Missoulian: Tester visits Missoula to hail postponement of Postal Service consolidation plans

by David Erickson

Calling U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy a “lost cause,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester held a press conference in Missoula on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing controversy about now-delayed plans to move Missoula’s outgoing mail processing to Spokane.

Tester also called on the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors to remove DeJoy from the top job at the federal agency and said he’s told the board to do so in the past.

Tester said his purpose for the press conference was to “discuss his successful efforts forcing the USPS to halt plans” to move the Missoula Processing and Distribution Center’s outing mail processing operations to Spokane. That plan would have meant that most mail sent from Missoula and bound for other locations would have been trucked over two mountain passes, processed, and trucked back if it was bound for Missoula.

The Postal Service said it would have saved about $1.3 million a year from the move, but the plan was opposed by the local Postal Service workers union and roughly a dozen non-career employees would have lost their jobs. Tester and other members of Congress, including Sen. Steve Daines, opposed the move.

In May, Tester introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would have prohibited the move. Shortly afterward, DeJoy announced that he was delaying any consolidation plans until at least after New Year’s Day 2025.

“We’re here today for some good news,” Tester said, speaking near the downtown Missoula Post Office. “The good news is the mail processing center here in Missoula is not going to get moved to Spokane.”

Tester said DeJoy’s plan to have truck drivers haul mail to Spokane and back, over both Lookout Pass and Fourth of July Pass, even in winter, wasn’t a common sense plan.

“If you’re planning on going over that every day, I got news for you, it ain’t gonna happen every day,” Tester said. “Because if Lookout Pass doesn’t get you, the Fourth of July (pass) will. And this is a problem when you have folks that don’t really understand distance and don’t understand geography, saying, ‘Well you know, I think it makes a really good idea to move this mail processing center.'”

Tester said his efforts to convince DeJoy “fell on deaf ears,” so he talked to the USPS Board of Governors and also didn’t get much of a response.

Tester said DeJoy made his decision to delay any decision on consolidation shortly after his bill was introduced.

“This would have major impacts, particularly on western Montana,” Tester said. “Let’s say that you’re diabetic and you need insulin. You don’t have an extra day. You can’t wait around. You’re depending on the mail to get delivered, the way the mail used to get delivered, through rain, through snow, through sleet, everything, cold, hot, it doesn’t matter. But when you’re talking about this kind of distance, it’s going to have an impact on standard delivery.”

Tester acknowledged that DeJoy has only put the decision “on hold” and it’s uncertain whether the plan will again move forward next year. Tester said he hopes his bill passes.

“So either this bill passes or we got to get a Postmaster General that understands distance and geography and understands that when people need mail in rural America and all of Montana, it can’t wait,” he said.

Robert Hopp, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local #113 in Missoula, thanked Sen. Tester for his work on the issue. Hopp said that after he was retiring from the military, he had issues at his job with the Post Office and Tester and his staff “got involved and got immediate answers.”

“I never thought a politician or your team would stick up for a person like me,” Hopp said. “It’s been amazing, so when this came across my desk, a mail processing review and us losing jobs, I had no doubt in my mind Sen. Tester’s office would help us and answer the call and you guys have been with us every step of the way.”

Amber Sherrill, the president of the Missoula City Council, said that the city passed a resolution asking the USPS to halt the plan.

“We have heard from the elderly, we have heard from businesses and we have heard from veterans,” she said. “It is a big deal, as (Tester) said, to be waiting on medications. We rely on these services and we also rely on these jobs in Missoula.”

She thanked Tester for taking the time to fight for the Missoula community.

Tester didn’t mince his words when speaking about DeJoy.

“It’s a Board of Governors decision, and why he’s still there is beyond me,” Tester said.

When asked if the Postal Service has opened its books and shown members of the U.S. Senate evidence of the financial need for consolidation, Tester replied that the U.S. Senate hadn’t been shown that evidence.

“No, and I can tell you that you don’t increase business with a business model that you’re gonna decrease service,” Tester said. “That isn’t how you encourage people to do business with you. This is kinda like Business 101. If you’re gonna go out and you’re gonna get business, you have to deliver, in this case literally, what people want.”

Tester said the USPS plan was the wrong way to get out of debt.

Tester also said he “didn’t buy” DeJoy’s claim that the plan would have saved money.

“It’s gonna cost them a bunch of money because you’re gonna have people that don’t use the Postal Service now,” he said. “Plus you got trucks running over the road, that costs money, plus you gotta put fuel in those trucks. Plus, what happens when you dump one? Because that’s gonna happen, too. I don’t doubt that they have to look for ways to save money, but you don’t save money by decreasing service.”