Post Office working overtime to deliver onslaught of packages

A change in Amazon shipping has left rural post offices across the country overwhelmed. Locally, in already understaffed post offices, employees have been working up to twelve-hour days, with mail carriers frequently taking multiple trips on their daily routes to ensure all mail is delivered.

“First and foremost, the Postal Service apologizes for any inconvenience our customers may have experienced,” said Kim Frum, Washington’s regional strategic communications specialist for the United States Postal Service. “It’s no secret the Postal Service is facing staffing and hiring challenges nationwide including throughout the state of Washington. As a result, there may be times when some communities could have inconsistent deliveries.”

According to Mark Franklin, Vice President of Aeronautical Services, he and his crew showed up to work one morning and about a third of their packages were missing.

“We didn’t know if we had done something wrong, or maybe UPS was trying to work around us,” Franklin said. Aeronautical Services has been in business since 1973, delivering for UPS and other shipping companies in the San Juans. Franklin himself has been with Aeronautical for almost 14 years. After multiple phone calls and tracking they were finally able to get to the bottom of the matter. A postmaster, who has since left the position, told him the local post office was only given two days’ notice before pallets of packages began appearing.

“It seems like what had happened was that Amazon is just trying to save some money. UPS has been trying to negotiate more … per box, and Amazon is trying to pay less per box… My understanding is that this is just to save 20 or 30 cents per box to have everything go through the post office,” Franklin said.

Larger post offices like Seattle can absorb the huge influx, he continued, but Lopez carriers, for example, deliver mail with their personal vehicles. This means that they may not have space for large or excess packages, and there is extra wear and tear on their cars. “[A Lopez postal employee] called me and, while [they were] joking, said ‘Do you have any trucks we can borrow, haha, because we’re all delivering on our personal vehicles over here and we can’t make it work.’ Apparently, they rented a U-Haul truck just to store the stuff in the back of the office.” Franklin said. On San Juan, the Post Office has trucks, but according to Franklin, they are old 70s model Grumman delivery vehicles that also do not have the necessary space and need repair. With island mechanics also being short-staffed, getting appointments can often be months out, leaving a real possibility of a shortage of vehicles due to mechanical issues.

To get through the onslaught, postal workers have been working overtime. When asked what kind of overtime compensation the workers receive, Frum responded “With the understanding that this is the busiest time of the year, the Postal Service maximizes the utilization of our employees within the guidelines of their contractual and collective bargaining agreements.”

A Nov. 28, 2023, Washington Post article titled “A rural Post Office was told to prioritize Amazon packages; Chaos ensued,” stated that “U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said publicly that “increasing package volume” — not just from Amazon, but from FedEx and UPS as well — is key to the mail service’s financial future. In a Nov. 14 speech to the Postal Service Board of Governors, DeJoy said he wants the post office to become the ‘preferred delivery provider in the nation.’”

The article adds that “in recent years, the agency has reconfigured its nationwide network of mail-sorting plants, purchased an armada of eco-friendly delivery trucks and pressed a marketing campaign in service of that goal.”

Reports of an overwhelmed postal service caused several congressmen, including Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) to send letters to DeJoy. According to the article, Smith’s letter specifically asks about reports that “Amazon is interfering with timely deliveries and stretching the agency’s already-overburdened workers too thin.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Frum says “It’s no surprise that we are busy this time of year, and we are using every available resource to provide consistent, reliable service. Extra measures are in place through peak season and mail delivery is expected to be current by the end of the week.”

The Postal Service, she added, continues to aggressively hire in many locations across the country as well as the state of Washington. “With a workforce of more than 635,000, USPS is one of the nation’s largest employers with ongoing attrition needs. There are current job openings on the islands. That information can be found on our career page Interested applicants can also go into any Post Office location and ask for more information.”

Some islanders have taken to contacting Amazon customer service and requesting a UPS delivery rather than USPS. Customer service representatives have reportedly told them they will note their account. However, due to third-party delivery, (not all products are shipped from Amazon, some are shipped directly from the company that sells them) Amazon can not guarantee the request.

Rebecca McDonough from Orcas contacted Amazon about her deliveries and received a call back from their Executive Customer Service team.”I learned in order once again to receive Amazon shipments to my home, I had to ask Amazon to ‘deprioritize USPS; for deliveries.” McDonough said. The woman was able to do that while they were on the phone together, according to McDonough. The customer service woman also told her it would take about 10 days for it to take effect, and they may still receive packages at the USPS if that’s the method used by a specific Amazon seller. “Fair enough,” McDonough responded. “I was told, there was no way to do this globally for our zip code or city… Each individual Amazon account holder has to contact the Customer Service Department and request this deprioritization for their specific address. So far the one order I’ve placed since has been delivered by Aeronautical. I’ve placed a second order, but am waiting to see how that’s coming to me.” Should others want to contact Amazon, they can call 1-888-280-4331, and request deprioritization of US Postal Service so that their orders can once again be delivered Aeronautical.

The community is rallying behind their postal workers. On Lopez, the elementary school decorated the local post office to help boost workers’ spirits, and at the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce meeting Dec. 6, Printonyx owner Kris Brown suggested dropping off non-sugary food items to thank the workers who may not have time to eat. Others suggested giving gift certificates from local businesses for win-win support.

“Don’t forget about Post San Juan, they are also feeling it,” another Chamber attendee said. Post San Juan works with FedEx, UPS and USPS and is now located at 689 Airport Center.

Customers can help by picking up their mail and packages from the Post Office or their mailboxes daily to allow room for new deliveries, according to Frum. Understanding also goes a long way.

“The post office has nothing to do with this,” Franklin said, urging patience and kindness for local postal workers. “It is not their fault.”