Chicago mail delivery in a state of crisis
By J. Coyden Palmer
Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1) held an emergency online town hall meeting Tuesday, July 21 to get a sense of how bad the mail delivery problem is in Chicago. From Jefferson Park on the North Side to Jackson Park on the South Side, residents have complained about not getting mail deliveries for days, carriers delivering mail at 7 p.m. and long lines at post offices in their neighborhoods.
Rush was joined by Mack Julian, Union Representative National Association of Letter Carriers as they answered questions for citizens, and the media, participating by phone or online. Rush said he himself is dealing with service that is “not up to standard” from the postal service. He contends there is a management problem with the Chicago division of the postal service combined with people who he termed, “enemies of the postal service,” in Congress.
“I have not received any mail at my house since last week,” Rush said. “If I find out that my letter carrier has been instructed not to deliver my mail because I’ve been on a rampage about this poor service, then it’s going to only make me angrier. Two years ago, I complained. Now I’m meeting with the same people before the Corona virus and it is even worse today. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. Postal service in this area has to be better.”
Julian said the main problem is a lack of resources being provided by the postal service in terms of carriers. He said one day last week, there were 50 routes that needed to be done, but there were only 30 available carriers. Adding to that, Julian said carriers are having their start times pushed back to 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m., which shortens the amount of time carriers are on the clock.
“They (carriers) are doing this job with their hands tied behind their back,” Julian said. “It is a combination of the organizational system, failed policy issues of the Chicago post office, understaffing and decisions made about delivery. Start times for carriers have been pushed back and not having adequate resources to cover the area. We had low staffing levels before and the pandemic has exposed these issues.”
Julian went on to say the Chicago post office has only created full-time positions because of grievances filed by the union. In addition, COVID-19 is keeping many carriers at home for various reasons as well.
“Without policy changes, it is not going to get any better,” Julian said.
A caller who identified himself as Michael from Hyde Park brought up another valid concern. He said with so many people now either choosing to, or being forced to, vote by mail he is not sure what the Presidential election will look like in November. He asked Rush point blank what he was preparing to do about it.
“While I do not sit on the committee that oversees the U.S. Postal Service, I have relationships with those members and things that involve the post office come before Congress as a whole,” Rush said. “I’ve consistently voted for more funding. I will continue to meet with the postmaster.”
Rush said citizens need to understand that the postal service has enemies in Congress. He said he believes there are many who just want to privatize the postal service. He also said people need to recognize the makeup of the workforce in the Chicago area may be coming into play.
“They know the majority of the workers in urban areas are Black people,” Rush said. “So, they are enemies of the post office.”
Citizens have also complained about long wait lines at their local postal station. Jermaine Washington from South Shore, said he spent 90 minutes in line last week trying to get a package he was expecting that was never delivered.
“Their tracking system is down, so they didn’t even know where it was, I was told,” Washington said.
At the Henry McGhee station on 46th and Cottage Grove, Rush said he too sees long lines and workers with casual attitudes as people are waiting 25 or 30 minutes for service, then people behind the glass displaying a negative attitude. Julian said not only is the postal service short on carriers, but it is short on clerks as well.
“We basically have clerks doing carrier duties because we are so short on carriers, but that then backs up the clerks, who are also short-staffed,” Julian said.
Rush is also upset that they are not practicing social distancing inside the postal stations from what he can see. There are no signs or visible markings showing people where to stand while in line. He said if grocery stores and banks are doing it, the post office should be too.
Julian said the postal service is trying to get more out of less from its workforce and is using a flawed metric to determine success. He said the squeeze on office time and getting the carriers out later is being done so they don’t have to pay overtime. He said however the true metric of standard of service is customer satisfaction.
“Customers will not be happy until we make organizational changes and to do that, we need carriers and clerks to get the job done,” Julian said.
There is currently a bill sitting in committee in Congress that could address the issues for funding the USPS. The Protect Our Post Offices Act appropriates $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service, to remain available through FY2022 for revenue forgone due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The appropriations are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits. It was introduced on March 31 and is currently with the Committee on Appropriations.
“We gladly work to address any specific issue reported from the community. As any service organization, one customer complaint is one too many,” said Chicago USPS spokesman Tim Norman. “The Postal Service is a responsible employer that matches our workforce to an evolving workload and adjusts staffing continuously to serve our customers with consistent, reliable service.
“We encourage any customer that has a concern with their delivery of mail to contact their local Postal station or our Consumer Affairs office at 312-983-8403.”