Daily Montanan: Tester: Save Missoula mail processing, get rid of Postmaster DeJoy

by Keila Szpaller

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday he has two ideas for making sure Missoula’s mail processing center stays in Missoula — not Spokane as the Postal Service once planned.

First, the Montana Democrat said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is a “lost cause” who doesn’t understand rural distances and mountain geography, and getting a new leader with a vision for mail in the 21st century would help.

Secondly, Tester said a new bill he has proposed, the PARCEL Act — Protecting Access to Rural Carriers for Every Location — would prevent the U.S. Postal Service from consolidations when they don’t make sense.

Under the act, relocations would be allowed only if they don’t move centers out of state, if they first examine mountainous geographies, and if they have public support.

In this case, the public has loudly protested, including businesses delivering goods and veterans expecting medicine in the mail. The move could affect jobs in Missoula.

Tester presented his ideas Wednesday at a press conference at the downtown post office in Missoula. He was joined by the Missoula City Council president, a union president, and a senior citizen.

He said he will continue to fight to keep the USPS from closing the processing center and moving sorting to a different state over both Lookout Pass and Fourth of July Pass.

“If you’re planning on going over that every day, I’ve got news for you. It ain’t gonna happen every day.

“But someone with diabetes? “You don’t have an extra day,” Tester said.

Earlier this year, the Postal Service announced the consolidation plans from a review of 60 facilities out of 430 nationwide. However, the postmaster general backed off after pushback from Tester and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican.

The decision is on hold until at least January 2025.

Tester said he knows the argument is that the U.S. Post Office will save money, but the agency hasn’t provided details of its accounting, and trucks cost money, as does fueling them.

“This is a bad decision, and we’re going to push back,” he said.

The postmaster general has said the overall changes proposed would save $133 million to $177 million a year, and veering from the plan would affect those savings.

At the press conference, Robert Hopp, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 113, said the post office might be delivering fewer letters, but it’s processing more packages.

He said the uncertainty has affected workers, especially younger people who have more at risk and are talking about moving even though a final decision hasn’t been made.

“A lot of people are afraid,” Hopp said.

The post office used to have overnight delivery guaranteed, he said, but it doesn’t anymore. Generally, he said, DeJoy is moving in the wrong direction.

“I think the postmaster wants to deteriorate it and deteriorate it until it’s nothing, and it needs to get better,” Hopp said.

Missoula City Council President Amber Sherill said the council passed a resolution that supports keeping the processing center in Missoula after hearing from businesses, veterans and elderly people.

Sherill also said she has personal experience with the mountain passes because she has a child in sports.

“I’ve had some of my most harrowing drives going over those passes,” Sherill said.

Steve McArthur, 76, said he doesn’t want his mail ballot to have to travel all that extra time and distance for elections.

He said he also doesn’t buy the idea that people waiting on medication from Walmart won’t experience delays with their packages traveling to Spokane and back.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t pass the smell test,” McArthur said.

Tester agreed: “That’s bullsh*t.” Unless they’re moving mail with a jet, he said, which would be costly, they won’t move mail 400 miles as quickly. “That dog don’t hunt.”

He also said the postal service is the only agency mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

In a letter in February, Sen. Daines also told the postmaster general to keep the processing center open in Missoula, although he said he appreciated efforts to modernize.

“The USPS is critically important for rural and urban Montanans alike,” Daines said in the letter. “Many rely on the USPS to help facilitate their small business transactions and deliver their vital prescription medicine, Social Security checks, tax refunds, and bills.

“Rerouting mail to a facility over 200 miles away will likely lead to increased service delays, decreased customer satisfaction, and job losses in Missoula.”

At the press conference, Tester said the time may come when consolidation makes sense if it saves money without impacting rural delivery. However, he said the recent proposal from the postal service isn’t that plan. 

He said DeJoy put a hold on the plan shortly after he introduced the PARCEL Act — and the letter followed other urging from him this year including a letter signed by him, Daines and 24 other U.S. senators.

Tester said he’ll fight for a hearing, and he anticipates bipartisan support for the legislation. He said people in other rural states would be affected by the consolidation too, and mail customers don’t like it.

“Anybody that has been in business knows the customer is always right,” Tester said.