you think it is, it’s worse.”
Mail volume during a pandemic has also risen considerably, as a decrease in in-store shopping and travel down means an increase in shipped gifts and online orders. DeJoy anticipates that the number of packages sent through the Postal Service this year could increase by as much as 30 percent. And while FedEx and UPS are reportedly cutting off new deliveries for some retailers, the Post Office cannot do so, meaning it must take on these additional orders as well.
And with postal workers required to be in public as part of the job, they have also inevitably been exposed to the coronavirus. According to the American Postal Workers Union, close to 19,000 out of USPS’s 644,000 employees have called in sick or are isolating due to COVID exposure. “Packages have stacked up inside some postal facilities, leading employees to push them aside to create narrow walkways on shop floors,” reports the Post. USPS workers in some areas of the country are describing 80-hour workweeks.
As a result of all these pandemic demands, CBS reports that the U.S. delivery infrastructure — which includes the USPS and private companies — is failing to pick up an estimated 6 million packages on time every day. Another, more important coronavirus variable is also expected to make some Christmas presents late this week: Post Office officials have reportedly expressed concerns that vaccine deliveries from private shipping companies could be prioritized ahead of other parcels.