USPS struggles in pandemic

The US Postal Service (USPS) is showing signs of strain thanks to increased e-commerce parcel demand and due to cuts in staffing owing to sickness from COVID-19.

Between April 19 and May 23, USPS delivered 89.5% of priority mail packages on time, compared with 87.4% between March 1 and April 18. For first-class packages, 92.8% were delivered on time between April 19 and May 23, compared with 92.9% in the earlier period.

Frustrated business owners have expressed their discontent over the matter. “Updates on locations of almost all of our packages are either not available, they do not get scanned [or are] sent back without notification,” said Ivy Kami of Colorado Springs, Colo., who sells jewellery and gifts through an online store called Boutique Alosia LLC. “Long wait times and frustrated customers have not been fun for e-commerce sellers like myself.”

A spokesperson for the USPS pointed out that around 2830 USPS staff of more than 630,000 total have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Some 60 have died. Social distancing measures in sorting offices have been imposed, reducing the staffing available to meet normal demand let alone the surge brought about by people shopping on the internet during quarantine.

The spokesperson said, the Postal Service, like “other delivery companies, has experienced some service disruptions in a few locations domestically, including Chicago, New York and New Jersey, due to the pandemic,” and is working to “match the increased workload, including hiring based on local needs.”

“The parcel volumes have gone up, we are probably working at a holiday volume rate, but we’re doing it with about a 74% staffing [level],” Dwight Burnside, a mail handler at a USPS processing and distribution centre in Merrifield, Va., said in a union-organised press call this week.