NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told senators Friday about cost-cutting fixes he has made to the U.S. Postal Service transportation system supposedly designed to improve service.
But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation found that, at the same time that DeJoy was testifying, the Postal Service was paying for an empty truck to drive from Nashville to Illinois.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that DeJoy's changes have led to empty postal trucks being run all over the country.
"The only change I made, ma'am, was the trucks leave on time," said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday in response to questions from Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-NV.
Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, Dejoy defended his cost-cutting measures, specifically highlighting cuts that targeted transportation issues within the Postal Service.
Those cuts require postal trucks to leave sorting facilities by a specific time each day and are intended to reduce expenses related to overtime and extra trips.
But postal workers in Nashville say DeJoy's new mandate is not practical and is having unintended consequences.
"Trucks leave empty," said Joe Jolley a postal employee with the postal workers union in Nashville.
"They leave completely empty. We pay a truck to travel to Memphis, a 53-foot truck with no mail on it."
He said DeJoy's new policy will not allow holding a truck for even five minutes so it can be loaded with mail, adding that Express Mail and Priority Mail are often left sitting on the docks because trucks have already left.
"That is very important mail - cremated remains, legal documents, things that must be delivered on time, guaranteed delivery - and we are not making that guarantee," Jolley said.
In June, the Postal Service's inspector general issued a report on the transportation network.
"During our site visits, we observed mail processing operations not processing mail timely, and not enough dock personnel moving the mail. This caused mail to miss its last scheduled transportation trip, which led to management calling extra trips and using driver overtime," the report states.
The inspector general’s report found delays in mail processing and inadequate dock staffing resulted in five million late trips last year, costing the agency $410 million.
In response, newly appointed Postmaster Dejoy mandated that every truck keep to its schedule, even if it is empty.
"If they are scheduled to leave at 7 a.m., they leave at 7 a.m., mail or no mail," Jolley said.
Trip tickets obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show an empty truck left Nashville's sorting facility Friday at 6:01 a.m. on its way to Carol Stream, Illinois.
The ticket shows the truck left 14 minutes ahead of its scheduled 6:15 a.m, departure time, embarking on the 500-mile trip even though it had no mail.
On the same day, another truck bound for Memphis left 10 minutes early with an empty trailer, and yet another 53-foot trailer was empty when it left for Bowling Green four minutes ahead of schedule.
Don Eggers has been with Postal Service for 40 years and is vice president of the American Postal Workers Union, Local 5 in Nashville.
"We are seeing mail being delayed daily," Eggers said.
He said reducing staff and the number of sorting machines, which has happened in Nashville and at post offices across the country, only makes it harder to get mail ready for those trucks.
We showed Eggers photos we obtained of two sorting machines being dismantled inside the main post office on Royal Parkway, where most of the mail for Middle Tennessee is sorted.
"This is where we would be feeding the mail into the machine, but it's now unusable because it is being taken apart," Eggers said as he looked at the pictures.
In all, five of the facility's 34 sorting machines have been taken out of service recently, according to multiple sources with the postal workers union.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why do you think those machines are being taken down?"
Eggers responded, "I believe with the new Postmaster General that he's basically just delaying the mail."
DeJoy told senators that mail sorting machines across the country are being removed to make more room for packages, because mail volume is decreasing while package delivery is going up.
"Those machines, once they are gone, they are not coming back," Eggers said.
But Jolley says those are not the only machines taken out of service.
Until recently Nashville had three machines capable or sorting oversized, flat mail, such as mail-in ballots, he said.
Jolley said one of those machines was just taken out, leaving the post office with no back-up if either of the remaining two machines fail.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates clarified, "One of three machines capable of sorting ballots is out of operation?"
"Correct," Jolley said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates followed, "What do you think of that?"
"I think it's dangerous," Jolley said.
DeJoy assured senators the postal system will be able to handle mail-in ballots nationwide and promised to stop removing sorting machines until after the election.
But workers are concerned.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you think he's trying to sabotage the postal service because of the election?"
Eggers responded, "Sabotage is a very strong word. But if the things he wants done, the postal service is to do, yes it's going to affect it."
DeJoy is scheduled to answer additional questions Monday before the U.S. House of Representatives.