New Postmaster General’s Focus on Modernization Likely Means Job Losses at USPS

Much of the criticism of new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has centered on his $2 million in contributions to the Trump campaign and other Republican causes since 2016. DeJoy is in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte.

These facts are cause for worry, but postal workers should be even more alarmed at his 35 years’ experience in labor analytics — the art of eliminating as many jobs as possible.

His company has a terrible labor record, rife with red flags including sexual harassment, discrimination, speedup, workplace injuries, excessive use of temps, misclassifying workers as independent contractors, and inadequate sick leave during the current pandemic.

Robots Please

DeJoy, whose term begins June 15, is only the fifth postmaster general since 1971 not to come from within the U.S. Postal Service bureaucracy. His experience in supply chain logistics was clearly a factor in his appointment.

DeJoy’s New Breed Logistics (before it merged with XPO) was a contractor to the USPS for more than 25 years, “supplying the organization with logistics support for multiple processing facilities,” the USPS announcement revealed.

XPO Logistics does extensive business with the Postal Service ($57 million in 2017), potentially putting DeJoy in the position of overseeing decisions that affect his personal financial interests. He served terms as XPO’s CEO and board member before retiring in 2018; the company continues to rent warehouse space from him, and he and his wife own between $25 million and $50 million in XPO stock.

The funding that the postal board of governors is asking from Congress includes $25 billion for “modernization.” What might DeJoy’s version of modernization look like? Take a look at the website of XPO: “Our focus is on robotics, autonomous vehicles, automated sortation systems, drones and other cutting-edge technologies that speed goods through the supply chain…. Once startup is complete, our managers use XPO Smart™ labor analytics to optimize productivity.”

In other words, the company specializes in the science of weeding out any worker who’s not super-productive and super-compliant, regardless of seniority or humanity. We can expect DeJoy to bring this same sensibility to running the postal service.

Postal workers have experienced “modernization” before. Every wave of technological innovation since the 1980s has eliminated some jobs and made other jobs more difficult.

For instance, it used to be that each day a letter carrier would spend a few hours putting the mail in delivery order before going out on the route. Now most of the sequencing is automated.

This technological advance should have made the job easier. Why not accomplish the same work, for the same pay, with less time and effort? But instead, management has used it to make the work harder — eliminating many jobs and forcing the remaining carriers to cover much larger routes. Letter carrying became much more stressful.

“Anti-Union Animus”

Not surprisingly, DeJoy has a bad labor record. While he was CEO, New Breed acted with “anti-union animus,” the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 1994, when it avoided hiring Longshore (ILWU) union members after securing a contract to run a U.S. Army terminal in Compton, California.

In 2013, a Tennessee jury awarded $1.5 million to three temp warehouse workers at New Breed in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit. The workers had been fired for complaining about a manager’s “unwelcome sexual touching and lewd, obscene and vulgar sexual remarks.” The employee handbook, which had sexual harassment protocols, was purposefully kept out of the hands of temps — who made up 80 percent of the workforce.

In 2014, the New York Times reported, four women working in a Memphis warehouse for New Breed suffered miscarriages after supervisors refused their requests for light duty during their pregnancies. Workers hoped that conditions would improve when XPO took over, but instead things got even worse — workers were now expected to pack 120 boxes per hour instead of 60, and got punished for too-long bathroom breaks. In 2017, a woman died of cardiac arrest on the warehouse floor, and workers around her were told to keep working. In 2018, two more women miscarried.

Since 2000, XPO and its subsidiaries have racked up 16 wage-and-hour violations totaling $35 million. They have also been dinged six times for employment discrimination, five times for labor relations, eight times for aviation safety, and 22 times for health and safety. (You can search a database of such violations for any company using the online Violation Tracker run by the policy resource center Good Jobs First.) The state of California has repeatedly awarded back wages to XPO truck drivers who were misclassified as independent contractors.

Truck drivers, warehouse workers, and intermodal drivers at hundreds of XPO facilities worldwide held a day of protests on May 30, 2019, against abuses and wage theft. U.S. efforts were coordinated by the Teamsters, who have managed to organize a handful of XPO units; a warehouse in New Haven went on strike. “As someone who drives from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego every single day to work more than 12 hours,” said driver Jose ‘Chema’ Rodriguez, “it’s ludicrous that I’m still unable to afford to live in the United States because of the compensation and benefits XPO has denied me by misclassifying me as an ‘independent contractor.’”

When the pandemic hit, the New York Times reported that XPO offered to “lend” workers up 100 hours of time off — but they would have to repay the time. The result of this stingy sick-leave policy: workers kept going into work despite “coughs and worse.” A Miami truck driver told the paper that even if he got coronavirus, he would have to keep driving his 18-wheeler. On April 4, workers walked out of an XPO warehouse in Palmyra, New Jersey, over COVID-19 concerns, after three workers became infected. (See a video of the walkout here.)

Time to Fight

Already the pandemic has caused the deaths of more than 50 postal workers and more than 85,000 people in the U.S., disproportionately people of color and the elderly. Thousands of postal workers have been sickened or have had to self-quarantine.

We’re in a struggle to save the postal service, during a presidential administration that is openly hostile to its existence. The threat to postal jobs and benefits comes at a time of historic unemployment, with more than 33 million new unemployment claims since late March. Perhaps one-third of the U.S. workforce has become jobless; many may never get their jobs back.

The 38 percent turnover rate among non-career employees at the USPS in 2018-19 is likely to decrease now. Workers in these second-tier, permatemp positions (mail handler assistants, postal support employees, city carrier assistants and rural carrier associates) may be unwilling to quit — despite inflexible schedules, arrogant supervisors, the physical demands of the work, and working too many or too few hours. People will be desperate to feed and house their families. Front-line supervisors may become even more obnoxious, not just for temps but for all workers.

But if workers can’t walk away from the job, they might be more willing to fight for their rights on the job — much like workers during the great postal strike of 1970. The postal workforce at that time included many veterans newly returned from the Vietnam War, who came back angry — veterans were extremely against the war — and Black workers inspired by the civil rights movement. The rebellious spirit of the times fed into the rebellion in the post office. After the last few years of teacher strikes, Black Lives Matter protests, and the Me Too movement, I’m hoping such a spirit is percolating again.

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. “Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in.” Buy one today, only $15.