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Postal union officials: 10 mail-sorting machines removed in Michigan

Postal union officials: 10 mail-sorting machines removed in Michigan

  • Mass mail-sorting machines in Detroit, Pontiac and Grand Rapids decommissioned
  • U.S. Postal Services faces questions about slower mail service amid cost-cutting measures
  • Postal union leader says fewer machines "kneecaps" their ability to move election, holiday mail
The U.S. Postal Service has removed at least 10 automated mail-sorting machines throughout Michigan facilities this summer, lowering first-class mail-processing capacity by more than 300,000 letters per hour, postal worker union leaders told Crain's.
At least three bar code sorting machines have been removed from the Postal Service's Fort Street facility in Detroit, said Keith Combs, president of the American Postal Workers Union's Detroit district.
At the U.S. Postal Service's Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac, two delivery bar code sorting machines have been removed from the 900,000-square-foot facility, said Roscoe Woods, president of APWU's Local 480-481.
In Grand Rapids, two bar code sorting machines have been removed from the plant and there are plans to take three more, leaving 21 machines, said Amy Puhalski, president of APWU's Western Michigan Area Local 281.Another two machines that sort flat mail items such as magazines have been removed from the Grand Rapids facility, Puhalski said.
One flat sorter in Detroit also has been removed in recent weeks, Combs said.
Each machine has the capacity to process at least 32,000 pieces of mail each hour and some are operated 20 hours per day, sorting mail into the order in which it is delivered on the street through a process at USPS known as "delivery point sequencing," according to the union leaders.
"It will cause some delays" in mail service, Combs told Crain's.
In one hour, all 10 machines could sort 320,000 pieces of mail or 2.5 million envelopes in a single eight-hour shift. The Detroit and Pontiac facilities are operating three shifts, union leaders said.
"I would say that's a significant hit in their processing ability, considering the fact they can't clear the volume with the machines they have," Woods told Crain's.
The other three bar code-scanning machines in Grand Rapids are scheduled to be removed over the next three weeks, potentially reducing mail-processing capacity in west Michigan by nearly 20 percent, Puhalski said."They're pulling out the equipment saying they no longer need it," Puhalski told Crain's.
The recent slowing of mail service across the country came after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy curtailed overtime and barred trucks from staying late to collect processed mail from mail-processing facilities that now have fewer machines to operate.
In response to a continued decline in regular letter mail, USPS management is in the process of removing 671 mail-processing machines from facilities across the country, The Washington Post reported Friday. The Postal Service's parcel mail has seen significant increases due to a spike in online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.
Congressional Democrats want to appropriate $25 billion to the Postal Service, which routinely runs up multi-billion-dollar deficits.
Elizabeth Najduch, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service's Detroit and Greater Michigan districts, did not respond Monday to questions from Crain's about the removal of mail-processing machines. She did confirm, however, that the USPS has postponed removing public mailboxes in Michigan "for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers' concerns."
Slowed delivery by the USPS under the management of DeJoy — an appointee of President Donald Trump — has heightened political tensions as Michigan and several other states brace for record absentee voting by mail. Immediately following the election, the Postal Service will move into its busiest time of the year delivering cards and packages for the holidays.Removing machines "certainly kneecaps us when it comes to our ability to handle any influx in volume, any increase in volume," said Woods, who has spent 20 years working in postal service operations.
"If you have a machine break down, you lose the flexibility of being able to fire up another machine," Woods added.
The new strict departure times for trucks coupled with fewer machines sorting envelopes has led to mail accumulating at the Pontiac and Grand Rapids facilities, according to Woods and Puhalski.
"If a truck leaves at 6 p.m., then a truck leaves at 6 p.m. with whatever it's got on it," Woods told Crain's. "If it can't make the truck, then it's held over to the next day."
For example, Woods said, if there's 60,000 pieces of mail destined for Roseville and only 45,000 gets processed in Pontiac and loaded on a truck, the remaining 15,000 is left for the next day.
"So let's say the next day you run 50,000 (of 60,000) letters and now you've left 25,000 letters," Woods said. "It becomes a cascading effect that you're not clearing what you've got every day.""What is supposed to be one of the best processing facilities ends up being a warehouse for delayed mail," Woods added.
USPS management also has removed two machines in Grand Rapids that postmark or "cancel" the mail, Puhalski said.
Reducing machinery for automated sorting will only lead to "more mail left behind" at the processing facilities, she said.
"If you have more pieces of equipment, you have more people to get it through before the trucks dispatch," Puhalski said. "If you have less people and less equipment, then you have less time ... to get the mail through."
In Detroit, the local union president for mail clerks and maintenance workers said the removal of mail-processing machines is confusing because USPS added a third shift in June for both parcel and flat mail.
Each bar code-printing machine that sorts mail into order of delivery for letter carriers runs two ZIP code zones at once, Combs said."I don't foresee them being able to put more (ZIP code) zones on one machine because they already have been (at capacity)," he said.
USPS managers also have been considering whether to remove a parcel-processing machine from the plant, Combs said, who added it would be inadvisable with the Christmas shopping season approaching.
"They're talking about taking one of those out," he said of parcel machines. "If that happens, that would be a major slowdown."

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