Charlottesville resident Barbara Moore isn’t asking for much from the U.S. Postal Service. She just wants reliable mail delivery and pick-up.
Moore, who lives in the Martha Jefferson neighborhood, said that overall service has gotten better in recent months, but delivery and pick up remain unpredictable. She said she would prefer ‘radical changes,’ like skipping a delivery one day in each neighborhood, if it made service more reliable.
“We would be perfectly happy if they said ‘we’re going to come Monday through Friday’ — except holidays, of course — and they come Monday through Friday. And they stick with it so if your carrier goes on vacation or if your carrier is ill, they have enough staff to cover the route,” she said.
“One can no longer count on the post office, and that’s something you could always count on,” she said.
Postal service nationwide slowed during the last few years, but Charlottesville-area residents have been reporting mail issues for years with a particularly bad bout this spring and summer. That’s when some residents reported going weeks without any mail or getting mail, including bills, months past due.
Residents didn’t experience widespread issues over the holidays, but it’s unclear to what extent the problem has improved or worsened.
The U.S. Postal Service has not given specifics about what caused the delays last year, other than staffing problems due to the pandemic. Officials continue to not answer specific questions and, despite repeated requests, have not granted interviews with anyone from the local post office.
Kathy Garstang, the local projects and operations director at the Building Goodness Foundation, said that despite seeing USPS vehicles on the street, the nonprofit hasn’t received mail in a week and outgoing mail has not been picked up.
“If I have large checks where I’m paying vendors, I just hand deliver them,” she said. “[Then] I know the money gets to them. I know I’m not late.”
Former employees and carriers say systemic staffing and management problems that started before the pandemic are to blame for the continued issues in mail services.
Since August, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has twice toured the Charlottesville Post Office on U.S. 29, which services Charlottesville addresses. In November, he said he was “cautiously optimistic,” and that he was told that the post office had hired 22 new employees — four clerks, eight city carriers and 10 rural carriers.
A former USPS employee from the Charlottesville Post Office, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution, said many of the 22 “new employees” Warner was told about in November were promotions from associate or assistant positions to regular positions.
“So when they hired 10 new rural carriers, that was 10 rural carrier associates that they promoted, and 10 fewer people that they had to carry mail,” they said.
According to the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, rural carrier associate positions serve as substitutes for regular rural carriers and do not have their own route.
“They’re burning out the people who they hire because they don’t hire enough people,” the former employee said.
The former employee and another former carrier said that at least five city carriers are retiring within the next month. As of Saturday morning, job postings for rural carrier associates and assistant rural carriers were available on the USPS careers website.
In a media conference call in January, after reports of issues after the holidays, Warner said he intends to come back and sit down with USPS officials again.
“My frustration level may not be as great as some of the folks in the community who are not getting the mail on a timely basis, but my patience is running thin,” he said. “We know there are other problems around Virginia, but no place has been consistently as problematic as Charlottesville. We need to hire more folks.”
In November, specific questions from The Daily Progress about the additional staff Warner announced went unanswered from USPS.
When asked multiple times over the last month about interviewing someone on the ground in Charlottesville, Philip Bogenberger, a USPS spokesperson based out of Charlotte, only sent a generic statement.
“Most customers in Charlottesville and the surrounding area are experiencing regular mail delivery,” the statement says. “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; and using additional carriers from nearby offices, when necessary, to maintain mail deliveries.”
USPS changed its performance standards in October. An analysis done by the Washington Post of USPS proposal data submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission shows ZIP Codes in the Charlottesville area will experience an additional half or 0.4 day to receive mail.
USPS performance data on the postal service’s website is only available by district.
For the Richmond District, which includes Charlottesville, for single-piece first-class mail from October through December, it shows 80.1% of the 2-day mail was on time, 64.9% of the 3-day mail was on time, 70.3% of the 4-day mail was on time and 88.6% of the 5-day mail was on time.
Moore said she mailed a Christmas card to a friend who lives in Ivy that was postmarked Dec. 16. Ultimately, it was delivered Feb. 19.
“Was I shocked when the gentleman walked in church this past Sunday morning and said, ‘Merry Christmas to you too,’” she said.