Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A postal worker concerned by recent changes to the agency rallies Sunday at the Central Square post office. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge mail delivery has been spared the worst of slowdowns in service seen nationwide, postal workers and union leaders said at a Sunday rally. So far.

There have been widespread horror stories about missing medication, crucial checks, rotting food and dead animals as a result of cutbacks in overtime pay, removal of sorting machines and other changes instituted by recently appointed postmaster general Louis DeJoy, a donor to the Donald Trump campaign with various financial conflicts of interest. The president has said he wants to block funding for the U.S. Postal Service because “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting” for the November election.

The changes have been felt locally.

Postal workers, union members, friends and family lined Massachusetts Avenue in front of the Central Square post office and City Hall. (Photo: Fred Mirliani)

“Mail and packages are coming out way later than the projected date. Two-day shipping packages are showing up five days late,” Cambridge postal worker Enzo DeMello said Sunday at a two-hour rally held at the Central Square post office.

The event – more than two dozen postal workers, union members, family and friends lining Massachusetts Avenues with signs such as “Ben Franklin disapproves” and “Willful delay of mail is a fireable offense” – is one of hundreds taking place this weekend in protest, though this one was led by postal workers rather than by outraged citizens.

“I think that they’re doing a good job kind of guarding [against] the changes,” DeMello said of the Boston mail district. “But like I said, things that should take a day to bounce back between Cambridge and there are taking three to five days. So it’s just a visible slowdown.”

Scheduled vacation time has obscured the effects of any DeJoy-ordered cutbacks, since postal employees have been working 10- to 12-hour days to ensure staffing. But the flow of mail has been unusual, with days alternating between a lot of mail arriving and a little instead of the usual steady flow, postal worker Robert Tremarche said.

Jerry McCarthy, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Branch 34, which encompasses around 60 cities, has been watching warily the atypical mass removal of mailboxes in Greater Boston – “usually it’s not done in that kind of form” – and how every one of four mail-sorting machines were taken out of service for the Boston district. “They have other machines that sort packages and stuff [and] some smaller machines inside the actual units, but they can’t keep up with the volume of these big machines. These machines are almost 300 feet long,” McCarthy said.

The removal of the sorters was described to McCarthy by his union’s business agent and called out by U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch at a Tuesday press conference, McCarthy said.

As federal employees, the workers aren’t supposed to engage in party politics, said Tremarche, who’s been with the U.S. Postal Service for around 40 years and in Cambridge for around 30. But he’s aware that there have been steps taken that have weakened the Postal Service over the years, including a 2006 law forcing the service – unique among every federal agency and even for private businesses – to set aside 75 years of retiree health benefits. (It was passed by a Republican Congress.) Having that obligation already taken care of makes the service look better to the private sector if the government moves to privatize it. This slowdown is just the latest in a series of blows to the service, Tremarche said: “Louis DeJoy, I’m not sure what his message is. I don’t know what this administration’s message is.”

McCarthy had a closing thought reminiscent of a classic post office slogan (“Neither snow nor rain nor heat …”):

“We will get the mail delivered. We step up all the time – Christmas Eve, anthrax, whatever it is, we step up, we get the mail delivered,” McCarthy said. “They just gotta let us do it.”