U.S. Postal Service police officers barred a Florida congresswoman from scheduled tours at two mail processing complexes Friday, blocking entry to the facilities and threatening to escort her from the property if she refused to leave.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., arrived at the Royal Palm Processing and Distribution Center in Opa-Locka, Fla., for a 4 a.m. tour and found the parking lot entry roped off with caution tape and a Postal Inspection Service cruiser blocking the gate. Local Postal Service officials informed her and union leaders waiting to accompany her into the building that national Postal Service leadership had directed them to bar the group from the building.
At 6:30 a.m., Wasserman Schultz was denied entry at the Miami Processing and Distribution Center 10 miles away by a local Postal Service official as two armed Postal Inspection Service officers stood in front of turnstiles in the lobby.
"I'm outraged. I'm angry," Wasserman Schultz said in a phone interview. "I am frustrated for the seniors that aren't getting their medicine, worried for the voters whose rights are going to be impinged and very concerned, because I've been contacted by so many businesses who have had their mail slow and whose businesses are already struggling in this economic downturn. And so for the Postal Service to intentionally be trying to hide behind their locked gates and their excuses, it all lies at the feet of [Postmaster General] Louis DeJoy, because this has all occurred since his appointment."
Wasserman Schultz's staff notified Postal Service officials early Thursday afternoon of her intent to observe a typical morning mail-processing shift, she said, and followed the same notification procedure as when she visited the Royal Palm facility earlier in the year.
"It wasn't a request," Wasserman Schultz said. "It was a notification."
But the Postal Service did not acknowledge that communication until hours later, Wasserman Schultz said, when a member of her staff reached a Postal Service official by phone. That official said Wasserman Schultz did not provide sufficient advance notice of her intent to visit and that she would be denied entry.
"I've been there before," Wasserman Schultz said. "I wasn't told that I had to give any lengthy notice or that there was any rules. So what I did was I decided that I was going to go anyway."
In an emailed statement, Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly Frum said the agency was notified late Thursday afternoon of Wasserman Schultz's request for a tour at 4 a.m.
"We spoke with her staff to explain that we were unable to set up the tour on such short notice, but would be happy to accommodate her at another time," Frum wrote. "We look forward to working with the congresswoman and her staff to arrange a visit in the near future."
A Postal Inspection Service spokesman wrote in a statement that the officers responding to Wasserman Schultz's visit were based at the Miami processing facility and provide security at both locations.
"Ensuring only authorized parties enter nonpublic areas of USPS facilities is part of a Postal Police officer's normal duties," Postal Inspector Eric Manuel wrote.
"The disrespect of a Congress member who sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee that is protecting the post office and they're denying her coming in," said Nick Mosezar, the president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 318 who helped plan Wasserman Schultz's visit. "Unbelievable."
But in the months since Wasserman Schultz's last visit to Postal Service facilities, lawmakers have been highly critical of Postal Service leaders over delivery delays linked to the postmaster general's cost-cutting agenda. DeJoy imposed stricter dispatch deadlines for mail transportation trucks and barred extra trips to ensure on-time delivery.
Postal workers from coast to coast and national union leaders also say workers were told overtime hours would be eliminated and that the directive was issued by the postmaster general. Memos circulated to midlevel managers and obtained by The Washington Post stated that DeJoy planned to eliminate overtime. DeJoy denied in sworn testimony ever issuing such an order.