A truck leaves the U.S. Postal Service’s Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough on Monday evening. The postal workers’ union says trucks left the center exactly on time Monday morning, leaving behind roughly 80,400 letters. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Customers across southern Maine will be waiting on as many as 80,000 pieces of mail that will arrive late because of new U.S. Postal Service policies, the president of a local postal workers’ union said.

Rather than wait an extra 10 minutes for the mail to be ready, the trucks left the postal service’s Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough exactly on time Monday morning, leaving behind roughly 80,400 letters that will be delivered late as a result, said Scott Adams, general president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 458. He estimated the processing center sorts approximately one million pieces of mail on a typical Sunday night.

Adams sent the Portland Press Herald information Monday morning outlining the amount of delayed mail broken down by destination. He said all the letters left behind had been sorted the previous night and just needed to be loaded onto mail carriers’ trucks for delivery.

A postal service spokesman said Monday evening that the union’s 80,000 figure was overblown. He also said the delayed letters were distributed later in the day and were not held until Tuesday.

“This mail was dispatched on the next available scheduled transportation heading to 10 impacted post offices,” said Steve Doherty, strategic communications specialist for the Postal Service’s Northeast region. “In those offices, all mail was sorted to the customer post office boxes. Six post offices also had some mail for rural delivery and we have made every effort to complete delivery through the carriers as well. This midday volume did not reflect the majority of the day’s mail for these offices. However, we remain committed to making every effort to effect today’s delivery for these customers and apologize for any concern.”

Adams acknowledged in a follow-up statement that his figures for delayed mail could be inflated by 20 percent or so, but he said quibbling over the numbers is beside the point.

“Management is upset that our numbers are inaccurate,” he said. “However, they’re missing the point. Whether an arsonist burns eight buildings, rather than 10, matters not.”

On Thursday, Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, said he has received a barrage of correspondence from constituents concerned about the financial stability of the postal service and worried it may not be up to the task of handling the large number of mail-in ballots that are likely to flood post offices as the Nov. 3 general election approaches.

A postal service worker walks through the back lot of the post office in Portland on Monday. A mail carrier in Fryeburg said, “Tomorrow, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people who are … going to be wondering where everything was.”  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

King emphasized in a letter to Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, the ranking member on the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which oversees postal service operations, that it is an essential service and should not be run like a for-profit business.

In July, several letter carriers accused Portland’s postmaster of deliberately delaying the delivery of first-class and priority mail by ordering clerks to sort Amazon packages first, ensuring that carriers deliver them on time.

The Fryeburg and Bridgton routes were the hardest hit by Monday’s delay. The union estimated – 12,000 and 11,600 pieces of mail were delayed in each town, respectively.

“I walked into my post office, and we didn’t have any … sorted letters for us, and (were) told we probably wouldn’t be getting them today,” said a carrier in Fryeburg who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution. “The guy who drove our truck told our clerk that they were told the letters weren’t ready yet – ‘just go.'”

The order for the trucks to leave came from one of the managers at the plant, Adams said. He did not name the manager.

In the past, trucks would have waited the extra 10 minutes until the mail was ready, which makes little difference to postal service customers, Adams said. However, according to rules from new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, there must be “no late trips; no extra trips,” in an effort to save money, he said.

“We’re going to have delayed mail – the process changes where they say, ‘No late mail,'” Adams said. “The whole process is going to take an extra day when they do this. So, obviously, it’s a change in service standards.”

The new regulations are evidence that DeJoy is trying to run the postal service like a business, Adams said. The service has come under immense pressure to make itself financially viable following a move by Congress in 2009 to force it to pre-fund decades worth of health care costs for pensioners.

The agency is struggling to handle a surge in online shopping deliveries while trying to cut costs by limiting overtime and reducing extra trips, both of which were ordered by DeJoy. He already has come under scrutiny for new policies that normalize delivering mail late in exchange for cutting overtime.

“To say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ set in stone, black and white – that doesn’t work. We have to be flexible,” Adams said. “And I think the postmaster general looks at this as a business. You know, it’s not (a business), it’s a service. So we have to make a few adjustments to get 80,400 pieces of mail out to the customers, which were due today.”

Adams said he was frustrated that in addition to slowing down mail delivery, the postal service isn’t taking responsibility for it. He said the late mail, which customers often can track, doesn’t get marked as “delayed,” and as a result, customers are left waiting for mail that won’t be delivered for another day.

He also noted that several employees were kept working over 12 hours at the plant Sunday night to sort the mail, resulting in several hours of double pay. Despite the costly effort to get the mail sorted in time, it was left behind.

The carrier in Fryeburg, whose route was timed at eight hours, said it would likely take only six hours Monday, meaning a loss of two hours in pay.

“Tomorrow, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people who are … going to be wondering where everything was,” the carrier said.

Carriers will have to sort any delayed letters manually on Tuesday morning, the union said. A machine at the Scarborough distribution center sorts the mail into a delivery point sequence so that carriers can deliver mail directly from presorted stacks. But with two days of mail sorted separately, there will be two different stacks of mail for each delivery point.

“Tomorrow morning, carriers are going to have two sets of sequenced letters, and they can’t carry (the mail) that way,” Adams said. “The machine did the work, and now they have to undo what the machine did to put it in the case.”

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