Maine Union Leaders Say USPS Staffing Shortage Due to Unfair Two-Tier System & Other Issues

Postal union leaders continue to call on the US Postal Service to fix recruitment and retention issues that have disrupted mail deliveries for months. Customers have been complaining that their regular mail is not delivered on time because the agency has prioritized packages over other mail that can’t be tracked. Union leaders say a combination of COVID outbreaks, retirements and an unfair two-tier system that divides workers into two separate and unequal classes has caused massive staffing shortages. As a result, letter carriers are getting burned out as they put in 60 to 80-hour, seven-day work weeks.

“Very few people are being hired and so it’s just exponentially getting worse and worse,” said Mark Seitz, President of the NALC 92 and the Maine State Association of Letter Carriers.

He said that the Saco Post Office is supposed to have 45 letter carriers, but it has just 31 carriers on staff at the moment. However, due to injuries and COVID outbreaks, there are currently only 19 Saco mail carriers to deliver to 31 and a half routes. Portland’s Post Office is down to just 160 letter carriers from 225. 30 mail carriers are out for various reasons and the rest of the positions are unfilled.

“We left parts of almost 40 routes back in the office yesterday,” said Seitz on Tuesday. “There just aren’t enough carriers to deliver the mail.”

One of the major reasons the USPS has such a problem attracting workers is that for the last decade it has cut costs by making all new hires “non career” positions. NALC was forced to accept this concession in arbitration back in 2013. Under the two tier system, starting wages for non-career workers are much less than their “career” counterparts. Their health insurance is more expensive, they don’t have as much vacation time and they are not eligible for the Postal Service pension until they reach career status, which they usually only achieve when a career worker leaves employment.

Postal Workers Union Local 458 President Scott Adams — who represents mail clerks, maintenance workers and other USPS employees in Southern Maine — told the Portland Press Herald that starting pay for a non-career worker is $18.69, compared to $22 an hour at the bottom rung of the career wage scale.

“People come in for $18.69 an hour and then not know their future? I think a lot of people say, ‘I can get that at the mall,'” Adams said.

report from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General, found the turnover rate for non-career Postal Service employees in fiscal year 2019 was 38.5 percent and injury rates were 16-22 percent higher than career workers.

Seitz also argues that the hiring process is taking way too long due to unnecessary red tape and other problems. While the agency has tried to lower burdens and streamline the process by waiving interviews and drug tests, there is a massive backlog of background checks that still need to be completed. Seitz also pointed out that the Postal Service doesn’t keep lists of people who apply. For example, if a Post Office has an opening for two city carriers, the employer doesn’t contact the other applicants who applied if their top choices for the jobs don't accept the positions. The USPS also doesn’t let the other applicants know about open positions at other locations. 

“A lot of people are frustrated when they get no response from the agency and don’t know that they have to re-apply because the employer doesn’t tell them,” said Seitz. “They’ve got to figure out a way to take all of these people who have applied over the past few years and keep them on a list or notify them of other job opportunities at other locations. They have to change what they’re doing because what they’re doing now ain’t working.”