The Detroit native’s district has lost five valuable sorting machines already, each capable of processing 37,000 pieces of mail an hour.
SOUTHFIELD, MI — After nearly 250 years of history, the United States Postal service is known as an institution in America. Rep. Brenda Lawrence is proud to have spent 30 years as a post office employee.
It’s not just a service, it’s a right for everyday residents, she explains.
“The Postal Service is the only organization, company, or federal agency that touches every single home in America six days a week,” Rep. Lawrence (D-14) told The ‘Gander. “The Postal Service isn’t there as a company, it’s a Constitutionally required service for the United States of America.”
Years before she began serving southeastern Michiganders in Washington D.C., Lawrence served the people of the same area as a Postal Service worker. Her time there has led her to fight for the service that so many Michiganders rely on — especially now to vote safely during a pandemic.
Voting by mail is a right every citizen has and one Lawrence is protecting as the USPS is undercut.
Rising the Ranks at the Post Office
“I began working at the Postal Service as a distribution clerk,” she said. “I worked midnights where at 5 o’clock in-the-morning, you hit that brick wall when sleep wants to happen, but you stay awake.”
After that first position, Lawrence went on to walk routes as a letter carrier in Royal Oak, Madison Heights, Huntington Woods, and Pleasant Ridge. She rose in ranks again and again, working to supervise letter carriers, install the state’s first computerized mail-forwarding system, as an equal opportunity investigator, and in health/labor relations.
“I ended up with my dream job,” she said of her final position as the manager of training and development. “I touched every position from the custodian up to executives for training.”
The United States Postal Service [USPS] has experienced its fair share of issues over the years, from financial woes to private competition. Lawrence explained that the institution has survived by shifting from a business model dependent on first-class mail (letters) to one that focuses on shipping packages.
“What we have found is that the Postal Service has taken over that responsibility to deliver medications personally to homes,” she said. “That’s what has kept the postal service afloat. Times have changed.”
Assessing the Damage Now
Since accepting his appointment in May, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has skewed mail delivery schedules, removed collection boxes and sorting machines that are crucial to productivity, even in Michigan — something Lawrence is paying close attention to.
Five sorting machines were removed from Lawrence’s district alone, each one capable of processing up to 37,000 pieces of mail an hour.
Lawrence says it’s unrealistic to expect people who are not intimately familiar with USPS practices to institute meaningful reform.
“[DeJoy] did not understand the Postal Service,” she said. “And we can get past that because everyone is capable of learning, but he comes in and he starts systematically dismantling the Postal Service.”
“We [USPS] have always changed equipment as technology improves to be more efficient,” she said, “But you don’t take out that many at one time because there is a built-in slowdown of mail when you are switching out equipment like that.”
The changes have caused delays in mail delivery, causing many Michiganders to question if voting-by-mail is the best way to participate in the upcoming general election. According to law, all ballots must be delivered to their respective local clerk’s offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Ballots received after cannot be counted and must be discarded, a practice the Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is working to update.
For months, the president has erroneously claimed that voting by mail is dangerous, however, his reelection website first prompts visitors to request their absentee ballots before continuing on to the site.
Benson and Lawrence say voting by mail is the safest option for Michiganders this election.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Lawrence said.
What It All Means For 2020
Lawrence joins Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in efforts to protect the post office and reverse damages done during the Trump administraiton.
Postal workers in Michigan and beyond echoed the Congresswoman’s sentiments about the former vice president when the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) endorsed his candidacy in August.
“Vice President Biden is—was—and will continue to be a fierce ally and defender of the United States Postal Service, letter carriers, and our fellow postal brothers and sisters,” NALC president Fredric Rolando said in a statement that also spoke highly of Vice Presidential running mate Kamala Harris.
Biden posted a call to action on his social media accounts, asking voters to sign up to stop the president’s destruction of the Postal Service, something the candidate says he plans to do if elected.
“The U.S. Postal Service is an important way of American life—but Donald Trump is trying to destroy it,” Biden wrote on Facebook. “We can’t let that happen.”
For now, much of DeJoy’s destruction to the Postal Service has been halted thanks, in part, to the intervention of the House Oversight Committee of which Lawrence is a member. He agreed to cease dismantling the USPS, but will not reinstall the important equipment that was removed and destroyed.
Lawrence encourages all Michiganders to vote using the method with which they’re most comfortable.
“It [democracy] doesn’t work unless every vote is counted,” she said. “It doesn’t work if we all don’t vote, I must stress that. We have to get out and vote.”