MISSOULA, Mont. — Gov. Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls Tuesday against the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for what he calls “unlawful actions that have directly harmed Montanans by impeding the flow of mail.” It appears Bullock is the first governor to attach his name to a lawsuit against DeJoy, after several attorneys general filed suit against DeJoy in Aug.
Bullock’s suit challenges changes made at the USPS, which he says are designed to delay and obstruct mail delivery. It says DeJoy acted outside his authority, violated federal law and didn’t follow required procedures for making policy changes.
The suit cites the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which mandated that when “determining all policies for postal services, the Postal Service shall give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.” It also cites the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which says proposed changes that will substantially affect service must be considered by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The court filing says before any such change, the USPS must first “submit a proposal, within a reasonable time prior to the effective date of such proposal, to the Postal Regulatory Commission requesting an advisory opinion on the change,” and can’t enact any changes less than 90 days before the proposed effective date.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit not to gut our mail service in Montana. We shouldn’t even have had to file this,” Bullock said in an exclusive interview with NBC Montana. “These midnight actions that [DeJoy’s] taken, be it cutting services by eliminating overtime or removing boxes, under federal law, there should have been at least 90 days of daylight on that before they could have even taken any of these steps. My expectation is that what’s been injured for our postal service that all Montanans rely on will be remedied and fixed.”
The 32-page complaint starts with a story about Stagecoach Mary, the first African American woman to get a contract to be a Star Route Carrier with the United States Post Office Department. Her 1885 route went between Cascade, MT to Saint Peter’s Mission. The suit uses her story to segue into other examples of the USPS defying odds to deliver the mail, and highlighting the importance of reliable mail services to Americans.
There have been nationwide reports of postal worker complaints over changes at the USPS, including cuts to overtime pay, instructions to leave mail behind in some situations, removing sorting machines and collection boxes, reducing operating hours and more. Bullock’s suit says the effects are particularly acute in Montana, where rural and tribal communities along with older Montanans rely heavily on the mail for things like communications, medical prescriptions, payments and more.
The suit specifically mentions reporting by NBC Montana, which uncovered photos of disassembled USPS machines in Montana after our initial reports of dozens of blue collection boxes slated for removal across the state. The USPS said it stopped the removal of collection boxes the same day NBC Montana Maritsa Georgiou's story broke in August. Since then, DeJoy has said recent policy changes were made in an effort to save money at the USPS.
“If what they want to do is say it’s all about cost, not actually getting mail, there are all kinds of safeguards that they’d have to go through before they can gut what is really a basic and fundamental service of government that’s been recognized in a statute in the Constitution,” Bullock said in our interview. “A year from now may be too late. Right now, we can actually remedy the wrongs and make sure the Postal Service that Montanans have relied on all along is the same Postal Service we’ll have.”
Bullock says the new changes will also interfere with the voting process this November, now that 45 Montana counties have chosen to hold mail ballot elections. The governor’s directive that allows mail-in voting is being challenged in a separate lawsuit brought forth by the Trump campaign, the Montana GOP and others.
Bullock asks the court to declare DeJoy’s policy changes unlawful, permanently prohibit the USPS from implementing harmful actions and immediately require the USPS to undo the newly implemented changes.
You can read the full 32-page complaint below and Gov. Bullock’s press release here.
Read the full court documents here.
Stay with NBC Montana as this story is developing.