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Tennessee postal workers struggling amid cuts, backlogs

By ADRIAN SAINZ Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Postal workers in Tennessee are urging the public to support them as they struggle to keep delivering mail while sorting machines get removed, employee overtime is cut and mail piles up at distribution centers and post offices.

Five processing machines that sort mail at a rate of 38,000 pieces per hour have been removed from the Memphis area in the past 30 days, U.S. Postal Service union representatives said Tuesday. Another important machine that sorts larger pieces of mail also has been taken offline in Memphis.

Meanwhile, letter carriers are working 11 to 12 hours a day — sometimes on their day off without overtime — to get through a mail backlog caused by several factors, including the removal of sorting machines and orders to leave undelivered mail in post offices rather than making second trips to homes in a day, union leaders said.

Delays in deliveries of medicines, paychecks, absentee and mail-in-ballots and even letters from family and friends directly affect people's lives, the union leaders said.

"We connect the dots in America through this beloved service," Melvin Richardson, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 96, said during a news conference in front of the Kenneth T. Whalum, Sr. Post Office in Memphis. "When you take the resources away, you make it impossible to complete the mission that we're here to do for the American public."

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, spoke at the news conference with the union representatives, all of whom are Black. He said African American postal workers are being unfairly affected by the cuts.

"African Americans historically have known the post office as a place where they can get employment and serve and have a good job and a good middle-class income," Cohen said.

Letter carriers already were stressed because of cuts in staffing levels during the new coronavirus outbreak, said John Walker, president of the Memphis branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

"Letter carriers are tired. They've been worn out," Walker said. "But they're professional employees for this company and they come in every day with the mindset to deliver the mail."

Their complaints have been echoed across the country. The U.S. House plans an emergency vote to halt delivery delays and service changes that Democrats warned could imperil the November general election.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate on Friday on mail delivery delays and service changes.

Democrats and some Republicans say actions by the new postmaster general, a Trump ally and a major Republican donor, have endangered millions of Americans who rely on the post office to obtain prescription drugs and other needs, including an expected surge in mail-in voting this fall.

DeJoy announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery that critics warned were causing widespread delays and could disrupt voting in November.

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