Why Your Mail is Late: Report on the USPS

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By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

While the battle over the future of the United States Postal Service has been and continues to be fought on Capitol Hill, Random Lengths News has been watching the ramifications of that fight play out in the deliveries of local mail and our own subscriptions. Some might blame this on the sheer incompetence of this often maligned government agency, but if truth be told, the problems of the U.S. postal system go much deeper.

Due to lower staffing and financial issues, mail delivery in Los Angeles has become more sporadic. Over the past few years, mail delivery has come later in the evening. These later deliveries are defined by mail delivered after 5 p.m. Late-night deliveries have increased safety concerns, mail recipients are concerned about theft. Some residents have taken security measures to ensure their mail is safe. Late-night deliveries are becoming more common across the nation. Washington D.C., Atlanta and Miami have been reported to have high instances of after dark mail deliveries. However, these deliveries are also hazardous to mail carriers. In 2013, a mail carrier in Maryland was shot while delivering mail after dark.

The distribution of mail across Los Angeles has also faced issues of efficiency. With fewer staff, the USPS has caused delays, and service declines. These issues, however, are nothing new. In 2005, an audit of the timeliness of mail processing in Los Angeles reflected that mail was not delivered in a timely fashion causing delays and service declines. As a result, mail has been delivered less frequently. It has also been reported that mail is frequently delivered to the wrong address.

Sporadic mail deliveries and deliveries to the wrong address have contributed to missed bill payments and neglected jury summons which have resulted in penalties for residences.

A decision was made by the postal service’s upper management a few years ago to no longer locally process and deliver postal mail to and from local zip codes. This came on the heels of upper management cutting the staff by half at the Beacon street post office. Needless to say, both of these policies have slowed deliveries here and elsewhere in Southern California.  In the decades before the USPS tried to modernize and automate the mail delivery all of the mail generated from say San Pedro 90731 or 90732 would be sorted internally and only the mail to other areas was trucked out to a central sorting facility.  Now everything is shipped to one central location and then sent back to the local post offices for delivery.

In 2017, we were told that the San Pedro Business Mail Entry unit  for sending out commercial bulk mail was going to be consolidated with the Torrance Business Mail Entry unit. Today, that move has largely come into fruition but only by attrition of the local staff and the inability to hire and train more workers.

We spoke with Angela, a long time postal worker in the Los Angeles Harbor Area to get a better understanding of how broad overall changes have impacted labor and delivery at the local level.

She requested we maintain her anonymity out of fear of repercussions. She started as a mail carrier after working in an office for a number of years.

“They put so much pressure on us,” Angela said. “They don’t give you a whole lot of time. They only give us so many seconds to put the mail in the box and go.”

Angela noted that with the volume of mail and pressure that’s put on  them they are unable to take their breaks.

“If you’re going to make your time, you will have to keep food with you and have something to wipe your hands,” she said. “You literally have to have food that would allow you to grab it and go.”

Angela noted that a lot of people can’t keep that pace.

“When I first started I was a mail carrier,” Angela said. “I came from an office job where I was in accounting. When I was a mail carrier I talked to other girls and found myself a support group. Support groups were formed for those who make it through probation after they are brought on on a trial basis. But it’s even more stressful now.”

The post office used to promote people from the bottom, but now people with only a few years experience working there are being promoted to management positions, Angela explained.

“We used to have supervisors that cared for you,” she said. “If you make a mistake they come out and talk to you. These days the supervisors are just trying to keep their jobs and make themselves look good.”

Angela noted that the average postal worker will never make the kind of money past postal workers have made. While workers do still get benefits, the compensation will never be like the old times. The workers who were hired through the civil service and covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System made far more.

“We have to pay for our own health coverage,” Angela said.

Angela recounted how the San Pedro postal system underwent a transformation when a large number of veteran postal workers retired, and rather than refilling those positions, management allowed the workload to fall on the shoulders of remaining employees.

Angela recounted how only a few people have been cross-trained on a number of post office functions including finance, bulk mail, window service and management of the P.O. boxes. She noted that frequently the supervisors would have limited training on a variety of post office functions and would be of little help outside of pushing workers to work faster. Angela felt management was setting up workers to fail in an effort to cover their own tail.

“We had to cut back on so many people,” Angela said. “We had consolidated routes and made them so long. With automation, more mail is going through the system.”

Management would argue that there is no excuse for mail carriers spending so much time at the office and that they should be out in the streets delivering mail. But management underestimates just how much mail and packages were being delivered.

“We get trucks and trucks of Amazon packages every day,” Angela said. “Carriers have to make it back by 4 p.m. to pick up Amazon packages for delivery.”

Management doesn’t consider drive time or the size of packages, which impact the number of packages a carrier can carry. All of that increases the time spent delivering mail.

The obvious solution is to hire more mail carriers but hiring more people is anathema to management.

“That’s the problem, they are cutting back and stressing people out,” Angela said. “There is so much stress just to deliver the mail. Is it worth it?”

The end result of delivering such a high volume of mail is mail carriers delivering mail well into the night. Angela recalled one supervisor was told to stay until all the mail carriers returned. The supervisor replied that she had a teenager and needed to be at home in the evenings.

If they rotated the responsibility around it would have been better. But they didn’t want to rotate around.

Management has tried to get the trucks out earlier, but they still come back late due to the volume of parcels. And when they return at 4 p.m., they still have to pick up the priority packages.

They could hire more people, but they don’t want to. Or they could let workers come in on their off days, but they don’t want to pay them overtime.

Sometimes, people don’t want to do overtime because management is so hostile. Most people won’t come in on their off day if they don’t have to. But the new people, they have to. If they aren’t delivering mail, they are coming inside to throw parcels into the trucks.