Judge rules USPS can move ‘limited’ mail-sorting machines to improve service

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A federal judge is allowing the Postal Service to move a “limited” number of its high-speed mail-sorting machines between facilities, and decommission outdated machines to make room for new ones.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled Saturday that USPS could move some of its sorting equipment under conditions “necessary to improve service overall,” and to “accommodate an unprecedented growth in package volume.”

Sullivan’s ruling over the weekend clarified a preliminary injunction he issued in September, which prevented USPS from moving 671 mail-sorting machines throughout the country, and prevented the agency from cutting late or extra trips between post offices and mail-processing facilities.

Sullivan said the clarification would give USPS the freedom to move only some of the machines to improve on-time mail delivery, but not the full scope of the original plan. The court, he added, recognizes that “Congress did not intend for the courts to micromanage the operations of the USPS.”

“Because Defendant’s request implicates the day-to-day activities and decisions of the Postal Service, the Court concludes that the Postal Service’s decision to move or remove a small number of machines when ‘operationally necessary’ does not fall under the Court’s preliminary injunction,” Sullivan wrote.

The ruling marks the latest chapter in a series of federal lawsuits between USPS, nonprofit groups and state attorneys general.

The lawsuits began last summer over concerns that USPS operational changes would hamper the agency’s ability to handle a historic volume of mail-in ballots ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

USPS, under the clarification to the preliminary injunction, can move “redundant” mail-processing machines to facilities with greater need, to make room for new package-sorting equipment or otherwise clear up space for plant workers to manually sort through packages.

The order also gives USPS the freedom to remove outdated machines to make room for newer mail-sorting machines.

Lawyers for USPS say there is no plan to “systematically reduce the number of mail processing machines”  and that the moves will “ensure that the Postal Service’s machines are placed where they are needed most.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, led by the New York State and several other states and municipalities, argued against USPS’s request for clarification, saying the agency has not yet identified which facilities will lose or gain machines, nor does it specify how many machines it plans to move or remove.

The request, plaintiffs note, also coincides with the introduction of a 10-year USPS operational reform plan on March 23.

“These billion-dollar plans not only implicate the machine removals Defendants discuss here, but also suggest that the Postal Service intends to upend postal operations — for a second time” without going to the Postal Regulatory Commission, the plaintiffs wrote.

USPS told the court that it will seek an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission before moving ahead with its 10-year plan.

Bloomberg first reported the judge’s ruling on Monday.

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