Changes to the delivery standards of the United States Postal Service are expected to cause delays in mail delivery for many Americans as early as this weekend, adding to the concerns many postal workers have about the future of the post office, and raising more questions about the motives of embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
The planned slowdown is part of DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the post office that he unveiled earlier this year.
Under the guidelines of the plan, the USPS will implement new standards for its first-class mail, lengthening delivery time for about 30 percent of its volume. That means letters, packages and magazines traveling longer distances could take up to five days to get to their intended destinations, instead of two or three.
“These new service standards will increase delivery reliability, consistency, and efficiency for our customers and across our network,” said Kim Frum, USPS spokesperson, in a written statement to NBC News, noting one-third of first class mail and seven percent of periodicals will be affected by the changes.
"Standards for single-piece First-Class Mail traveling within a local area will continue to be two days. The Postal Service will increase time‐in‐transit standards by 1 or 2 days for certain mail that are traveling longer distances.”
Expected to be especially hard-hit by the recent changes: residents of rural communities.
According to Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, recent changes to the way in which the postal service is handling mail under DeJoy’s new system are already resulting in delays for Iowa residents.
“We’re already starting to see the impact,” Karol said. “We’ve had customers expecting medication who have been disappointed because the medications are not being delivered as expected. Some have been very upset.”
DeJoy has made clear he wants more mail delivered by truck, instead of air. As part of his new plan, mail goes through surface transfer centers, or STCs, where the mail is handled and sorted, before it is loaded on to outgoing delivery trucks. But Karol noted there are often delays in the mail leaving the facilities.
“The problem with that system is that there are not enough truck drivers,” said Karol. “We’re moving mail to surface transportation centers and there aren’t enough drivers who can move that mail. They wait until trucks are 100 percent loaded and that could take days before they dispatch it.”
Adding to the frustration postal workers and customers are experiencing with the new system, said Karol, is that when the mail arrives at the STCs, it is difficult, if not impossible, for even postal employees to track.
“We may accept the mail at the counter at a post office, but then when we send it to the surface centers, the mail can’t be tracked. They hold it, sometimes for days. It looks like the postal service is holding that mail but the mail is not even in our hands. It’s very hard for customers to track their mail."
Lori Cash, president of the American Postal Workers Union Western New York Area 183, said for the past four months, her customers have expressed similar concerns about un-trackable mail, that appears to at least temporarily fall of the grid.
“People send so many important things through the mail –medicine and birthday presents. If it sits in some sorting facility we have no access to or ability to track, there’s no way we can do our jobs.”
The USPS said in a written statement to NBC News it is “currently expanding the capacity of our STC network and are able to track all containers in and out of the centers” – but did not comment on the inability of postal workers or customers to track specific pieces of mail that go through STCs, or on concerns that the STCs are contributing to mail delays.
Karol warns, under DeJoy’s new system, not even items sent via Priority Mail may get to their intended destination in a timely fashion.
“Under the new system, I’ve seen Priority Mail that used to be a two-day expected delivery time now takes four days,” she said.
DeJoy said in rolling out his ten-year plan, which will include a fleet of new electric postal vehicles, he wants to make the post office more efficient and cost-effective.
But the American Postal Workers Union told NBC News in a written statement it expects the new plan to drive revenue away from the USPS.
“The United States Postal Service is implementing changes that will slow down mail delivery for tens of millions of people and affect billions of pieces of mail,” the statement reads.
“This is a step backward for the Postal Service and for millions across the country who rely on speedy mail service. The union remains convinced that the service standard changes will only drive away mail volume and much-needed postal revenue.”
Porter McConnell, spokesperson for the Save the Post Office Coalition, worries the new system could erode trust in the post office and in government.
“It’s destroying public trust in a public institution,” McConnell said of DeJoy’s plan. “We’ve seen a lot of folks who don’t get their paycheck on time or they send the rent check and it gets there late and they face possible eviction because of the mail delays. There’s a lot of small businesses that get bad reviews because they can’t get the product there on time. There's no path in which the postal office slowdowns don’t affect everyone.”
Several members of Congress, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D- NY) and Sen. Gary Peters (D- MI) have questioned DeJoy’s motives for overhauling the USPS. DeJoy has come under fire for his ties to the trucking industry.
Prior to stepping into the role of postmaster general, DeJoy owned trucking firm New Breed Logistics and served as supply chain chief executive of XPO Logistics, a freight transportation company. Last month, the Washington Post reported the USPS will pay XPO $120 million over the next five years to oversee two major distribution and sorting sites in Atlanta and Washington that are among the facilities at the heart of DeJoy’s ten-year, truck-centric plan for the post office.
The new delays in mail service are expected to impact holiday deliveries. The USPS told NBC News it expects to hire 40,000 seasonal employees to help with the holiday rush.
But Karol warns consumers they should mail this year's holiday packages and cards sooner, rather than later.
"Postal employees are going to do everything they possibly can so that Christmas presents at the holidays get delivered ," Karol said. "But customers need to be aware of these new service changes."