Union leader disputes Huizenga’s post office stamp of approval

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As controversy over the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in ballots continued in Washington, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, toured the main post office in Grand Rapids.

He gave it his stamp of approval, disputing claims that the downtown post office recently had dismantled mail-sorting equipment.

“They assured me that there has not been a single thing that has been changed in more than 30 days,” Huizenga said after the tour on Friday.

“That is not true,” said Amy Puhalski, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Western Michigan Area Local #281.

She provided Target 8 a document that shows the post office removed a delivery bar code sorter on July 18 (34 days ago), and another on Aug. 3 (18 days ago).

The computerized sorters line up mail in exact order by address for carriers to deliver.

Huizenga’s tour came days after Target 8 reported that mail sorting equipment had been recently dismantled and removed from the downtown post office.

The post office is the distribution center for all letters — 1.3 million to 1.7 million a day — mailed through West Michigan. It would handle all mail-in ballots.

He said local post office officials told him they had not recently dismantled any sorting machines.

“I saw nothing in there that would indicate to me that there’s been anything that’s been removed, changed,” Huizenga said.

But the union president said the Postmaster General’s office in Washington had directed the Grand Rapids post office to remove five of its 25 bar code sorters.

Some of the remaining sorters were extended, she said, but not enough to make up for the losses.

“I work in the downtown facility,” Puhalski said. “My office door, I can see the machines that they are pulling apart. I represent the maintenance people that do that work, and I watch them pull them apart, so I’ve seen it myself.”

She said they also removed two other pieces of equipment in July that are used during peak season.

The post office was preparing to remove more equipment when it got an order on Tuesday to stop, she said.

“I’ve watched them upgrade over the years,” she said. “I’ve never seen a directive that they just remove all this equipment across the country. No, I haven’t. Not in almost 27 years, I have not.”

The post office also removed sorters from its Patterson Avenue SE site, but those were for magazines and had no impact on letters or mail-in ballots.

Huizenga blamed Democrats for the post office controversy.

“They had to manufacture a new crisis to get that wedge issue and unfortunately everything from masks to Friday night high school football to now the post office is political,” he said.

He said West Michigan should not worry about letter, or mail-in ballot delivery.

“Based on everything I’m hearing here today, when they’re moving 1.3 to 1.7 million pieces of mail every single day, they’re going to be able to handle that influx of ballots as well,” he said.

The union leader is not so sure.

“We have seen some political mail start to come in,” she said. “Peak (mailing season) is coming, so only time will really tell.”

The U.S. House is expected to vote Saturday on a $25 billion emergency funding bill for the Postal Service.

Huizenga said he will vote against it.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said he will vote yes.

“Over the past several weeks, folks from around southwest Michigan have called about noticeable slow downs with our mail,” Upton said in a written statement. “One individual was waiting on critical medical supplies that were not being delivered. News reports indicated mail sorters were being removed at facilities. And after my visit on Thursday to one of the largest post offices in my district, it was clear that they needed more support.”

Upton said he doesn’t expect the Senate will support the legislation.