In the midst of a record-breaking winter, some Minneapolis U.S. Postal Service customers say they’ve gone days without delivery to homes and businesses, while the carriers say the blame lies with a shortage of workers as much as it does with the relentless weather.
For local residents, the lack of delivery is frustrating.
Maianne Preble, a technology consultant who works at home, said she and her neighbors went a week this month without delivery in the 4500 block of Columbus Avenue in south Minneapolis, even though the street was plowed and the sidewalks were shoveled.
“It was odd and alarming that I did not get my mail,” she said. A health insurance bill was delivered a week late, and rather than be overdue by mailing her payment, she called the company and paid by credit card over the phone.
David K. Porter, who has a law office on the 5200 block of Bloomington Avenue, said that he and others in his office building have not gotten mail as often as three days a week for the past month, and he’s been getting mail only three days a week at his home near 40th Street and S. York Avenue.
“I’m frustrated because this is a basic government service that people rely on,” he said.
Snow-clogged or icy streets have made it difficult for postal vehicles, according to Kristy Anderson, a communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) based in Minneapolis. She said that while “there are a few individual addresses we cannot get to because of unplowed streets, inaccessible mailboxes or unsafe pathways,” there are no widespread problems and delivery has remained consistent.
“The brutal conditions over the last two weeks throughout the region have been challenging for us and we are very proud of our employees who are working hard to serve our customers,” Anderson said in an e-mail. “We especially appreciate it when [customers] clear a path for their carrier. If we can get to a box, we’ll make every effort to deliver it.”
But union officials representing the letter carriers say their ranks are depleted by a combination of new hires who quit and not enough applicants to fill the vacancies. They’re also dealing with a sharp increase in the number of package deliveries that take more time.
“We are critically short of people,” says Mike Zagaros, president of Branch 9, the Minneapolis unit of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “It is frustrating when my members are saying ‘I can’t be doing this at this pace.’ ”
Zagaros said there are still carriers on the street delivering mail as late as 8 p.m., and the problem is not unique to Minneapolis or Minnesota.
However, Anderson disputed claims of a letter carrier shortage.
“Our Minneapolis staffing is at normal levels,” she said, adding that carriers are regularly hired to backfill normal attrition.
Both Anderson and union representatives acknowledged that injuries caused to carriers by falls on the slippery conditions have had an impact on the ranks.
On Wednesday, Minneapolis carriers across the city delivered, along with the day’s mail, fliers advertising a Saturday job fair for delivery positions across the metro area.
The Postal Service has held eight other job fairs since Jan. 23 for postal workers, Anderson said, but she said that was not atypical for this time of year. U.S. Postmasters Will Jones in Minneapolis and John Morgan in St. Paul did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.
The large increase in package deliveries is also placing added pressure on carriers. The USPS said in a report to Congress last November that for the 2019 fiscal year ending Oct. 1, first-class mail volume declined by approximately 2.1 billion pieces, while package volumes grew by 394 million pieces. National package delivery companies are now delivering packages to branch post offices with carriers delivering them to people’s homes, which takes time away from regular mail routes. This comes on top of being shorthanded, union officials say.
“It has been very difficult in the last few weeks for the post office to hire postal carriers,” says Troy Fredenburg, a national business agent for Region 7 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which is based in Minneapolis and covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota. “Why would I want to work outside in the cold for $17 an hour, as opposed to working inside for $15 an hour?” he said.
He said he believes the post office does “a fabulous job for our customers” delivering the mail, but added, “I think they’ve worn the carriers out … The carriers are filing grievances over contract violations that the post office is not staffed properly in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
He said the shortage of postal employees has been a problem regionwide but seems to be more prevalent this winter.
Hannah Hendricks, 36, an event planner, said she had not gotten mail on five or six days in January and February even though France Avenue is regularly plowed and the sidewalks are shoveled.
“I understand when they don’t deliver because of the cold, but not hearing for four days last week with no reason or explanation is pretty ridiculous in my mind,” she said.
When she asked at her post office why she was not getting mail, she said she got no answer other than being told she would not get mail the next day either.
For more information about a job with the U.S. Postal Service, visit usps.com/careers.