Woodstock Post Office Is Short-Staffed and Under Pressure

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2016 10:10:33 AM
Modified: 9/1/2015 12:00:00 AM
Woodstock — The United States Postal Service is investigating complaints from Woodstock residents who say they haven’t been receiving their mail.

“All I know is, we didn’t get mail for three days running,” said John Mathews, a resident who lives just a half-mile from the post office. After receiving no mail on Thursday or Friday, Mathews went to the post office, where he says staff told him they couldn’t guarantee he would get mail on Saturday either. Mathews said it was a particularly bad week for the interruption, because he was waiting on a passport.

“A clerk told me that she was doing the routes herself because they didn’t have the people available,” Mathews said.

Steve Doherty, a regional spokesman for the USPS, said regional management wasn’t aware of the problem until mid-afternoon on Monday, when Operations Manager Jerry Reen told Doherty he had heard customer complaints of delivery interruptions.

“He’s planning on getting to that office to meet with the postmaster to determine exactly what, if any, problem exists at that location, and how we can rectify it,” Doherty said.

Doherty said he had not heard of any staffing issues at the branch.

“The investigation is in its infancy,” he said.

The investigation is the latest reminder that the USPS is undergoing a dramatic behind-the-scenes transformation, a downsizing that has resulted in fewer mail processing centers, fewer workers and a relaxation of standards.

In early January, as a cost-cutting measure, the USPS implemented a set of “service standard revisions” that lowered the expectation for when certain pieces of mail should be delivered. Mail previously targeted for a two-day delivery was instead shifted to a three-day delivery, which in theory gave mail-processing facilities enough breathing room to absorb staffing cuts and consolidation.

But in fact, this summer, a deputy assistant inspector general sounded an alarm that even the new, relaxed standards were not being met. According to an Aug. 13 internal memo, 494 million more pieces of mail were delayed in the first half of 2015 than over the same time period in 2014, an increase of 48 percent.

Bill Creamer is the branch president of the Local 301, which represents about 2,800 postal workers throughout New England, dramatically fewer than the 4,800 members the chapter had several years ago.

Creamer said the Woodstock delays were typical of reports the union has been hearing since the changes began.

“We’re very short-handed,” he said. “All the shops have the same complaint of short staffing. There’s a lot of overtime. There was not a problem before you changed the delivery standards and did the second round of downsizing.”

Creamer said that because the staff at the White River Junction mail sorting facility has shrunk from a high of 132 to just 44 mail handlers, mail that was previously sorted locally is now being sent far afield.

“You’re taking mail from Woodstock to go down to Nashua to then take it to Quechee. This is not good service,” he said. “A third-class package going to somewhere in northern Vermont, you send it to New Jersey. I don’t understand.”

In Woodstock, some post office customers, like Dave Brown, said they were happy with service levels and had nothing but praise for the staff, who they described as overworked.

“The clerks are fantastic,” Brown said.

Creamer said he’s also felt the pinch of the relaxed standards as a consumer.

Creamer, a veteran, said he regularly gets two different kinds of heart medication through an ordering program run by the Veterans Administration. The shipping delays have eliminated the margin of error he used to enjoy when ordering the pills.

“As soon as they let you order, I order mine,” he said. “Once, I didn’t do that and I went three or four days without my pill.”

In a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan, White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blamed policies enacted under former President George W. Bush for squeezing the USPS’s finances.

“The most significant reason for the financial problems at the Postal Service is due to a mandate imposed by the George W. Bush Administration to pre-fund 75 years of retiree health care benefits over a 10-year period,” Sanders wrote. “In fact, excluding this mandate, the Postal Service has made a profit of more than $2 billion since the fall of 2012.”

Sanders said he would introduce legislation that would eliminate the pre-funding mandate, and he asked Brennan to take immediate action on the delivery standards, calling the relaxation “a disaster that is negatively impacting Americans all over this country.”

Sanders said the delays impacted the ability of people to pay their utility bills, and receive medications.

“Veterans and seniors have complained that it is now taking nine, and sometimes as much as 11 days, for them to receive life-saving prescriptions through the mail,” he wrote.

Doherty said that while he had seen Sanders’ statement, the delays didn’t seem to be having an effect on complaints among New England customers.

“Locally, we haven’t had anything come up on that front,” he said.

Woodstock resident Marsha Holt said that though she hasn’t complained, she’s noticed the decline in service.

“We all are aware,” Holt said, “the mail is going slower.”

In response to an inquiry from the Valley News, a representative from Sanders’ office said he was doing research to see when the promised legislation would be introduced, and whether Sanders had received a response to his letter.

Doherty said he might have more details about the investigation into the Woodstock mail interruptions later this week.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.




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