Junked Sorting Machine Behind USPS Cleveland Office Part of National Plan to Slow Down Mail

click to enlarge A sorting machine behind the main USPS office on Orange Avenue downtown. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
A sorting machine behind the main USPS office on Orange Avenue downtown.

According to an Ohio spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, a decommissioned sorting machine that was photographed behind the John O. Holly post office building in downtown Cleveland and posted to social media this weekend was removed "months ago."

"It’s just one that was used to process flats (like magazines) which is a class of mail volume that has declined over the years," the spokesperson wrote to Scene in an email.

But Daleo Freeman, the president of the Cleveland Chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said he thinks the machine was decommissioned within the past couple of weeks, not "months ago."

"They tarped it, then they dismantled it and then they put it outside," he said. "I've never seen anything like it in 26 years."

Freeman said he believed the sorting machine included one flats sorter, as the spokesperson indicated, but also four Delivery Bard Code Sorter (DBCS) machines, which are used to sort postcards and letters.

The removal of these sorting machines is consistent with recent actions by the USPS nationwide under the leadership of Postmaster General (and Donald Trump megadonor) Louis DeJoy, who was appointed in June.

Sorting machines are being deactivated in what many believe is a deliberate attempt to slow down the mail before the November election. The delays could mean votes won't be processed in time in a year when atypically high numbers of voters are expected to vote by mail due to Covid-19. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has said that as many as 50 percent of voters in Ohio could vote by mail. 

Freeman told Scene that he thinks removing sorting machines and DeJoy's other policies to delay delivery "go hand in hand."

"The [Postmaster General] has curtailed mail service severely," Freeman said. "He has called for a reduction in retail hours. He has called for removing processing equipment. And he has called for a reduction in work hours. And this is in the face of the pandemic when we're in desperate need of funding."

Freeman said that in his experience, machines had been occasionally moved to other facilities, and sometimes were dismantled when newer models were brought in. But he worked in a processing plant for 20 years and said never once was a machine junked outside.

"You won't even be able to use them again, because they're getting rained on," he said. "Not anytime soon anyway. Maybe they'll scrap them for parts."

Freeman said there may be enough additional machines to sort the current volume of mail in Cleveland, but stressed that regardless of USPS claims of reduced letter volume, mail is being deliberately delayed.

When Scene sought to clarify the USPS spokesperson's original statements, she reiterated that the machine was for sorting flats, "not a DBCS," and that while she did not have the specific date of removal, "it has been months." 

"I do not know what will happen to the machine," she said, "but it was removed because of low volume." 

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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