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USPS, already drowned in packages, now juggling Prime Day, holiday sales in addition to ballots

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No one has experienced this before, said Gregg Zegras, global e-commerce president of the Pitney Bowes parcel service. Dealing with covid, dealing with huge volumes, and now, postal ballots. This certainly creates challenges for suppliers of all sizes.

The reliability of the postal service is seen as a central issue in an election in which approximately 198 million Americans are eligible to vote by mail. But weeks after Louis DeJoy was installed as postmaster in mid-June, he implemented a stricter transportation schedule that prohibited late and additional deliveries to keep costs down. Regional vice presidents and local managers have been instructed to reduce working hours, leading to a staff shortage even as the agency’s 630,000 employees were crushed by the coronavirus pandemic. Staff shortages remain a problem three months later, according to postal workers, union leaders and logistics experts.

During the first half of the year, the Postal Service delivered almost 90% of all first class mail on time. That rate has dropped nearly 10 percentage points in the five weeks that the DeJoys guidelines were in place and has yet to fully recover. Federal courts in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington state and the District of Columbia temporarily blocked these changes, after 21 states argued that the resulting service slowdowns undermined their ability to hold free elections. and fair.

Postal service spokesman David Partenheimer wrote in an email that delivering election mail, which includes ballots, poll requests and voter information, was the agency’s number one priority. Parcels and electoral mail are processed on different equipment, he noted, while stressing that the agency has the capacity to adapt its national processing and delivery network to cope with increases in mail volume and parcel.

Amazon launched Prime Day, which usually takes place in July, in 2017 to increase sales during the summer months. But the promotional event took on a life of its own: the retail giant said it sold more than 175 million products last year and generated more revenue than Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday combined. Analysts say this year’s two-day event could be even bigger, given its proximity to the winter break.

Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Banana Republic, Office Depot and Office Max have all responded with their own sales events, positioning the logistics industry to move nearly $ 10 billion in product, based on sales estimates from 2019.

Many of these orders will end up being processed through the Postal Service, which handles last mile shipping for many of its competitors including Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, as well as major retailers like eBay, Etsy, and Macys. Even though these packages are handled separately, they often end up in the same delivery trucks carrying election mail and the like.

In a presentation to postal industry stakeholders last week, the Postal Service reported that nearly 99% of ballots were delivered on time, according to Angelo Anagnostopoulos, vice president of postal affairs for mail data. and marketing firm GrayHair Software. The Postal Service declined to provide the Washington Post with data on election mail performance.

From what we see in the data we collect, we see that mail takes priority above all else, Anagnostopoulos said in a telephone interview. The chances of this being affected are very, very low.

But postal workers and some analysts say they remain concerned about the delivery of election mail. Online retail sales have grown rapidly during the pandemic, with analysts forecasting an even bigger surge in the coming days due to Prime Day, along with deep discounts Walmart, Target, Gap and other major retailers are offering. . at customers this holiday season.

Amazon, which accounts for about 40% of all ecommerce sales in the United States, quickly established its own delivery network. But it still relies on the postal service to deliver more than a billion packages a year, especially in rural areas where deliveries can be expensive and time-consuming, according to logistics consultancy MWPVL International. (Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, owns The Post.)

About 30% of its packages are delivered by the postal service, according to Rakuten Intelligence. Amazon delivers over 56% of its own packages and relies on UPS and FedEx for the rest.

Amazon has invested heavily in trucks, vans and planes to deliver packages to its 100 million Prime members in two days. Each of its 338 US delivery stations processes about 40,000 packages a day that otherwise would have been handled by the postal service, according to Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International.

Amazon has made a huge, rushed effort to get the majority of shipments under its own control, he said. It is often cheaper for Amazon to deliver its own packages to high-density areas such as cities and suburbs. Everything beyond in rural areas, it continues to outsource to the post office.

Amazon spokesperson Kate Kudrna said Premier Day orders would not interfere with election mail.

But the Postal Service was already overwhelmed by an explosion in packages due to the pandemic, a dynamic only exacerbated by DeJoys changes. In Toledo, it took workers more than two weeks to clear mail and package backlogs earlier this summer, according to Martin Ramirez, president of Local 170 of the American Postal Workers Union.

In Massachusetts and Michigan, employees routinely work more than 60 hours a week processing and delivering mail due to steadily high parcel volumes, according to workers in every state who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals from their superiors.

Where our packages are sorted is the only office where the mantra right now is pretty much, come in when you want and stay until when you want because there is so much volume, said Dana Coletti, President of APWU Local 230 in Manchester, NH It’s unprecedented, that’s for sure. They’re loading these packages and everything on a belt, and there aren’t enough people to load them. There are not enough people to scan them. There are not enough people to deal with them. There are so many.

A New York federal judge ordered the Postal Service to pre-approve overtime to process and deliver election mail between October 26 and November 24. The group of voters who filed the lawsuit, alleging the mail slowdowns violated their voting rights, asked Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York to force the agency to pre-approve all overtime whatever the purpose. They said residual delays in other postal products could spill over and hurt election mail performance.

But Marrero sided with the Postal Service in denying the request, which postal workers and some experts say could leave the agency in a precarious position: prioritizing ballots, which in many states have a deadline. firm submission, or prioritize packages, which is often guaranteed. shipping windows?

I think if there is a likelihood of delays in Prime Day or any other increase in seasonal packages, package delivery could be delayed [rather than election mail] because they don’t get to the truck on time, said John McHugh, chairman of the Package Coalition advocacy group and former secretary of the military.

The agency has a vested interest in either approach. Ballots are cost effective because polling stations will cover the postage if voters mail them without stamps. But parcels are already reshaping the postal service business, so the agency must maintain its market share against competitors in the private sector. Amazon earlier in the pandemic even threatened to drop the agency due to its uncertain financial picture, according to internal documents.

Postal workers and union officials said they had yet to receive meaningful advice on how to deal with these conflicts. The Postal Service negotiates more than six court orders on operational and staffing obligations to process election mail. In the case before Marrero, Jones v US Postal Service, the parties agreed on Saturday on the language of an additional guidance memorandum with instructions for supervisors.

Postal workers say it usually takes up to a month for orders from the top of the agency to reach the base. With the election in less than three weeks, the Postal Service doesn’t have that kind of time, especially as the mail industry enters peak season with back-to-school and holiday catalogs, with businesses reopening in some. States, online shopping and political advertising lots.

If the Postal Service is truly doing its job as a service, said Philip Rubio, North Carolina A&T State University history professor and former postman, it has the resources to do both, to give people what they have. generally need. as to delivering their ballots, picking them up and returning them on time.

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