ST. PETERSBURG — In T-shirts that said “U.S. mail, not for sale” Theodore Faison stood outside St. Petersburg’s historic outdoor post office on Tuesday with a message he wanted people to know.
“We can do the job,” said the 56-year-old mail carrier, who burned a vacation day from delivering mail in New Tampa to be there.
He was one of about 20 current and retired postal workers who gathered alongside U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa to rally for the United States Postal Service and push a bill that would provide $25 billion in emergency funding for the embattled agency.
The event was one of several coordinated by Congressional Democrats, who used Florida’s primary election on Tuesday as the backdrop for their push. Mail carriers have warned that cutbacks directed by Louis DeJoy, the recently-appointed postmaster general, will delay mail ahead of the November general election. President Donald Trump has sought to instill doubt about mail voting, even as election officials nationwide have pushed mail voting as a safer alternative to voting in person during the sustained pandemic.
“Maybe never in the history of our country has the post office been so important,” Crist said.
Castor laid out what she perceived was a “scheme” by DeJoy and Trump: first to remove sorting machines and mail boxes and discontinue overtime in order to reduce the Postal Service’s capacity, then to stoke fears in the security and effectiveness of vote by mail.
“And when (Trump) does that, he undermines our democracy,” Castor said. “It strikes right at the heart of who we are as Americans. And I’m afraid, if this continues, that he will successfully disenfranchise many Americans.”
Michael Searle, president of the Tampa Area Local 259 American Postal Workers Union, said he was not aware of any sorting machines or boxes being removed in the Tampa Bay area.
A bill from House Democrats, set to be released later Tuesday, will prohibit the removal of boxes and sorting machines and ensure mail ballots have a first class stamp, Castor said. She and Crist will be co-sponsors.
“We have a message for President Trump: Don’t mess with the USPS,” Castor said.
That message was echoed by Democratic politicians on Twitter, who converted the rallying cry into a hashtag. Crist and Castor were joined by other members of Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation in hosting events, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Val Demings.
The reduction in overtime has had a particularly chilling effect on workers, union leaders said, as the service’s workforce has been reduced by up to 20 percent because of workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are isolating after exposure.
They also pointed out that the Postal Service was trusted to mail millions of U.S. Census forms in May and could be trusted with mail ballots too, if adequately funded.
Tuesday’s event also sought to illustrate the importance of the Postal Service in everyday life. Mail carriers deliver 470 million pieces of mail a day to 160 million addresses, including 4 million prescriptions, according to Natasha Patterson, president of the Florida Rural Letter Carriers Association.
“If something isn’t done now, millions of homes and businesses will be cut off from an essential service,” she said.