Warning of ‘irreparable harm,’ Pa. federal judge temporarily blocks USPS cost-cutting

A federal judge in Pa. has barred further cost-cutting to USPS, saying it could cause “irreparable harm.” It’s the fourth such decision nationwide.

Letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility

Letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility in McLean, Va., Friday, July 31, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that cost-cutting measures to the US Postal Service under President Trump’s administration might cause “irreparable harm,” to the agency.

Judge Gerald McHugh of Pennsylvania’s Eastern District in Philadelphia, issued a nationwide injunction Monday that would halt any further structural changes that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — a longtime Trump ally — might want to make.

The Postal Service’s “ability to fulfill its mission during a presidential election taking place in the midst of a public health crisis is vital,” McHugh wrote in his opinion. “The record in this case strongly supports the conclusion that irreparable harm will result unless its ability to operate is assured.”

It’s the fourth such injunction to be issued over DeJoy’s handling of the postal service.

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DeJoy only took office on June 15, and quickly began imposing changes that were designed, he said at the time, to fix USPS’s “broken business model.” They included restricted overtime and getting rid of extra mail delivery trips by postal workers. Those trips had previously been used to make sure late mail was delivered on time.

Some critics countered that it was inappropriate to try to run the Postal Service, a crucial government agency, like a business.

In his order, McHugh noted that mail delivery performance at USPS began to fall shortly after DeJoy assumed the Postmaster title.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, McHugh wrote, the postal service met its standards for first-class mail about 92% of the time. By April, that was down to 90%, but by May it was back to 92%.

About a month into DeJoy’s tenure, though, “service dropped precipitously and fell to 85% on July 11, 2020. By August 8, 2020 service performance fell to 81.47%, far lower than at any other time during the pandemic.”

McHugh also said that the timing of DeJoy’s changes, in the middle of a pandemic and just a few months ahead of a presidential election in which mail voting is expected to be crucial, “is curious, at a minimum.”

“Depending on how one views the range of conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence, it might even be considered reckless,” he wrote. “Regardless … it is unlawful.”

DeJoy already pledged to roll back his reorganization measures to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail” — though he then said he planned to resume his cost-cutting efforts after Nov. 3.

Previous injunctions, which came from judges in New York and Washington State, were similar.

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The case was brought by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, and was joined by five other states — Delaware, California, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina — and Washington D.C. All told, more than 20 states have sued DeJoy over his USPS adjustments.

In a statement, Shapiro called the latest injunction “a major victory.”

“The Postal Service cannot make random, negative changes that affect Pennsylvanians’ daily lives, and the court is helping to ensure that everyone has full faith in the Postal Service at this critical time,” he said.

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