City of Spanish Fort, AL, appeals closure of its post office

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By Steve Hutkins

Fairhope Courier, November 15, 1961: “Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Visits Spanish Fort Post Office: Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird, chats with Har­mon Hanson (photo above) while admiring his newly opened post office at Span­ish Fort. Miss Lee is a frequent visitor to this area and was de­lighted with the addition of this facility. Residents too, are singing the praises of this office — Christmas mails will be handled with greater speed. Many have rented post office boxes, finding it is con­venient to receive mails from early morning until night.”

A few weeks ago — nearly sixty years after Harper Lee’s visit — the Postal Service announced it was closing the post office in Spanish Fort, Alabama, effective January 15, 2021. Today the City of Spanish Fort filed an appeal with the Postal Regulatory Commission to stop the closure. The appeal, along with extensive documentation about the case, including bid solicitations and emails, can be found here.

The gist of the appeal is that the Postal Service has not gone through the normal discontinuance procedure required by 39 C.F.R. 241.3, which includes a feasibility study, questionnaires to postal customers, a public meeting, an opportunity to submit comments, access to the administrative record, and the right to appeal to the PRC.

As it has in the past with similar appeals, the Postal Service will soon file a motion to dismiss the appeal, arguing that that the Spanish Fort post office is a contractor-operated unit, not a USPS-operated facility, so the post office is not actually a “Post Office” and the closing is not covered by the regulations that govern discontinuances.

The Commission has dismissed several similar appeals on contract offices over the past decade, and most likely it will follow its own precedents and do so again. The Commission’s position is a slight variation of the Postal Service’s rationale. The Commission says that the discontinuance rules may apply to a contract unit but only if it is the “sole source” of postal services in the community.

That’s clearly the case in Spanish Fort. It’s a city of over 9,000 people, it was incorporated in 1993, it has its own government — and it has only the one post office.

The Commission will probably find a way to dismiss the appeal anyway, perhaps by expanding the geographic range of “community” to include nearby communities that do have post offices, as well as noting that one can always do postal business online.  Read More

PRC busts the price cap, lawsuits sure to follow

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By Steve Hutkins

The Postal Regulatory Commission has spent the past four years working on a revision of the rate system for Market Dominant products. Yesterday the Commission issued its final rule on the changes. The order is here. The PRC’s press release is here. The media kit contains a useful FAQ.

The review of the rate system involved the Commission, the Postal Service, and an extensive list of stakeholders and commenters.  And even though this contentious process has been going on since December 2016, it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. Given that many of the mailers have fought the changes that were finally approved, it’s widely expected that some stakeholders will appeal the PRC’s order to the D.C. Circuit.

The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers has already promised as much. In an article on its website back in February 2020, the ANM wrote that the proposed changes would not achieve the objectives stated in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and would thus “violate the law.” If the regulator were to approve these proposals in a final rule, wrote the ANM, “many expect multiple stakeholders to appeal it at the U.S. Court of Appeals.  The court could take some time to reach a decision, meaning that mailers could face a year or two of surcharges in 2021 and 2022, before the appeals are resolved.”

We will probably soon hear similar comments from other mailers and industry insiders. Just yesterday, minutes after the order was posted on the PRC website, DeadTreeEdition, a highly respected blog that covers the print business and postal issues, posted a tweet about the new order saying, “If you’re involved in mailing or #printmedia, stay tuned. Big developments are afoot in #USPS pricing. See you in court.”

The new rate system gives the Postal Service significant above-inflation pricing authority over Market Dominant products. Or, as the mailers put it, the new system “busts the price cap.”

At one stage of the proceedings, the Commission considered a simple CPI-plus formula that would have allowed the Postal Service to increase prices by 2 percent on top of the regular CPI increase. In the end, the Commission adopted a different approach. Under the new system, rate increases will be tied to two factors.

The first factor ties the above-CPI authority to changes in mail density, i.e., the number of pieces per delivery point. This aspect of the rate system would address increases in the cost-per-mailpiece that are driven by measured declines in year-over-year density. The second factor ties the above-CPI authority to Congressionally-required amortization payments for retirement health benefit and pension costs. This second factor could become irrelevant if Congress were to pass legislation that modified how the Postal Service deals with these costs.  Read More

Updates on the USPS Service Performance Reports

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We’re tracking all the reports the Postal Service has been submitting on service performance, the processing of ballots, and other data being shared in the various lawsuits. The Postal Service’s weekly on-time service performance reports submitted in Jones v USPS can be found here. The daily reports being submitted in Richardson, Vote Forward, and NAACP are here. There have also been reports made public by requests via FOIA and the PRC. All the performance reports are here.

November 7, 2020

The Postal Service has submitted its weekly service performance reports in Jones. You can find them here.

The First Class score for the nation as a whole was 81.57 percent, up slightly from the week before, when it was 80.85 percent. Since the week of July 11, when scores dropped due to operational changes, First Class has averaged 84.77 percent. That’s compared to the 92 percent for First Class in FY 2019 and FY 2020 before operational changes went into effect. Here’s a chart showing First Class service performance since the first of the year.

The scores on Election Mail have been significantly better. It will be a couple of weeks before we see the report for the week of the election itself, but here’s a table with the scores through the week of Oct. 24. Note that these are processing scores, not on-time delivery scores, and the numbers only includes scores for mailpieces that have been properly identified by the mailer as election mail, outbound ballots, or inbound ballots and if it adhered to Service Performance Measurement business rules.

  Read More

Lawsuits against DeJoy, USPS & Trump over mail delays and election mail

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Twelve lawsuits have been filed against Postmaster General DeJoy, the U.S. Postal Service, and President Trump over issues connected to mail delays and threats to voting by mail in the November election. We’re “live blogging” the latest developments on a daily basis. You can find a list of all the cases at the end of this post here, with links to the original complaints and the case numbers on PACER.

We’re reporting on the service performance reports being submitted in several of the cases on a separate updates page, here.  (The Postal Service’s weekly on-time service performance reports submitted in Jones v USPS can be found here. The daily reports being submitted in Richardson, Vote Forward, and NAACP are here. There have also been reports made public by requests via FOIA and the PRC. All the performance reports are here.)

November 6, 2020

As ordered by Judge Sullivan yesterday, the Postal Service has filed two reports early this morning. The first is a summary of information learned from plant managers for the following USPS districts: Greensboro, MidCarolinas, Central Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Metropolitan.

The second is a report showing the total number of ballots identified through daily sweeps of processing facilities in states with extended ballot receipt deadlines.

The Postal Service has filed another of its reports explaining districts with low inbound or outbound processing scores. Specifically, “for each USPS District whose Election Mail processing scores for Inbound Ballots were below 90 percent on each of the previous two days or below 80 percent on the previous day, Defendants’ understanding, based on all reasonably available information, of potential explanations for the current level of service and any corrective measures that are now being implemented, as previously required under the Court’s October 30 Order.”

The plaintiffs in Richardson, Vote Forward, and NAACP have filed a notice and proposed order. The proposed order says, “Beginning November 7, 2020, Defendants shall no longer be required to produce daily data on the percentage of on-time deliveries at the Nation, Area, and District level for first class mail and marketing mail, as previously required under the Court’s October 27 Order. Instead, Defendants shall produce this data on a weekly basis.”

The proposed order also modifies other reports the Postal Service had been required to produce. It will no longer be required to produce data on outbound ballots (those sent to voters), and it won’t be required to produce those explanations for processing scores for Inbound Ballots below 90 percent on each of the previous two days.

The order would also ask for “information sufficient to show the absolute number Inbound Ballots covered by the processing score for a given District that had an origination scan in the District, a destination scan in the District, or both. Defendants shall include this data retroactive to November 4.”

The order also states, “Plant managers and district managers jointly overseeing USPS processing facilities that serve Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, and West Virginia shall coordinate with all local Boards of Elections (the “Local Boards”) in those states to deliver all ballots to the Local Boards before the relevant extended state ballot receipt deadline.”

The notice provides the rationale for the specific requests for information described in the proposed order.

November 5, 2020

Afternoon update: Judge Sullivan presided over another hearing today. One of the questions on the table was how many ballots may have been delivered late or are still in the system and not delivered yet. The Postal Service shared some specific numbers, as reported in a great “live” twitter thread on the hearing by @USPostOffice911.

Looking a ballots without a destination scan, the Postal Service says that in the Central PA district, there are 1524 total, and of these USPS has confidence that 979 were expedited, while 545 require further investigation.  In Greensboro, 3087 total, 1752 expedited, 1335 to investigate. In the Carolina district, 2404 total without destination scans, 1204 confidence they were expedited, 1200 to investigate. In Philadelphia, 2496 total, 1682 expedited, 814 to investigate. The Postal Service said that there is no evidence yet that the ballots in the “investigated” category were not delivered.

In a separate filing, the Postal Service provided a list of the number of ballots that were delivered Express in each district over the three days Nov. 1- Nov. 3. The total appears to be about 10,655.

The plaintiffs have presented two proposed orders, which Judge Sullivans appears to have ordered.

The first states: All USPS processing facilities that serve a state with an extended ballot receipt deadline shall, until that deadline passes, perform a morning ballot sweep (no later than 10 a.m., local time) and a mid-to-late afternoon ballot sweep that is timed to ensure that any identified local ballots can be delivered that day. Upon completing a sweep, each facility shall report to USPS Headquarters the total number of ballots identified and confirm that those ballots have been expedited for delivery to meet applicable extended state deadlines. Beginning on November 5, 2020, and until further order of the Court, Defendants shall promptly submit to Plaintiffs a single report with the total number of ballots identified through daily sweeps, with one exception: for facilities that are located in states whose ballot receipt deadline is that day, Defendants shall submit the results of those sweeps to Plaintiffs immediately following its receipt of the results of the second sweep at these facilities.

The second proposed order states:

1. On November 5, 2020 and November 6, 2020, Defendants shall file before the Court the equivalent information presented in “Defendants’ Summary of Information Learned from Plant Managers” (ECF No. 78) for the following United States Postal Service (USPS) districts: Greensboro, Mid-Carolinas, Central Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Metropolitan.

2. Plant managers and district managers jointly overseeing USPS facilities in Greensboro, Mid-Carolinas, Central Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Metropolitan shall coordinate with all local county Boards of Elections in North Carolina or Pennsylvania (the “Local Board”) to deliver all ballots to the Local Board before 5:00 PM local time in North Carolina or Pennsylvania on November 6, 2020. Such arrangements shall include, at a minimum, the following:

a. USPS employees of each facility shall be directed to undertake a sweep of the facility on the morning and again on the afternoon of November 6 to identify any inbound ballots postmarked on or before November 3.

b. The afternoon sweep should be conducted at a time sufficient for the ballots to be delivered to the Local Board for receipt by 5:00 PM local time on November 6, 2020.

c. Plant managers and district managers may implement a hub-and-spoke plan for each county, to the extent that such plan would assist timely delivery of the ballots to the Local Board.

3. No later than 5:00 PM EST today, Defendants shall file before the Court details of the arrangements adopted pursuant to Paragraph 2 of this Order by each USPS district and, to the extent facilities within each USPS district adopt different plans, by each USPS facility.

Morning update: The big news to come out of yesterday’s hearing in NAACP-Richardson-Vote-Forward was, of course, Judge Sullivan’s expression of displeasure with the Postal Service’s failure to follow his order of Nov. 3. It immediately made headlines like these:

Most of yesterday’s hearing was considerably less dramatic than the headlines suggest. A lot of it was an in-the-weeds discussion about how the processing plants were handling ballots, conducting sweeps, etc. The hearing focused largely on the testimony of Kevin Bray, the USPS executive lead for mail processing in the 2020 elections. He also submitted a written declaration. Daniel Brubaker, a member of the Postal Service Inspection Service, submitted a declaration as well.

The Postal Service also filed a response to the court’s Nov. 3 order, which provides a narrative of the actions of the Postal Inspection Service on election day, the sweeps of processing plants that took place, and an explanation of why the Postal Service was not able to comply entirely with the court’s order. In addition, the Postal Service filed a summary of information learned from plant managers as required by the court’s order on Nov. 3.

For more about the hearing and where things stand, check out these articles:

Read More

Stop girdling the Post Office

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By Mark Jamison

In forestry the practice of tree girdling is well known. Although there are some circumstances where this can be a useful practice, in most cases the technique is used for nefarious ends. Girdling involves removing the bark and layers below the bark, usually around the trunk of the tree. The cut, when it includes the entire circumference of the tree, makes it impossible for the tree to heal itself and everything above the cut will eventually die. In forests where logging is limited to dying or diseased trees, loggers will girdle healthy trees to kill them and make them available for harvest.

For at least the last fifty years, the right wing has been girdling the post office and the postal network in the hope of undermining its health and thereby reaping a financial harvest. The very people who have been charged with caring for and sustaining the Postal Service have instead repeatedly cut services, saddled the institution with requirements that undermine its ability to function, and denigrated the value of the network.

Louis DeJoy and Robert Duncan are the latest in the long line of postal girdlers. But they have taken their game to a higher level and for what are clearly political reasons. Both are products of the president that appointed them and both evidence their benefactor’s outright mendacity. They have made it clear that regardless of the law, public necessity, or public opinion, their goal is to cut postal operations. The recent OIG report reviewed here at STPO  demonstrates that clearly.

DeJoy and Duncan are political men doing political deeds. Both have engaged in major fundraising for the Republican Party and both have been active and vocal in partisan politics. That their deeds in their current positions as Postmaster General and chairman of the postal Board of Governors are political should be obvious to anyone with even a scintilla of common sense.

But to borrow from Shakespeare, I come not to criticize DeJoy and Duncan but to bury them. Having chosen to serve political goals rather than the American public during a national crisis, they have proven themselves unfit. They lack the competence and foresight required to administer an essential national infrastructure. They have to go.  Read More

DeJoy’s 57 Varieties of Cost Cutting: What’s in the new OIG report—and what’s not?

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By Steve Hutkins

In response to several inquiries from members of Congress, the Office of Inspector General has issued a report  on “Operational Changes to Mail Delivery.” The report discusses the Postal Service’s plan to eliminate 64 million work hours — the equivalent of 33,000 jobs — by implementing 57 cost-cutting initiatives. As discussed in this previous post, the plan represents one of the largest downsizing efforts in the 50-year history of the Postal Service.

These 57 “Do It Now FY Strategies” include restrictions on overtime, late and extra trips from processing centers, and all the other cost-cutting measures that have caused the delivery delays we’ve seen since July. They also include numerous other changes to postal operations that have not received much, if any, attention.

The report criticizes postal leadership on several counts. First, the Postal Service “did not complete a study or analysis of the impact the changes would make on mail service prior to implementation.” Second, “documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral.” That caused “confusion and inconsistency” and “compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country.”

The IG also criticizes management for a third major failing: The Postal Service did not “fully respond” to questions and document requests from Congress and did not share information about the plan beyond what the Postmaster General was specifically asked in his testimony before the House and Senate.

As a result, Congress was not informed of the existence of the Work Hour Reduction Plan and the “Do It Now FY Strategies” before or during the Postmaster General’s testimony to Congress. The plan is not mentioned at all in Senator Gary Peters “Failure to Deliver” report or his update report. It’s very likely that Congress has yet to receive a full accounting of the plan.

The most complete picture of the “Do It Now FY Strategies” comes from three PowerPoint presentations that became public as part of lawsuits against the Postal Service over the mail delays. One appeared in the Washington Post a few weeks ago as part of Pennsylvania v DeJoy, and the others were submitted as exhibits in the case of New York v Trump on October 19, 2020 — the same day that the OIG report was released.

These presentations were given at meetings between executives at headquarters and the Area Vice Presidents on June 26, July 7, and July 10. The slides go through each element of the plan and cover nearly all of the 57 strategies listed in the OIG report, but in much more detail. (You can find the three presentations merged together at the end of this post, along with a table showing the 57 strategies as they appear in the appendix of the OIG report, with links to the corresponding slide in the presentations.)

There are some crucial details in these presentations that suggest the Postal Service not only failed to provide Congress with a full picture of the plan. It may have also failed to provide the OIG with the whole story. How else to explain the following?  Read More

Are USPS transportation policies still causing mail delays?

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This week there have been several significant revelations about the operational changes that took place over the summer, their impact on service performance, and the Postal Service’s plan to eliminate 64 million work hours.

  • According to an OIG report released yesterday, the Postal Service embarked on this plan — which involves 57 strategies to transform every aspect of postal operations — without doing any analysis of the potential service impacts. Plus, “documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral. The resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country.”
  • The OIG concurred with the Postal Service’s position that an advisory opinion by the Postal Regulatory Commission was not required before making these operational changes, but it acknowledges that “upcoming court decisions could change this analysis.” Indeed, federal judges in four cases – Washington v TrumpNew York v USPS, Pennsylvania v DeJoy, NAACP v USPS— have ruled that an advisory opinion should have been requested.
  • In August, the Postmaster General told the Senate that the removal of collection boxes, which caused widespread concern over the summer, was “a normal process that has been around 50 years” and that over the past decade, about 3,500 have been removed annually. According to a June 26, 2020, presentation given by Headquarters (submitted as an exhibit in New York), the Postal Service has a “collection box optimization” plan to remove over 7,400 boxes each quarter during FY 2021, for a total of 29,618 removals in a single year. It’s not clear why the Postmaster General didn’t mention this to Congress.
  • As over 700 sorting machines were being removed from processing plants, the Postmaster General told Congress that the Postal Service was simply eliminating under-utilized machines and making room for all the packages, but a July 7th teleconference cites another reason: cutting down on work hours would “Reduce 1658 full time equivalent employees.” The Postmaster General didn’t tell this to Congress.
  • When West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin contacted the Postal Service this summer about reports that signs were going up at post offices with new, reduced hours of operation, he was told that the signs were incorrectly posted because of a “misunderstanding” between District officials and local postmasters. But in the July 7th teleconference, at which the Postmaster General gave remarks, postal leadership said it plans to “align retail hours/operations to customer demand” by reducing full window service hours at 12,000 post offices. It’s not clear why the Postmaster General didn’t tell this to Congress.
  • According to an excellent article in yesterday’s Washington Post, the on-time service performance is “most erratic” in key swing states, making them more vulnerable to mail slowdowns and endangering millions of votes in states with firm ballot deadlines. The article has some great maps based on service performance reports the Postal Service has made public in response to the court’s ruling in Jones v DeJoy, which can be found here.
  • And one final revelation: The Postal Service is still putting restrictions on late and extra trips from processing centers, and the number of such trips is way below normal. This may be the main reason service performance continues to suffer.

There’s a lot to unpack in all the court documents, WaPo article and OIG report, but for now, let’s focus on the issue of transportation policy.  Read More

The Post Office in a Decent Society

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By Mark Jamison

In looking at the results of the recent lawsuits against the Postal Service — eight of which have led to rulings banning changes in postal operations until after the election — it is tempting to make a bad sports analogy.  After all, going 0 for 8 lends itself to comparisons with futility we often associate with the worst teams and players. But to do so trivializes matters of the gravest civic importance.

The lawsuits have been initiated to preserve our right to vote and do so in a way that preserves our health and safety during a pandemic. They have also served to highlight the politicization of a national asset and institution, one whose mission embodies the concept of one nation through the provision of universal service.

The Postal Service has repeatedly lost in court because there is no argument that can defend the clownish tenure of Louis DeJoy and the overt politicization of an infrastructure that should be totally nonpolitical by Robert Duncan and the other members of the Postal Board of Governors.

Duncan continues to serve as a director of a super PAC dedicated to electing Republican candidates to the Senate. Whatever insights or advantages Duncan’s experience might bring to the operations of the Postal Service, they are more than offset by his utter lack of respect for the institution. His continued partisan position during a contentious election in which the Postal Service is playing an essential role is inexcusable. A person with any sense of civic duty or public propriety would have stepped aside long ago.

But this is what we have come expect from the Trump Administration. From when he first started tweeting and commenting about the post office, his remarks have been not only ill-informed but aggressively ignorant. They arose not from a sense of managing a public institution to the best advantage of the American people but from petty personal grievance.  Read More

A New Agenda for Postal Reform

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By Steve Hutkins

In late June of this year, a few days after the new Postmaster General took office and in the middle of a pandemic, the Postal Service initiated a plan to eliminate 64 million work hours, the equivalent of 33,000 jobs. It was one of the largest cost-cutting plans (perhaps the largest) in the history of the Postal Service, and leadership wanted to get a good start on it by the end of the fiscal year on September 30 — and without telling anyone about it, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to review all such plans.  Within weeks, unprecedented mail delays were occurring across the country, members of Congress were hearing about post offices closing early, and — given that half the country may vote by mail — even the integrity of the election was threatened.

The response was swift. People protested in the streets, Congress held hearings and issued a damning report, and a dozen lawsuits were filed, leading to injunction after injunction banning the operational changes. The leaders of the Postal Service were forced to step back. But those in charge are still in charge, and the Work Hour Reduction plan is just on pause, waiting until after the election.

In the meantime, there’s a crisis at the Postal Service. As of mid-September, almost 10,000 postal workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and over 52,000 had taken time off because they were sick or had to quarantine or care for family members. Those numbers are obviously much higher now, and they will get worse over the winter. Overtime hours, rather than being reduced, have gone way up, from about 11 percent of total workhours before the pandemic to 17 percent during the week of October 2 and 21 percent during the week of October 9.

The surge in packages caused by the pandemic is taxing the capacities of the system, resulting in continued delivery delays. First Class mail, which normally has an on-time delivery target of 96 percent and an average score of 92 percent, has been averaging about 85.6 percent since early July. When the quarterly results are posted next month, the fourth quarter of 2020 (July-Sept) may be the worst since the Postal Service first started reporting service performance data back in 2009.

The processing scores for Election Mail per se (explained here) also show signs of problems. As discussed in this OIG report on the 2018 election, processing plants are capable of achieving an on-time score of nearly 100 percent.  Recent on-time scores had been improving — 94.2 percent for the week of Sept. 12, 97.2 percent for the week of Sept. 19, and 97.9 percent for the week of Sept. 26 — but then for some reason they fell to 92.1 percent for the week of Oct. 3.

The problems at the Postal Service, coupled with the President’s comments attacking the post office, have made many people afraid to cast their ballots by mail, even though it may be the only safe way for them to vote. Just a few days ago, the states suing the Postal Service in Pennsylvania v DeJoy decided the situation was so bad that they’ve asked the court to appoint former Inspector General and BOG member David C. Williams to serve as a special monitor to oversee operations until the election.

Hopefully in January a new administration will take office in Washington. How will it deal with this crisis, and how might it envision the future of the Postal Service?

First principles. The Postal Service is not a business. Its purpose is to provide a service to the nation. It is “the people’s post office” — we own it, and it works for us. As with other public infrastructures — the network of roads and highways, our parks and schools, water and electricity utilities — the postal infrastructure should not be asked to pay for itself. To do so limits the potential benefits it can provide. We should not succumb to the scarcity myth that the Postal Service has a broken business model and can’t afford to do anything but downsize. We should instead recognize that the postal infrastructure is an opportunity multiplier that expands the capabilities of individuals and communities. Investing in the Postal Service stimulates local economies by providing quality jobs that have been a gateway into the middle class. The economic and social benefits provided by the Postal Service are incalculable.  Read More

Documentary Film Reveals How The United Postal Service Has Been Systematically Dismantled For Decades

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds … until THE GREAT POSTAL HEIST

Established by the U.S. Constitution, the once-venerated agency has been thrust into a political maelstrom that is hampering its effectiveness in the days leading up to the election. Jay Galione, the son of a postal worker, has made the first documentary film that reveals how Congressional manipulation and privatization efforts have created a toxic and chaotic workplace.  Read More