Two local chapters of the American Postal Workers Union rallied together last month outside the Eagan Post Office, helping launch a nationwide campaign to address staffing shortfalls that, union members say, are driving down morale, creating unsafe working conditions and threatening the Postal Service’s reputation.
Union members want the agency to hire more workers and take steps to improve retention of new recruits. That means curtailing abusive treatment from management and finding ways to make workloads more manageable, St. Paul Area APWU President Dave Cook said.
“We get them in the door and they’re working six or seven days a week, sometimes 10-, 12- or 14-hour days,” Cook said. “And at that point they burn out and decide it’s not worth it.”
Cook’s union represents workers who sort mail and staff the counters of local post offices, as well as those in the regional processing plants like the one nearby in Eagan. The local planned the rally in partnership with APWU Local 7019, which represents employees at one of four Postal Data Centers nationwide, based in Eagan.
Postal union leaders recently issued a call to action, hoping to ramp up public pressure on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and members of Congress to address the staffing crisis, which has resulted in service delays and long lines at many post offices.
“Service problems are widespread, and no corner of the country has been spared,” American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein.
That is a direct result, union members say, of the agency’s inability to retain newly hired workers.
An audit by the USPS Office of Inspector General found that so-called “non-career” postal workers – the agency’s term for new hires – had a 58.9% turnover rate in 2022, up from 38.5% in 2019. The top reasons workers cited for quitting were a lack of respect from supervisors and too many hours on the job.
And if it seems like lines at your local post office are getting longer, you’re probably right.
The number of retail counter clerks and workers who distribute mail to letter carriers has dropped by over 12% since 2006, from roughly 79,000 to 69,000 nationwide. At the same time, the number of labor-intensive packages delivered by the USPS has skyrocketed, and the number of delivery points served by the USPS has increased by 12.8%.
“Constant turnover, constant training, the short staffing has created such a morale problem in the back of your local post offices, your processing facilities that the public doesn’t even see,” Cook said. “That hurts the service.”
But more customers are beginning to take note.
Although an overwhelming majority of Americans still have a favorable opinion of the USPS, the most recent poll released by the Pew Research Center in March 2023 found the agency’s favorability rating had slipped to 77%, down from 91% in 2020.
“We are in a snowball effect right now, and it just gets worse by the month,” Cook said. “We need to turn that tide.”
Union leaders have little faith DeJoy, appointed postmaster general by former President Donald Trump, will act on their allegations of widespread abusive behavior among management in the agency.
“You’ve got some bad apples in management, and we have some people who walk in every day feeling like they’re walking on eggshells,” Local 7019 President Aaron Young said.
But Young and other labor leaders are holding out hope that Congress will act. They have been pushing federal legislation that would hold the Postal Service to more rigorous service standards, hoping to force the agency to recruit and retain staff necessary to meet them.
“They need to restore the service standards that they had back in 2012,” Young said. “Unfortunately, we have a postmaster who came from the private sector. So he’s trying to treat it like a business and look only at the bottom line. He’s not taking into account the service to people who have depended on it for so many years. It’s really disheartening.”
Cook said the Eagan rally was “just the start” of a larger, nationwide campaign.
“Postal workers across the country have taken a stand, and we are working with our congressional leaders to hopefully get laws that will create better staffing,” he said. “The public wants the post office, and we want to give them a better post office.”