Save USPS protest outside downtown Berkeley post office on Saturday Aug. 22, 2020. Photo: Shira Bezalel
A protest to save the USPS outside the downtown Berkeley post office on Aug. 22, 2020. Photo: Shira Bezalel

In July, Berkeleyside reported that eight post offices in Berkeley had reduced hours and services because a number of workers were sidelined by COVID-19. The story came out just as news broke that Louis DeJoy, a major GOP campaign donor and investor in firms that competed with the USPS, had been appointed postmaster general.

DeJoy called for changes in the way mail was delivered, changes he said would reduce the post office’s deficit but which critics charged could impact the timely delivery and receipt of mail-in ballots. His orders resulted in the dismantling of sorting machines, the strict enforcement of truck schedules — at times causing partially-empty trucks to leave while mail was being sorted — and cuts to overtime pay.

The changes resulted in a 9% drop in how fast first-class mail was delivered across the country, according to the Los Angeles Times. Before changes to the truck schedules, 91% of first-class mail was on time. By the second week of August, that had dropped to 82%, according to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), whose office analyzed USPS agency data and released a report on the results Wednesday.

On Aug. 18, DeJoy stepped back from making those changes. He announced that retail hours at post offices would not change, and that mail processing equipment and blue mailboxes would remain where they stood.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said in the statement.

But a number of states, including California, went to court to challenge the changes. On Thursday, a federal judge in Washingon state temporarily blocked them from taking effect. The judge ordered the postal service to “reverse any instructions for mail carriers to leave mail behind at postal facilities, to stop requiring trucks to leave at set times regardless of whether the mail is ready and to allow return trips to distribution centers to ensure ‘timely delivery,’” according to the Washington Post. “President Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are ‘involved in a politically motivated attack’ on the agency that could disrupt the 2020 election,” the judge said after a 2.5-hour hearing.

None of those operational shifts had happened in the Bay Area, according to Augustine Ruiz Jr., a USPS spokesman. The region has always had a truck schedule and no sorting machines were dismantled. Ruiz did not know about overtime rates, however, and said he would inquire.

Nine mailboxes, however, were removed in Oakland on Aug. 28, following similar removals in Missoula, New York City and Portland. Ruiz told The Oaklandside that the mailboxes were removed to protect them against vandalism during Black Lives Matter protests. That excuse outraged Rep. Barbara Lee, who sent a letter to DeJoy.

“The removal of essentially all sidewalk collection boxes in our city center less than three months before a national election is alarming to say the least. And doing so in response to protests is a highly unusual and unfair penalty for communities like Oakland that often engage in dissent and protest against injustice,” Lee wrote.

Photos: Shira Bezalel

On Aug. 22, about 100 protesters convened outside Berkeley’s main post office on Allston Way in a #SavethePostOfficeSaturday event to protest what DeJoy had set in motion.

Despite the assertion that mail delivery in the region has not been affected by DeJoy’s edicts, readers keep telling Berkeleyside that their mail delivery is erratic, sometimes arriving only a few times a week.

“I am a resident of North Berkeley,” Judith White Marcellini wrote to Berkeleyside in mid-August. “In the past couple of weeks, we have had very sporadic mail deliveries: several days without a delivery, then one, then days with no mail, etc.  Some anticipated magazines have never arrived and I worry about what else might be missing. Neighbors are having similar problems.”

“There has been no mail delivery on my block yesterday (Tuesday, September 8) nor today (Wednesday, September 9),” Judith Thomas, who lives in North Berkeley, wrote to Berkeleyside. “I have asked neighbors who are also wondering. Since the post office is under attack by Trump and his allies, we are feeling rather apprehensive about this.”

“We have had 3 mail deliveries in the last 7 days,” Marilyn Couch, who lives in the North Berkeley hills, wrote to Berkeleyside this week. “Would love to know if this is an order from on high? Or is something going on locally?”

Inspired by an article in the Los Angeles Times, where reporters traced the delivery of 100 letters, Berkeleyside plans to do an experiment to test the speed of local, first-class mail service. But we need your help. We are looking for about 90 people to volunteer to receive a letter from Berkeleyside, then report the date you got it. To participate, please send us your street address by Sunday.

In the Los Angeles Times experiment, 22 of the 100 letters arrived late or were never delivered. Let’s see how Berkeley stacks up.

Berkeleyside staff

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions?...