Election of Democratic chair portends change at post office

National
Josiah Morse

Postal carrier Josiah Morse heads out to deliver mail and packages, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Portland, Maine. The U.S. Postal Service’s stretch of challenges didn’t end with the November general election and tens of millions of mail-in votes. The pandemic-depleted workforce fell further into a hole during the holiday rush, leading to long hours and a mountain of delayed mail. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former labor leader and Obama administration official was elected Tuesday to serve as chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, marking the first step in a potential shakeup under President Joe Biden.

Ron Bloom replaced a former Republican National Committee chair, Robert “Mike” Duncan, who remains on the governing board as critics call for firing embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and changing the board to increase racial and gender diversity and create a Democratic majority. All six current board members are men.

DeJoy, a prominent Republican fundraiser and supporter of former President Donald Trump, has come under heavy criticism for changes he made before the electionthat led to widespread delivery delays and other problems recently. The Postal Service also dealt with a dismal on-time performance during the holidays because of a crush of mail and packages that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Bloom said Tuesday he looks forward to working with the board, DeJoy and others on a 10-year plan that will “revitalize” the Postal Service, an independent agency with roots to the 18th century.

“It will require both ourselves and our stakeholders to come together, openly face our challenges, make necessary choices and do what is right for this great organization and our country,” said Bloom, who worked with the Obama administration on the automobile industry bailout and was a longtime official with the United Steelworkers Union. He also has advised the National Association of Letter Carriers on postal issues.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, wants Biden to fire the entire Postal Service Board of Governors for what he called dereliction of duty.

Only the board can fire the postmaster general, a protection put in place to insulate the independent agency from politics. While Biden cannot fire DeJoy, the president can use appointments to reshape the board that hires and fires the postmaster general. If he fills three current vacancies, then Democrats would have a majority on the nine-member panel. The six who currently comprise the board are Trump appointees.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said Biden needs to fill the vacancies with choices that reflect greater diversity and fewer links to “the world of finance and banks.”

“It is imperative that the Biden administration fill these openings promptly so that we can right this ship that has gone off course,” he said.

The Postal Service is coming out of a chaotic stretch that included the delivery of tens of millions of mail-in ballots followed by a record holiday volume of more than 1.1 billion letters and packages during the pandemic.

DeJoy offered an apology during the meeting while acknowledging a confluence of events — record volume, a workforce depleted by COVID-19 and quarantines, capacity limits on trucking and commercial flights, and several winter storms. By the time Christmas arrived, more than a third of first-class mail was late even though DeJoy said Tuesday that “we threw everything we had at it.”

He declined to disparage weary workers while promising to make overdue improvements. “For too many years, postal employees have been asked to do more with less, forced to employ antiquated systems, utilize outmoded equipment and drive outdated vehicles,” DeJoy said.

All of that mail helped the Postal Service improve its quarterly financial performance, officials said Tuesday. All told, there was a 25% growth in holiday package shipping but the gains were partially offset by overtime and other costs associated with dealing with the volume.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the pandemic has given postal carriers an opportunity to shine.

“Letter carriers have helped tens of millions of Americans shelter safely at home and even vote from home. Perhaps never in its 245 years has the public post office been more indispensable,” he said.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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