The mail carriers of Minnesota are trying to deliver.
Through the pandemic, through the riots, through the post-apocalyptic politics.
When Washington cut overtime and the mail started to pile up, union organizers say their members started coming in to work early and staying late, off the clock. Carriers would squeeze in an extra 15 minutes here, an extra hour there, unpaid, if that’s what it took to get every mail-order prescription, every paycheck, ever letter to grandma to every house on the route.
Huge sorting machines, designed to whisk millions of letters and parcels to their destinations, are dismantled, mothballed or getting shipped to South Dakota. On primary Election Day, postal workers at the Eagan mail facility sprinted up and down the remaining machines, trying to get ballots postmarked in time, carting some north to Bemidji, some south to Rochester.
The postmaster general is backing off his plans to grind the postal service down to some strange new shape and purpose, at least until after the election. None of the local mail carriers knows what that means.
Is Sioux Falls ever going to give us back that sorting machine?
Is anyone going to figure out how a stack of campaign donations, addressed to DFL Gov. Tim Walz, landed in the post office box of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis?
“Hey @TinaSmithMN,” Lewis tweeted at incumbent Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who toured the vast mail-sorting facility in Eagan on Tuesday, “the post office mistakenly delivered 37 Governor @TimWalz campaign contributions to MY campaign’s PO Box. And YOU think the fate & integrity of our elections should be placed solely in the USPS?!”
The Postal Service, Lewis added in another tweet, “is woefully incompetent!”
And yes, the senator says she does trust the fate and integrity of our elections to the U.S. Postal Service — and the people who carry the mail.
“These folks are prepared to, come hell or high water, deliver the mail,” said Smith, who has signed on to a detailed letter with no less than 18 footnotes, from her Senate colleagues, asking Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about his systematic effort to sabotage America’s favorite federal agency.
“You can’t blame us for being skeptical when the president has said the reason he doesn’t want to give more money to the post office is because he doesn’t want to help mail-in balloting.”
Inside the sorting facility, Smith heard the stories of the letter carriers who rushed postmarked ballots up to Bemidji so they’d get counted before the Thursday deadline.
“These folks have our backs when it comes to making sure our election is secure,” she said.
When the president calls the postal service “a loser,” she said, “I think that really bothers people. They want people to trust them.”
Meanwhile, the unsorted mail piles up and postal officials investigate how letters addressed to Tim Walz at P.O. Box 4337 ended up P.O. Box 4515 with the Lewis campaign.
But every once in a while, Minnesota postal workers get a reminder that the U.S. Postal Service is still America’s favorite federal agency. Look it up. Your mail carrier polls better than the president and Congress combined.
“Carriers are nervous,” said Samantha Hartwig, president of Branch 9 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents postal workers in Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.
Their president called their employer a loser, but their customers leave encouraging little notes in the mailbox for them.
“We love you,” the notes say. “You’re appreciated.”
The other day, Hartwig said, an Anoka County food shelf offered to buy pizzas for letter carriers in Fridley and Columbia Heights to thank them for all those heavy cans they collected during all those food drives over all those years.
“That really makes the carriers feel really good,” she said, “to know the American people really are behind the postal service.”
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks