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Mail delays mount as Mainers want answers

Members of Maine's congressional delegation want answers from the postmaster general.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — According to Cynthia Dufresne, she had gone a week without receiving mail as of Thursday.

“I just think people are concerned,” she said of her Old Orchard Beach community. “And we’re not angry with the people who deliver our mail.”

She is not alone in missing deliveries. Scott Adams is president of Local 458, the southern Maine postal workers’ union, and said he’s not immune to delays.

“I’ll go a day without mail, but I know what’s going on, so I hunker down,” he said.

What’s going on is an unfortunate combination for one of America’s most trusted industries.

Mark Seitz is president of the Maine Association of Letter Carriers. Adams’ men and women handle operations “until the last mile of delivery,” he explained. Seitz’s carriers are the frontlines of the service, the faces you greet when they fill your mailbox.

Adams and Seitz said their workforces have faced understaffing since long before the COVID pandemic.

“We were granted additional positions in this facility — 67 of them — which we had been fighting for for years,” Adams said. “We haven’t staffed to that number.”

As with many industries, COVID exposed the shortage.

“I’d say we’re probably at about 75% staffing on a good day,” he added. “And, now we’re in the middle of a COVID surge.”

Seitz said he and his carriers had been forced to pick up the slack in their offices as well.

“People are already working 14-, 15-, 16-hour days,” he exhaled. “It’s been a big flux of people in the last couple of years just quitting.”

Seitz also said carriers had been explicitly told to prioritize delivering scanned packages over other mail. They would get to the rest when they could, he said. The U.S. Postal Service has not confirmed this policy.

“'Every piece, every day' is a slogan, we used to say,” Seitz said. “They want all the mail delivered. Unfortunately, based on what we have for people, it’s just not possible.”

U.S. Postal Service Northeast Regional spokesperson Stephen Doherty sent NEWS CENTER Maine a statement saying, in part:

“We have taken specific actions to continue service to our valued customers, which includes continuing to fully authorize overtime to allow employees to work the time necessary to deliver mail, expanding mail deliveries to earlier in the morning, later in the evening, and on Sundays to ensure customers receive mail at the earliest date possible, using additional carriers from nearby offices, when necessary ...'

Seitz said his carriers don’t need any more overtime. He wants USPS to speed up its hiring process to add more workers.

Doherty also wrote that the service currently had 91 openings across Maine. To fill positions in cities like Portland, Seitz would like the service to offer wages to new applicants that can compete with the higher salaries typically paid for other jobs in the same city.

Meanwhile, Maine’s congressional delegation wants answers from the top.

On Wednesday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, asking for answers about delays and plans to fix them.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said he had been in contact with postal service leadership as recently as Wednesday. King expects a full explanation to be sent to the delegation, but, in his notes, King wrote that the USPS representative said, under current circumstances, some managers had been reassigned to help deliver mail.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, said, in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine:

“The biggest contributor to problems at the Postal Service is a requirement to aggressively prepay employee pensions and benefits, which puts a strain on the agency’s budget….”

Golden is a sponsor of the Postal Services Reform Act of 2021, which he said would provide solid financial footing for the service into the future.

“They deserve our thanks and appreciation,” he concluded. “But more than that, they deserve Congress to take these issues seriously and act.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, recently signed onto HR 54, which objects to DeJoy’s actions since being appointed in May of 2020, accuses him of intentionally slowing mail service and increasing postage rates, and aims to halt those actions pending an investigation.

Investigation or no investigation, Pingree said she wants DeJoy out of office.

“If we had the power to remove him today, I think that would be done,” she said during a virtual interview Thursday.

An agency called the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service oversees the postmaster general. In February 2021, Pingree and others in Congress urged President Biden to fill vacancies on the Board of Governors, with DeJoy’s firing in mind.

While Pingree prepared for an investigation, Dufresne investigated her mailbox again.

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