Sometimes, in the ebb and flow of labor relations, it’s wise to work things out quietly. Other times, you’d best sound the alarm.

In the case of the U.S. Postal Service, this is one of those other times.

“You don’t just go and tell management, ‘Hey, I saw that. That’s not allowed,’ ” Scott Adams said in an interview Wednesday. “At some point you have to hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘I’m telling you, and I have been telling you, you follow the rules. And when you don’t, we’re blowing it up.’ ”

Adams is president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 458, representing 550 postal clerks, maintenance workers, fleet drivers and mechanics throughout southern Maine. A 34-year veteran of the postal service, he’s also the guy who made national headlines last week when he blew the whistle on what many saw as a crime in progress.

In a nutshell, some 65,000 pieces of first-class mail were held back at the postal service’s Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough this month to conform with a new policy stating that all delivery trucks must leave the facility exactly on time. Had the trucks been allowed to wait a mere 10 more minutes, that mail would have reached its destination that day.

Normally, that might be something to be handled internally. But these aren’t normal times: The snafu came amid the Trump administration’s blatant efforts, led by in-over-his-head Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to slow down that mail on the cusp of a national election that will rely on mailed-in ballots like never before.

Good for Adams, who never dreamed his outcry would go so viral – but hardly regrets that it did.

And while we’re at it, good for Mark Seitz, president of the Maine State Association of Letter Carriers, for shining the spotlight late last month on a similar upper-management blunder – holding back the delivery of first-class and priority mail on three occasions in June and July so that fourth-class Amazon packages could go out more quickly.

“I know I have freedom of speech as long as I’m off the clock and not in uniform and not on postal property,” Seitz, a mail carrier for 17 years, said in a separate interview. When the news media told him they needed an active postal employee to speak on the record for the story, he recalled, “I said, ‘Well, all right. I’ll bite the bullet.’ ”

Postal workers are, in many ways, a breed apart.

Their existence is mandated by no less than the U.S. Constitution. Yet their labor is viewed increasingly these days not as the public service it is, but as a quasi-business that should meet our needs – including that expensive “last mile” in the mail’s journey to our front doors – without taxpayer support.

They toil, as their unofficial motto notes, through snow, rain, heat and gloom of night, the 472 million pieces of mail they deliver each day reflecting nothing less than our national pulse.

We often don’t see them when they’re there. But we raise holy hell if, thanks to a sick call or a route change, they’re momentarily gone.

And now this.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put postal workers in harm’s way as they go door-to-door opening and closing our mailboxes, or try to maintain a safe distance from one another in processing facilities never designed for such precautions.

On top of that, upon his appointment by Trump in June, DeJoy embarked on a reorganization – all in the name of cost savings, wink-wink – that included a warning to Maine and 45 other states last week that the postal service cannot guarantee the delivery of all mailed-in ballots by Election Day.

On Tuesday, under siege from all directions, DeJoy announced he would shelve the reorganization until after the election. But in many ways the damage already has been done: Sow enough doubt about the mail and, at least in Trump’s twisted playbook, mission accomplished.

Thus, amid these troubled times, our postal workers now have become the new foot soldiers of our democracy. Long proud of their mission, they know how deeply we depend on them not only to handle our ballots with care, but also to deliver the medications, Social Security checks and other essentials to life in a pandemic.

And when they see malfeasance by postal service managers motivated only by abject fear of Trump, the front-line workers’ willingness to speak up represents our last line of defense against a man whose innate depravity grows more glaring with each passing day.

Seitz, the mail carrier, is still feeling the effects of his Amazon alert. Management sat him down and told him it’s illegal to take pictures inside a postal facility – a rule he can find nowhere. Besides, he told them, he didn’t take the photos that found their way to the media around the same time he went public – in fact, he says, he can prove it through his time sheets and work schedules.

Their reply?

“They said, ‘Well, we still think you’re lying,’ ” Seitz said.

(The postal service did not respond to a request for comment on Seitz’s conversations with local managers.)

Adams said that since he started generating headlines, he’s become “Public Enemy No. 1” in the halls of management.

“I think it’s because they were embarrassed,” Adams said. And as they watched DeJoy reassign or displace 23 top postal service executives two weeks ago, he added, local managers knew that failure to fall into lockstep with the new regime could well cost them their jobs.

The postal crisis, to be sure, goes far beyond the election. Just as the current meltdown of our federal government goes far beyond the U.S. Postal Service.

But from where Adams sits, three things must happen – and soon – to get the mail system back on track: elimination of the 75-year pre-funding of postal retirement benefits that is at the heart of the service’s chronic solvency crisis, passage of a $25 billion stimulus bill to shore up revenues hard hit by the pandemic, and, last but by no means least, new leadership.

“We need the (retirement) pre-funding to stop and now is the time.” Adams said. “We need the $25 billion stimulus and now is the time. And we need to remove Postmaster General DeJoy or have him resign – and now is the time.”

Not the kinds of demands you’d typically hear from a postal union leader.

But as we hurtle toward our national reckoning, we’ve become a nation beset by corruption and confusion. And nothing penetrates the babble like a courageously blown whistle.


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