Mail service hit by staffing challenges

help wanted signs outside the entrance to the Williston, VT post office


Observer staff

The Williston Post Office is spread very thin these days, and residents may be noticing unusual intermittency in their mail delivery.

In one week earlier this month, Judy Williams said she and her Wildflower Circle neighbors went three days without mail delivered. Then daily service resumed, followed by a few more days without deliveries.

“We didn’t get any yesterday again,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t know what will happen today.”

One of the bigger inconveniences created by the inconsistencies is not knowing if mail put out to be sent will be picked up, Williams said. She’s sympathetic to the staffing shortage, but said a set delivery schedule — even if it is reduced — would be better than a more frequent but inconsistent one.

“If they are going to not be doing it daily, let us know,” said Williams. “Do it Monday, Wednesday, Friday — or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday — or some sort of schedule.”

The Williston Post Office is down at least one mail carrier and a clerk to sort mail and help walk-in customers at the post office on Blair Park Road, according to Steve Doherty, Northeast Region Communications Specialist for the U.S. Postal Service. But the shortage of workers also includes pandemic-related absences like mandatory quarantines, lack of child care and lack of elder care, he said.

“We’re usually able to flex our resources and move personnel from neighboring communities to fill temporary staffing gaps and keep everyone’s mail moving. But the pandemic has stretched that ability to its limit at times,” Doherty said.

The post office has stepped up its recruiting efforts for new workers and plans to have a recruitment table set up at this week’s Champlain Valley Fair.

“We are aggressively trying to hire, but there just aren’t the bodies out there it seems,” Doherty said. “Between the inability to hire as quickly as we’d like to, and Covid, we have had instances where mail may go undelivered for a day, but the focus is to make sure that mail gets delivered the following day.

“You certainly don’t want a customer going multiple days without mail because there are things like medication and important bills that people receive in the mail,” he added.

Being short-staffed puts extra strain on the postal workers who are on shift, who in some cases are required to work overtime, said Beth Paul, a retired Burlington mail carrier.

“If the needs of the service require you to work more, they can make you work more,” she said. “A 12-hour day of physical labor like the post office, where you are carrying boxes and going up and down stairs and walking out in the heat, that’s really hard. And they are not all 25-year-old guys. There are 50- and 60-year-old people doing that kind of work. So it’s very hard on those people.”

So if your mailbox is empty for one day, some empathy is in order. It’s also worth understanding that mail volume has dropped in recent years with more billing and communications taking place online.

According to Doherty, the pandemic has accelerated that trend. “There are days when I go without mail simply because there’s nothing coming to me,” he said.

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