Rochester letter carriers say short-staffed post office poised to 'fail gloriously' this winter

Nov. 4—ROCHESTER — Overworked local letter carriers think it might be a good idea to get your holiday cards and packages mailed out soon, because the number of city postal workers is dropping as Rochester's population grows.

Duty rosters from Rochester's main post office and its Bear Creek facility, obtained by the Post Bulletin, show that 103 carriers delivered the city's mail in 2017. That number has dwindled to 85 today, according to an October 2023 roster. Of those 85 carriers, 36 have worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for three years or fewer.

That's a 17% decrease in postal carriers on Rochester streets — all while the city adds more streets and people. The number of addresses or mailboxes is estimated to have gone up by about 3,000 compared to 2017.

The numbers suggest an untenable situation — and that suggestion is borne out by day-to-day realities that show how the service is insufficient to the demand.

"We're set up to fail gloriously this holiday season," said a longtime city carrier who spoke to Post Bulletin on condition of anonymity. "We had four routes that didn't leave the office this morning. It was just a scramble to get packages done by 10 p.m. We couldn't get it done and there's not even snow on the ground yet."

The Post Bulletin grants anonymity in rare cases based on the importance of the issue and whether there are no other ways of obtaining the information the source provides.

The Rochester post office is so short-staffed, according to the carrier, that one employee's vacation or sick day often means many customers do not receive mail that day because there is nobody left to cover those routes.

The USPS corporate communications representative for the Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin districts disagreed with the Rochester carrier's assessment of how ready USPS is for the holiday season.

"Building on last year's holiday season successes made possible by early investments of our Delivering for America plan, we began planning for this upcoming holiday season earlier. We have accelerated key processing, logistics and delivery investments to meet customers' evolving mail and package needs," wrote USPS representative Desai Abdul-Razzaaq.

Managers of the Rochester postal offices could not be reached by phone for comment and did not respond to attempts to reach them by e-mail.

Duty rosters from Rochester's Valleyhigh and Bear Creek offices show that Rochester is not only short of carriers. The most recent available roster shows that, as of Oct. 4, the two offices have 34 clerks. Six years ago, in 2017, the two offices had 41 clerks. And of the 34 clerks working in Rochester now, 17 are relatively inexperienced, having been hired within the past three years.

The carrier who spoke anonymously to the Post Bulletin is working six days and 60 hours per week. The carrier said overtime is mandatory. The only carriers who work eight-hour shifts are ones who have medical notes limiting their hours due to health concerns, or employees who are working on a day they were scheduled to be off work.

The situation — fewer carriers, many working longer shifts, week after week — has impacted the health of the postal workers. The mail carrier who spoke to the Post Bulletin said that 33 out of 85 city carriers have medical notes to limit their hours.

Of course, staffing shortages are not unique to the U.S. Postal Service. Restaurants, manufacturing facilities and even operating rooms have struggled in recent years to fill jobs, and to rely more heavily on the employees who do remain on the job.

The difference is that USPS provides an essential service that has a certain unavoidable inflexibility: That is, USPS is expected to deliver bills, checks, election ballots, newspapers, letters, packages and more to every household and business in the country. People count on postal delivery Monday through Saturday. And now, the same carriers are delivering Amazon packages on Sundays.

The pandemic years contributed to the current situation, but postal service staffing issues predate the pandemic. It is a problem that is not unique to Rochester and the surrounding region, but is facing communities throughout the state and the country.

In August 2022, complaints about missed postal deliveries in Rochester caught the attention of Mayor Kim Norton as well as U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. Both senators reached out to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy seeking solutions.

Norton said it appears that the problem has not been solved yet.

"Things seemed to improve back in 2022 for a time, but in the last month or so we've taken a few complaints (about mail delivery)," Norton said.

Both senators say their offices still receive complaints from the area and around the state about problems with mail delivery and it is still an important issue that needs to be addressed.

"From delivering medications to paychecks, Minnesotans rely on the Postal Service every day. We need to make sure everyone can count on USPS especially with the holidays approaching, which is why I'm continuing to push the Postal Service to address mail delays and ensure adequate staffing levels across our state," wrote Klobuchar, when asked about mail deliveries.

Klobuchar has called on Postmaster DeJoy to provide employment flexibilities to Minnesota post offices to attract workers and stabilize adequate staffing levels.

In recent legislation, she supported bolstering financial stability at USPS and successfully passed a moratorium on the closing or consolidation of post offices and mail processing facilities.

Sen. Smith also stated that she is aware of staffing shortages in Rochester and other parts of Minnesota that affect deliveries.

"The United States Postal Service is an essential service. From small towns and rural communities to our largest cities, millions of Minnesotans depend upon the USPS to deliver the letters and packages that fuel their lives and our state's economy," wrote Smith, when asked about the issue. "I take protecting the integrity and reliability of the USPS seriously. I'm committed to holding the USPS accountable for the quality of their service and will keep pushing to ensure that they reliably deliver mail to every community in Minnesota and across the country."

While missed deliveries and overworked employees continue to be common complaints, the Postmaster General recently wrote to staff about his Delivering for America plan.

"Improving our employees' experience and providing a stable and empowered workforce remain at the forefront of our DFA plan. Our bond with our employees has never been more important than it is today," DeJoy wrote in a Aug. 18, 2023, letter to employees.

But in Rochester, the anonymous carrier and a second carrier, who also asked not to be named, said they do not feel empowered, but overwhelmed. With winter weather and the holiday mail surge on the way, the carriers don't expect their workload to be eased anytime soon.

While grabbing a pile of mail and packages from their truck, the Rochester carrier had one positive thought.

"Thank God it is not an election year," the carrier said before walking down the sidewalk to the next house.