CEDAR RAPIDS – It’s been a few days too recently that Dale Todd has gone without receiving any mail. But in his Wellington Heights neighborhood, the Cedar Rapids City Council member said a pattern was starting to emerge: His neighbors weren’t getting mail either, and voters were starting to reach out.
“For some people, there are serious ramifications if they don’t get their mail or a check when they expect it,” Todd said.
More U.S. Postal Service employees across the country and in Iowa are falling ill amid the current wave of COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious variant of omicron, leaving fewer d employees delivering mail and delaying the delivery of checks, medications and other packages. But the latest push only worsens a trend some suggest began with changes to USPS-approved standards in 2021 that created longer delivery windows for customers.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed to head the agency by the USPS Board of Governors under President Donald Trump, implemented changes to USPS service standards last year. DeJoy’s 10-year austerity plan aims to improve the agency’s financial viability and includes longer shipping times, reduced branch hours, facility consolidation and closures, and higher postage rates. students.
Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy speaks February 24, 2021, during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on ‘legislative proposals to put the Postal Service on a sustainable financial footing on Capitol Hill. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP)
Where first-class mail – letters, parcels and periodicals – previously took one to three days to deliver, it can take up to five days to deliver under the new standards. The USPS had argued that the extra days would allow more mail to be delivered by surface transportation rather than more expensive air transportation.
In Cedar Rapids, residents took to outlets such as Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods, to share that they hadn’t received their mail. Some expressed gratitude for postal workers trying to cover all deliveries with fewer colleagues, pointing the finger at DeJoy instead.
Todd said he was “sympathetic” to these labor issues, but the issues have been going on for some time. He urged the USPS for more transparency and said the agency should have informed the public earlier that this would be an ongoing challenge.
“When the mail carriers are out at night with flashlights and people in your neighborhood aren’t getting their mail, it’s obvious there’s a breakdown in the system,” Todd said. “It’s not for me to point fingers, but this level of service is unacceptable. The Post must do better.
As part of DeJoy’s strategic plan, mail is handled through surface transfer centers. These private entities consolidate mail into containers, where Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, said they must be 100% full before being sent out for delivery.
But Karol said postal workers and customers don’t see scans on a package until it’s sent out for delivery. It may appear that the mail is not moving during this time after the USPS delivers it to the center.
“It really gives the wrong impression to our customers like we’re sitting and holding it, and it’s not even in our care anymore in most cases,” Karol said.
Karol, who works in Waterloo as a retail sales and department associate responsible for passports and claims, said Iowa began to feel the effects of these changes “almost immediately.” Cedar Rapids isn’t the only one experiencing delays.
There used to be a direct line for mail from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, Karol said, but the network determining mail movement in Iowa has changed. Now, mail is routed to Des Moines and then to other parts of the state, which meets new service standards but results in longer delivery times.
Routes are usually designed to be delivered within eight hours, Karol said, but now carriers are sometimes called upon to run their own route plus part of another route, or even an entire additional route.
“It’s an impossible task, so mail has to be reduced and prioritized for the next day when we can’t make deliveries,” Karol said.
She attributed delays beyond what customers expect to adjusted service standards, and said workers getting sick or quarantined were further reducing staff numbers, which Karol said was already low before.
“Employees are very dedicated to delivering mail, and we grew up in a culture where we were socialized that every piece, every day, had to be delivered,” Karol said. “So when we’re not able to accomplish that – through no fault of the employee – it’s demoralizing. We feel defeated.
Postal workers know customers depend on them, Karol said, so service delays have been difficult for workers.
“We might have medicine, we might have money or financial instruments that (clients) need,” Karol said. “We don’t know what we have, but we know everything is important.”
To digitally preview your mail and manage packages you expect to arrive soon, go to informeddelivery.usps.com. You can also do this through the USPS mobile app.
Customers can also contact their local post office or visit the usps.com website and click “Contact Us” at the bottom of the homepage, or use this direct web address: usps.force.com/emailus/s/.
For customer service, people can tweet @USPSHelp.
Mark Inglett, strategic communications manager at USPS, said in a statement that local management is aware of the delivery issues.
He said the USPS appreciates “the patience of our customers and the efforts of employees during these trying times. Our workforce, like others, is not immune to the human impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We will continue to adapt our available resources to match the workload and we are proud of the efforts of postal workers as they define essential public service every day.”
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