San Antonio postal union leader describes mass delays, says Postal Service hid backlogged mail from congressman

Democrats in Congress have been outraged about cost-cutting measures — including the decommissioning of sorting machines and slashing of overtime for workers — at the U.S. Postal Service. || Credit: Allie Goulding/The Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO – A postal workers’ union leader in San Antonio said Thursday that local Postal Service operations are experiencing major delays in mail delivery and that the agency sought to hide evidence of the problems from a congressman when he visited its facility this week.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, toured the main San Antonio post office Wednesday in response to concerns that President Donald Trump’s administration has implemented organizational changes at the Postal Service that have slowed deliveries. Castro confirmed after the tour that six mail sorting machines had been removed from the facility on orders “by Washington.”

But Carlos Barrios, clerk craft director for the union, said postal workers were directed to give Castro “a deceitful perception of how we’re doing things.” He said workers were told to remove large piles of delayed mail before Castro arrived. He estimated that the pile contained anywhere from 30,000 to 54,000 pieces, some of which were dated as long ago as March.

“I told him, ‘They insulted you and they made you out like a fool,’” Barrios said.

The Postal Service and the San Antonio post office declined to comment.

Delays in the mail have been brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic and changes ordered by U.S. Postal Service leadership, Barrios said. About 350 postal workers are missing from work in the Rio Grande District because of COVID-19 concerns, he said. Many of those workers have preexisting conditions or are older and afraid of the virus. However, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy reduced overtime hours for postal employees nationwide, meaning there is no way to make up for the lost manpower, Barrios said.

Barrios predicted that the issues will heavily impact the post office’s ability to handle a large influx of mail in November if nothing changes.

“That's why it's critical that we put these measures in place to make sure that we don't have any more delays or any more issues to compound the problem,” he said. “Any little delay is very, very critical, and they're gonna make it worse.”

Castro reacted to the alleged deception, which was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News, with fury on Twitter.

"If this conduct is true, it’s outrageous that @USPS management would attempt to deceive the people of San Antonio about the condition of postal operations," he tweeted. "I expect an explanation from USPS leadership and an immediate reversal of these delays: deliver the people’s mail now."

After his tour Wednesday, Castro expressed concern about the stress that the removal of the six sorting machines would have on San Antonio’s mail flow.

Barrios agreed. In the past when the volume of mail decreased, the post office would cover the machines and keep them in case of surges, he said. However, this is the first time that he recalls the machines being fully dismantled.

“These machines are not coming back,” Barrios said, noting that the machines have been dismantled and “cannibalized” for any spare parts. “Right now, they make good scrap metal.”

Democrats in Congress have been outraged about the cost-cutting measures — including the decommissioning of sorting machines and slashing of overtime for workers — at the Postal Service. Many are worried about the impact of the delays on mail-in voting, which has been expanded in many states other than Texas as a safe way to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Trump said on Fox Business News last week that he wanted to deprive the USPS of funding in order to compromise the country's mail-in voting process.

DeJoy will testify before the U.S. Senate on Friday and the U.S. House on Monday. He announced Tuesday that he would no longer enact cost-cutting changes to the post office until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.” Capitol Hill Democrats like Castro continue to push for the Postal Service to replace mailboxes and sorting machines that have been removed and reinstate overtime pay to the levels from the beginning of this year.

"At the best, it looks very bad and very political because of what the president has done," Castro said in his remarks to reporters.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said he will tour Fort Worth’s postal distribution center Friday. He spearheaded a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, asking him to open an investigation into the Trump administration’s actions in regard to USPS.

Castro and U.S. Reps. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, and Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, co-signed the letter along with other Democrats. Escobar toured El Paso’s USPS processing and distribution center Monday, and Allred visited Dallas’ on Thursday.

On Saturday, the House will vote on a bill that would restore the post office to address those aims.

In an Aug. 18 statement, Dejoy said the USPS is expanding its leadership task force on election mail but is “ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.”

In San Antonio, management has brought in other workers to help with sorting and getting the mail out, Barrios said. However, those people need to be trained, which causes even more delays.

“I've been here since 1987, and the volume that we do in letter mail, compared to [then], is nothing,” he said.

“Everybody has trusted us with their income tax returns, stimulus checks, your passports, your medicine,” he said, adding that a ballot would be no different. “Stop micromanaging and let us deliver the mail.”

Barrios’ union and the Texas Postal Workers Union will host an informational picket demonstration Sept. 3 to “save America’s postal service.” Castro is expected to attend.