Maine mail carriers and fellow union workers — electricians, nurses and more — gathered on a frigid Sunday morning outside Portland’s main U.S. Postal Service (USPS) building on Dec. 18 to protest workplace conditions and delivery delays.
Workers with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)’s Local 92 branch, which represents over 600 mail carriers in Maine, planned the event. They say understaffing and poor management has led to delayed mail delivery for Maine residents, and conditions have led carriers to a breaking point.
“Morale among mail-carriers is at an all-time low and many are quitting because they’re simply burned out,” NALC Local 92 President Mark Seitz said in a media release. “The status is no longer tenable. We demand change.”
Management has been delaying first-class mail to prioritize packages, according to Seitz and the union, which has caused delays of up to five or six days in some assigned mail routes for Portland residents.
USPS Northeast Regional spokesperson Stephen Doherty told the Phoenix that no company’s mail takes priority over another, though mail routes prioritizing package delivery is typical for the holiday season.
“The idea that there is some kind of management bonus or incentive for prioritizing any one company’s mailings is ridiculous and false,” Doherty said.
But Seitz believes that Doherty is lying, adding that carriers have received specific orders to prioritize packages and leave mail behind on numerous occasions. It’s been going on for a few years, he said, but recent staffing problems have exacerbated the issue.
Outside the city’s main post office Sunday, Massachusetts mail carrier Andrew Filieo explained what compelled him to travel to Portland on his day off. Maine mail carriers supported him when he volunteered and spent several months delivering mail in Saco.
“I have to support them now,” Filieo said.
Filieo described “gross understaffing” of offices during his time delivering in Maine, which left as many as eight mail routes sitting idle on the week of Thanksgiving. The packages had been taken care of, but not the regular mail.
To catch up, he had as much as 10 days of mail to deliver — 38 feet of letters. Filieo got through almost seven of 19 trays of letters before “my shoulder said enough — I didn’t sign up for this.”
Seitz added that three-quarters of Maine post offices are understaffed, and that the USPS isn’t really attempting to hire people. Their “attempt,” he said, is posting an ad on the job search site Indeed.
“It just seems like they don’t care, honestly,” Seitz said.
According to Doherty, the USPS has been “aggressively recruiting and participating in job fairs,” but like many other companies currently, there aren’t as many applicants as they’d hoped.
With priority on packages and a limited staff to make all the necessary deliveries, Seitz said that the other deliveries, whether it’s bills, Social Security checks or presents, will be lacking for the holiday.
“It’s Christmas time — people want their mail,” he said. “They want their cards, their gifts, it doesn’t always just arrive in a package.”