Union leader Mack Julion and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush blamed Republican opposition, understaffing, and poor management for problems with local mail delivery during a virtual town hall Tuesday evening.
In Hyde Park and other South Side neighborhoods, some residents say mail delivery has been particularly erratic as of late. One resident told CBS 2 recently that he had not gotten his medical prescription in weeks; a woman posted on social media that her wedding rings had still not been delivered a few days before the ceremony.
Many of the complaints have centered on the Henry W. McGee Post Office, 4601 S. Cottage Grove Ave., which came under fire last year for similar issues. As the Herald reported at the time, Ald. Sophia King (4th) held a community meeting to address the problems — her office has said it is looking into the situation.
As the pandemic has dragged on, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has found itself facing a budgetary shortfall. This spring, the agency appealed to Congress for additional funding — at one point, it warned that it might run out of money by the early fall. The debate has largely broken down over partisan lines, however, with President Donald J. Trump calling the service “a joke,” and shooting down legislation in March that would have provided the agency with $13 billion. The agency was eventually given a $10 billion loan, which it has not yet accessed.
The Washington Post also reported last week that newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told employees to leave mail undelivered for a day or two if necessary.
Rush excoriated Republicans during Tuesday’s town hall, saying that they wanted to replace the federal agency with a private counterpart. “They want to kill off the U.S. Postal Service — they have wanted to do that for the last 10 to 20 years now,” he said. “The enemy, who is trying to privatize the postal service, wants to put the money into a private corporation, put resources into a private corporation.”
Julion, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said there are problems with both federal funding and local management. He said it wasn’t until earlier this year, after grievances were filed, that management in Chicago created some necessary full-time jobs.
“When you step into the office like I did last weekend, and the manager tells me I have 50 assignments and only 30 letter carriers….I can tell you there are some neighborhoods I’m not going to get nailed today,” he said. “And right now, we’re in a situation where start times for carriers have been pushed back — they’re starting later in the day, and don’t have adequate resources to be able to cover every assignment.”
Julion also said there were funding problems. “There’s going to need to be some financial help given to the postal service like there was the airline, like there was the other industries because of COVID,” he said.
One person who called in, a letter carrier working in Morgan Park, said she felt “disrespected” by management. “They’re putting our start time to nine o'clock — we should be starting at six or seven o'clock in the morning so our safety is not put in jeopardy,” she said. “We're not practicing social distancing. We're not practicing staggered start time, and it's very frustrating.”
Another caller said she was worried about ensuring that the postal service would be able to handle mail-in ballots during this November’s election — already, a record number of people in Illinois have applied to vote by mail this year.
Julion said that though there may be difficulties with some individual carriers delivering the mail properly, any widespread problems stem from more systemic issues.
“We take the brunt of the criticism," he said. "I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every letter carrier or postal worker is perfect, but it’s incumbent upon management to hold those people accountable.
“The men and women that I represent, the letter carriers out there, they’re proud. They work hard. And you know, right now it’s almost like their hands are tied behind their back. Unless there are some policy changes or changes to those who are making the policies, you know, it may not get better any time soon.”