MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The U.S. Postal Service says it is suspending its controversial plans to save money until after the November election.
It comes as lawmakers prepare to grill Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about some of his decisions that they say have led to a slowdown of the mail, which they fear could lead to massive problems collecting mail-in ballots.
Leaders representing hundreds of postal workers in the Memphis area gathered across the street from the U.S. Post Office and mail-sorting facility on South B.B King Boulevard Tuesday.
They spoke out about changes they say have caused mail to pile up for weeks without being delivered.
“We have mail that’s been there since July. This mail builds up fast,” said Melvin Richardson, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 96.
Richardson says it's partly a result of reduced staffing because of COVID-19, but he says it's also because the Postal Service has removed five of 24 machines that sort mail.
Richardson said the changes happened over the last 30 days, just like in other parts of the country.
"There have been five sorting machines removed in the Memphis area so far, and these machines process 38,000 pieces (of mail) per hour," said Richardson.
Union leaders say another machine known as a flat sorter has also been removed.
The Postal Service says this was all part of operational changes to cut costs.
On Tuesday, DeJoy announced he was holding off on making any more changes.
“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election. In the meantime, there are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic,” said DeJoy. “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
Congressman Steve Cohen says he believes the changes were made to help the president.
"He knows he can't win at the ballot box, so he's going to use every instrument at his control, which has never been done before, to try to win this election," said Cohen. "Right now, the postal service is under attack."
Cohen will return to Washington this week where lawmakers in the House will consider legislation to ban the Postal Service from making any operational changes or changing the level of service it had in place at the start of the year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called DeJoy's announcement that he was halting changes "insufficient."
"This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall," said Pelosi. "The House will be moving ahead with our vote this Saturday on Chairwoman Maloney's 'Delivering for America Act,' which prohibits the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020 and provides $25 billion in critical funding to support the Postal Service: the same level of funding recommended by the USPS Board of Governors, which is 100 percent composed of Trump appointees. We also will be demanding answers from the Postmaster General in his testimony next week."
The Postal Service declined to answer whether the machines that have already been removed will be reinstalled.
Before testifying before the U.S. House next Monday, DeJoy will testify before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this Friday.