The surge in online shopping is helping the U.S. Postal Service stay afloat financially, but the influx of packages is straining rural letter carriers across the country.
An increase in online orders is projected to help the postal service run until September 2021. Ronnie Stutts, the president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, says while the increase in mail is good, they are facing a worker shortage because a large percentage rural carriers are still on leave.
“It's really created a stress on the people that are working,” Stutts says. “They're working a lot more hours, they're splitting routes, staying out on the street, sometimes at 8, 9, 10 o'clock at night.”
Stutts says many part-time workers are working 60 to 80 hours a week and many are quitting. He expects the number of packages will double or triple as the holiday season inches closer. In an effort to get more help, The National Letter Carriers’ Association signed a memorandum of understanding with the USPS to hire temporary assistant rural letter carriers through the season.
Jeremy McComas, an assistant district representative for the National Rural Letter Association and a rural letter carrier in Edmond, Oklahoma, says he sees a big need for additional help across Oklahoma, especially during what’s considered peak season for deliveries. He says many people take time off in November and December, which can create issues if there are not enough people to cover shifts.
“We’re begging for help, that’s how bad it is,” McComas says.
Rick Vickrey, a rural letter carrier at the Minco, Oklahoma, post office, says he’s seen a shift in how people shop during the pandemic. Before Amazon started delivering its own packages s, he says he would have to make multiple trips.. He expects the online shopping trend will continue.
“We anticipate … that's going to be the new future, that this is something that we can anticipate from now on,” Vickrey says.
He says temporary carriers aren’t needed in his area because it’s a smaller office. Still, he thinks the postal service is vital for his community.
“I have a lot of veterans on my route, that I deliver their meds from the VA six days a week,” Vickrey says. “It is critical that I continue to provide that service to my customers, because they depend on me every day."