U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is urging the U.S. Postal Service to raise pay in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
After his third meeting with USPS officials at the Charlottesville Post Office on U.S. 29, Warner held a roundtable Wednesday with community members who contacted him about mail issues.
He was joined by representatives from the Virginia branch of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath.
“There’s gonna be a national meeting in Charlottesville on Friday, I’m told, and I’m putting in a specific request to the post office to raise the salaries in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area to stay competitive,” Warner said. “I want them to hear that from a U.S. Senator and I hope we will see action on that very shortly.”
When asked for more specifics on who was meeting Friday and why, Warner joked that he “shouldn’t have been talking about that.”
“I am sure that the post office, and not just at the local or state or even regional basis, understands we’ve got a problem here, and now we’ve just got to get a solution. And a big piece of that will be personnel,” he said.
Postal service nationwide slowed during the last few years, but Charlottesville-area residents have been reporting mail issues for years. This past spring and summer, some residents reported going weeks without any mail or getting mail, including bills, months past due.
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 have repeatedly not answered specific questions.
Many residents said they didn’t experience widespread issues over the holidays, after Warner told media at a November press conference that USPS was bringing additional carriers in to help with the holiday surge. But residents have since reported issues cropping up again in the first part of 2022.
“I would say that our service has gotten better in the last month or maybe even two months but it still comes infrequently. We never know when we’re going to get mail,” said Drew Trotter, one of the roundtable participants. “We get 22 pieces one day and nothing for two more days.”
Susan, who didn’t give her last name, said the mail service “comes and goes” in her neighborhood.
“It depends on whether our regular carrier is on,” she said. “She’s great. It’s when she’s off that we have the problems.”
Warner said the Postal Service Reform Act will help the long-term financial health of the post office but it won’t improve somebody’s mail tomorrow.
Signed into law by President Joe Biden last week, it ends a requirement that the Postal Service finance workers’ health care benefits ahead of time, requires it to maintain its standard of delivering mail at least six days a week and requires the publication of weekly service data on its website.
Warner’s office said he was meeting with Gerald Roane, a USPS district manager, on Wednesday. He said there’s a “workforce shortage crisis.”
“The bottom-line problem, and it’s still the problem going forward, is that in a market like Charlottesville, the post office in terms of salaries just is not competitive anymore and keeping people is really hard,” Warner said.
He said the local post office is short approximately 10 to 15 city carriers, who mainly work in the city limits, and another approximately 10 to 15 rural carriers, who work Charlottesville-addressed routes in Albemarle.
“They currently have between six and 10 people virtually every week coming in from other post offices around Virginia, sometimes paying them overtime and putting them up in a hotel to do the work,” Warner said.
Only a city carrier assistant job is currently listed for the Charlottesville Post Office on the USPS job website. The $18.92 per hour job is listed as a non-career, 360-day term with the possibility of reappointment and chance of it leading to a career position.
The last time the Charlottesville Post Office had a full-time postmaster was in 2018. Cloteal Farmer, who became the Charlottesville postmaster in 2017, is still listed as the Charlottesville postmaster on the webpage.
When Farmer is looked up by her name, the website indicates she moved to the Glen Allen Post Office in late 2018.
Warner said he was told there will be a new postmaster at the Charlottesville Post Office soon.
Lloyd Cox, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors Association’s Virginia branch, said morale could be better. He said carriers and supervisors “get very frustrated at having to follow instructions that they deem unreasonable.”
“But as in any business or any job you have, you have to follow the instructions of your leader or manager,” he said. “So there’s been a lot of frustration with upper management on how things are run, but they do what they’re told.”
Fewer employees are now going “beyond the call of duty” that the post office has been known for, he said.
“We do apologize for that poor service; it’s not in their DNA,” he said. “They are struggling to try to serve you with the parameters and changes that have been put in place.”