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November 2020

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. There's no way the architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White could have known, when in 1914 they had these words etched above the entrance to the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue, that the phrase taken from a 500 B.C. book, The Persian Wars, would become the accepted unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service, much less that this public service of the government would fall victim to a history of politics for well over a century and a half. But that is essentially the history of the postal service that had its roots starting with a grant from the British Crown, to only be replaced by the US Post Office created in 1775 with a decree at the Second Congressional Congress and then more formally launched with the signing by President George Washington in 1792 of the Postal Service Act. About fifty years later, Congress elevated the postal service to Cabinet status. One hundred forty years after that, during the Nixon administration, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 was passed by Congress, replacing the postal department with the independent US Postal Service that now answers to a Postal Regulatory Commission. The US Postal Service (USPS) has been an albatross for most administrations because its original mission to deliver communications for the colonies, then states, now requires an army of employees, nearly 500,000 workers today, trying to keep its head above water in an environment that includes a shift in communication habits on the part of the public – the internet instead of “snail mail.” Then there's the workplace impact of politics that USPS workers have to face, especially nowadays. Since 2006, when 213 billion mail units were delivered each year, volume has dropped to 142.57 billion units in 2019. About the only thing that has kept the post office afloat are periodic loans authorized by congress and the delivery of packages as retail shopping has shifted more to an online model, so its usual $71 billion dollars in revenue taken in each year has been fairly stable, with the USPS holding 18 percent of the national delivery market up against UPS and FedEx. And it certainly doesn't help that the postal service is the only part of the government that faces a stringent requirement to pony up massive amounts of funding each year for future retirement costs. Fast forward to 2020. Once again the USPS is back in the headlines mainly because of changes to current delivery rules enacted in advance of the November general election that took place just after we went to press. Critics charged, with some validity, that alterations in the operations of the post office led to a further and intentional slowdown in deliveries (i.e. absentee ballot mailings) on the eve of a hotly contested election of an incumbent president from the GOP, a party that has already built up a track record across the country of voter suppression efforts (fodder for a future column). Here's the short version – Trump appointed Louis DeJoy as postmaster general (with no experience) who, in mid-July, instituted operational changes to the USPS that reflected the philosophical approach that the post office would now operate strictly as a business, not as a public service of the government. According to internal documents obtained by the Washington Post, and verified by officials from the unions representing the postal carriers, a number of changes were made with the removal of sorting equipment from more than a few post offices, along with new delivery rules and regulations on those toting the mail to residences and businesses. Among the carrier delivery changes, DeJoy ordered that employees were to leave mail behind if it delayed carriers from their routes. Prior to the rule changes, carriers might have returned to the post office to pick up mail that was not ready when their route should have started. The rule changes would put the kibosh on that. Further, new regulations tried to limit the number of times a carrier could move their vehicles as they were delivering a route. There was also to be an elimination of overtime – you know, the extra pay for your carrier who often came to your house with mail in the evening hours as they were wrapping up a long day of work. All this during a pandemic when I am told that locally there was a shortage of workers, which meant carriers often had to deliver more than their own established route. Let's forget for the moment the impact any USPS changes probably had on timely delivery of mailed absentee ballots for this past election. No doubt there will be thousands of ballots that arrived at municipal clerks' offices after November 3, much like in the August primary election. My ongoing concern is that the post office problems will fade from the headlines within a few weeks, but the poor or spotty delivery service will continue. Long before this election, performance probleme existed but you only heard about it as anecdotal information from time to time. Trust me, it's a major issue. As a Birmingham resident and businessperson, I have complained for years about the postal service. Not my carriers – who continue to provide top shelf service – but the ineptitude of the overall system behind postal deliveries. Here's just a few examples. When the pandemic was declared this spring and our office went to a remote business model, I had all office mail forwarded to my home address (big mistake). On average it took one month, according to postmarks on envelopes, to arrive at my house. We're talking cash flow in those envelopes. Or more recently, maybe someone can tell me why it takes nine days for an envelope with a payment mailed from a Birmingham business to arrive at our office in the same city. Or how about the envelope in mid-October, saved on my desk just for this column, sent from a business in Novi, with a postmark from the Michigan Metroplex sorting center in Pontiac, which then took 12 days later to arrive. And don't even get me started on how each month we field delivery complaints from those receiving our newsmagazine one week after we deliver it pre-sorted by postal route to local post offices, or it fails to arrive at all. This from a business which spends $4,500 to $7,500 each month with the post office. I appreciate the recent news coverage focused on the post office delivery issue prior to the election, the efforts of Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters who has been laser focused on this problem, and all the recent studies that show only about 71.5 percent of first class mail in metro Detroit and Oakland County arrives on time. But we don't need another study. We just need the damn problem fixed. David Hohendorf Publisher

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