Complaints about local mail service are almost as common as those against the new roundabout: Mail service is slow, unreliable, and gets later every day. Bills don’t arrive on time. …
Complaints about local mail service are almost as common as those against the new roundabout: Mail service is slow, unreliable, and gets later every day. Bills don’t arrive on time. Mail ends up in the wrong mailbox.
The solution won’t take an act of Congress or an infusion of funds. It rather boils down to people, according to Postmaster Denise Judd.
“All we need is a few more employees and all this will go away,” Judd said of the service shortfall. “We need people to commit to this as a career and the problem is solved.”
The Port Townsend Post Office, like many around the country, has been understaffed since the pandemic. Currently, the post office employs 15 people (10 of them carriers who often work 60 hours a week). Six more carriers are needed to reach parity, Judd said.
As we are in the midst of the holiday season when reliable mail delivery becomes crucial, the Port Townsend Post Office is stretching its resources to fill that need.
“We’re ready to deliver,” Judd said. “The earlier you ship your gifts the better because the longer you wait the more expensive the shipping options become.”
Judd’s winter advice is good year-round: Postal customers can help carriers by clearing paths to the house or the box, checking that their walkway is not slippery, having address numbers visible, keeping dogs inside, and lighting the exterior of their home if they expect a package.
Mail customers learn to accept the anomalies, how mail arrives later in the day or not arrive at all. In those cases, several days’ worth of mail can turn up a week late. This is no big deal with flyers and magazines, but it can be a disaster when a bill arrives after its due date.
The two local newspapers, The Leader and the Peninsula Daily News, rely on mail delivery. The Leader is published on Wednesday when it arrives in most local mailboxes. The PDN, which switched over from home delivery to mail after the pandemic, needed to readjust its publication schedule and move Sunday paper content to Saturday.
This system is imperfect. The Leader has been known to arrive on Thursday, while the PDN can be absent for days with several papers arriving at once.
The online option isn’t for everyone, as many people love their newspapers. But reading the online news can cause stress for people who are waiting for the mail, especially if they read a Nov. 28 Washington Post story about how post offices are pressuring small stations to prioritize Amazon packages over the regular mail.
Does that happen here? No one’s talking. Local spokesperson Kim From would neither confirm nor deny, writing in an email “like any prudent business we do not publicly discuss specifics of our business relationships. For questions related to Amazon, I would direct you to their media relations team.”
While anger against the individual carrier is misdirected, people search for reasons as to why their mail is delivered late or not at all. There is not much they can do, and they must adapt a stoic attitude. Mail in some areas went undelivered the Saturday after Thanksgiving, only to turn up on Sunday.
“I love The Leader and don’t like reading it online and I always want to read it early,” said Lois Venarchick, owner of Wynwoods Gallery and Beads Studio on Water St. “Since mail delivery is so late I go to a store and pick it up so I don’t have to wait.”
While it can be exasperating to wait for deliveries, there is not a lot of “kill the messenger” going on.
“Our mail deliverers are great people, but they always look so exasperated and stressed. I get it, but I still have bills that I need to pay and I don’t like doing that online,” Venarchick said.
Venarchick said that UPS and FedEx drivers are similarly stressed, but nowhere near the level of local postal workers.
James Schultz, owner of Quimper Sound on Water Street, depends on the post office to ship guitar effects pedals around the country. Daily pickup is nonexistent downtown, so he makes the daily trek up the hill to make a shipment. He uses other delivery services to ship and receive large items like guitars. Still, the Post Office is perfect for pedals as it is inexpensive and provides trackable three-day service to anywhere in the country.
Since the Post Office is an independent federal agency, Congress is getting involved.
“The United States Postal service plays a critical role for folks across our region, ensuring that people continue to receive essential packages and letters,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer in a statement. “This includes medication, food, supplies, ballots, and notes from loved ones.”
Kilmer said it was vital to provide essential service to the post office to protect workers, continue to provide service, and keep rural communities connected.
Things are moving along through Congress. In 2022, Kilmer voted to support the Postal Reform Act of 2022, which passed the House and was signed into law by President Biden. This law is aimed at further stabilizing the USPS by eliminating unnecessary financial burdens.
The law proposes eliminating the requirement that the USPS pre-fund retirement benefits for all its employees and would integrate retiree health care with Medicare, which is consistent with what most businesses do. Additionally, the law codifies the six-day-a-week delivery standard, expands the services USPS provides, and implements additional proposals designed to increase transparency, accountability, and efficiency.
Judd has used the restoration of the Post Office as a way to make employees more comfortable, adding 900 square feet for their use. This replaces a unisex break room with gender-specific locker rooms in the basement.
“Being a carrier looks easy because our people make it look easy,” Judd said, “but not every job is right for everyone. Depending on the job you have it can be physical. Your carriers start early in the morning sorting, casing, and arranging mail and parcels up to 70 pounds. Then they go out and deliver it all.
“These clerks, custodians, and carriers are among the hardest working people you will ever meet.”
The basic requirement for a postal carrier, as listed on the USPS website, is age (18), citizenship, recent employment history, a safe driving record, residency requirements, and the ability to pass a criminal background check, drug screening, and medical assessment.
Not directly stated is physical fitness, the ability to lift and deliver 60-pound packages along their route. Also implied is mental acuity; the ability to recall names, street numbers and routes quickly. A bonus is a sunny disposition and the ability to take time to chat, but that happens less frequently as the pressure increases.
Screening for drugs, specifically cannabis, could discourage some applicants, but since the Post Office is a federal institution and cannabis is still designated as a dangerous drug, this is not likely to change until cannabis is rescheduled from a Schedule 1 substance to Schedule 3 (the same category as Tylenol with codeine).
For some, a career path in your home community may provide the impetus to stop smoking weed.
For more information or to apply go to https://about.usps.com/careers/working-usps/.