As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was addressing the issue of high-volume sorting machines at his hearing before the House Oversight Committee on Monday, the triborough Postal Service region was operating without four of them.
Internal USPS documents obtained by the Chronicle show that the agency deactivated four out of 48 mail sorting machines serving all of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island in mid-July.
While four may not seem like an overwhelming reduction, those sorting machines do a lot of work. At full capacity those now 44 machines process between 7 and 9 million pieces of mail per day, according to Tom McMenamy, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Brooklyn Local 251. As a result, postal workers are wary about potential delays.
“When we’re processing mail on the high side, those machines are going to be sorely missed,” said McMenamy in a phone interview.
Due to the pandemic McMenamy estimated that the region’s volume has reduced to about 2 to 2.5 million pieces per day, but he predicted that a possible increase in marketing materials as the economy recovers in combination with an event like the rush of mail-in ballots for the presidential election could lead to problems.
The four machines, which are called Delivery Bar Code Sorter machines, handle letter-size, first-class and marketing mail. One Flats Sequencing System machine, which processes periodical mail, was also deactivated in the region. Since being deactivated, three of the DBCS machines are sitting idle in Brooklyn and one is in the process of being taken apart.
Though DeJoy suspended his recent initiatives until November in response to widespread pushback, at Monday’s congressional hearing he clarified he will not be putting back any of the removed sorting machines.
House Democrats investigated DeJoy’s association with the Trump administration, citing concerns that Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting are influencing the postmaster’s recent administrative changes. In response, DeJoy downplayed his affiliation to the president and affirmed his commitment to “delivering the nation’s ballots securely and on time” this fall.
In the triborough area, the Postal Service’s recent equipment removal continues a process of consolidation that goes back to the Obama era.
Queens has not had any sorting machines for years. The Flushing Processing and Distribution Center was one of over 200 Postal Service locations that closed in 2015 as part of a nationwide effort to consolidate in response to a long-term drop in first class mail.
Since then, Brooklyn has been the only location providing sorting for the triborough area stretching over Queens and Staten Island.
With the Postal Service’s role in the presidential election, McMenamy raised concerns about the uncertainty of how it will affect mail volume.
“And that’s really going up to the election, we don’t know what the mail volume is going to be. I’m an optimist. I talked to postal officials when they were proposing to take the machines out, I asked them what happens if the mail volume returned to pre-COVID levels, and they’d already made a decision at that time to take these machines out regardless,” McMenamy said.
The regional spokesperson for the Postal Service did not comment on the reason for removing the triborough area’s sorting machines.