© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Technology & Entrepreneurship

Four Mail Sorting Machines Removed From San Antonio Postal Distribution Center

Delivery Bar Code Sorters like this one are being removed accross the country.
USPS
Delivery Bar Code Sorters like this one are being removed accross the country.

Widespread U.S. Postal Service mail delays — and the removal of mail sorting machines — have brought Congress back from vacation early to hold hearings and pass legislation. Democratic lawmakers and many members of the public have worried it will impact November’s election. Local postal workers say those issues are going on right here in San Antonio.

Representatives of the American Postal Workers Union Local 195 in San Antonio say that four of the 32 large sorting machines have been removed from the city’s Perrin Beitel Road distribution center.

The machines sort 35,000 pieces of flat mail (like ballots) every hour. 

Workers were told initially the machines would be “tarped” or shut down, but would remain in the center. Instead they were dismantled and removed in the last few weeks. 

“They didn't just take the machines apart, they chucked them in a recycle van. They're gone, never to be brought back again,” said Carlos Barrios, Clerk Craft Director for Local 195. 

The machines join what CNN reported could be as high as 671 sorting machines slated to be retired as the country barrels towards a November election expected to set records for mail-in ballots. 

Barrios also described new procedures intended to bring down overtime costs, adding even more to the delays.  

Carlos Barrios, left, and Chris Rincon, right, worry that delays will impact vote by mail in Texas.
Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Carlos Barrios, left, and Chris Rincon, right, worry that delays will impact vote by mail in Texas.

“We're told ‘leave it there’ and that piles on every single day. So, if you can go by on a daily basis, and you'll see mail that's been sitting there for weeks,” he said.

The postal service has said the moves were made to save money. USPS lost $2.2 billion in the three-month period ending in June. The organization has ended every year since 2007 in the red. According to a 2019 report the organization lost nearly $70 billion between 2007 and 2018. It was listed as “High Risk” by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The postal service has said these were cost-saving moves. A June 2020 audit found the organization spent more than more than $4 billion on overtime last year. 

“The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, and a broken business model,“ said Louis DeJoy — the Postmaster General — in July.

DeJoy — a North Carolina Businessman —  was sworn into the post June 15, and immediately began revamping the organization.

But the changes come from a political appointee with business conflicts-of-interest, and working for a publicly critical boss who sees mail-in balloting as a foil for his reelection efforts.

DeJoy reportedly owns millions of dollars of stock in XPO Logistics, a USPS contractor, and Amazon.  

President Donald Trump has voiced opposition — and pushed unvalidated voter fraud charges — to vote-by-mail in states he is likely to lose. He has also talked about not funding the organization to avoid record vote-by-mail turnout, a statement he later walked back, saying he would sign a bill to fund the postal service. 

The combination of facts have many worried inside USPS and in the public that the president would sacrifice the post service for his political ambitions. 

At Local 195 in San Antonio they see the current mess as the result of just another assault on the postal service — a constitutionally enshrined critical service provided universally across the United States. 

“What we're going through right now is something that's totally new. I mean, totally, this is a straight on attack on the postal service to privatizing,” said Barrios.  

The delays are less a result of the cuts to hours and machines and more a campaign to discredit the popular service. A Pew Research Center survey out earlier this year saw 91% of Americans favor the USPS, the most popular federal service included. 

“This is to undermine how good we are, and then to finally say, ‘Oh, well, you just got to privatize it.’ And that's, that's totally wrong, what they're doing,” said Barrios 

Democrats have written in $25 billion for the USPS into the HEROES Act which passed the house in May and needs Senate approval. The money would be to prop up the organization that has seen volume drop on some areas of its business. 

USPS warned 46 states that some ballots may not make it in on time based on those states' election laws. A handful of examples of primary ballots not arriving in time have occurred in states like Ohio. 

At least 160 million Americans are eligible to vote by mail in November. Texas leaders fought against expanding mail-in ballots for all, but still expect most of its over 65 residents to do that, which could account for hundreds of thousands of more ballots in the mail.

For APWU 195 workers and representatives the message is “bring it on.”

“We have the machines there. We have the personnel to run the mail, we’re just being instructed to not run the mail,” said Chris Rincon, APWU 195 president, “It’s not the overtime... we have the personnel. They’re just saying delay, delay, delay.”

If things continue as they have been, Rincon said piles of ballots may not be counted.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.