The U.S. Postal Service is straining to keep up with the volume of packages being delivered on Sundays, with some carriers complaining of 12-hour days and weeks without a single day off. The flood of packages can be traced back to Amazon, which kicked off a partnership with the USPS more than a year ago to deliver parcels seven days a week.
Now, especially with the holidays underway, there are signs that the rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as some would have liked. Dozens of USPS workers have sent messages to GeekWire and commented on past stories, outlining their concerns. Many say they are being asked to work 60 hours a week, sometimes for up to 21 straight days.
“I feel exhausted and really not looking forward to delivering packages plus doing collections tomorrow (Sunday) it looks like Christmas day will be my next and only day off since Thanksgiving,” said one carrier from Manchester, N.H., in a comment on GeekWire, who has been averaging 62-hour weeks and has worked 18 days straight.
Another USPS employee agreed, saying via email: “Since Amazon Sunday delivery started, I was told by management that I’d be working 7 days a week, without a guarantee that I’d have a day off.”
In the past, Amazon has been the subject of various employee disputes. Warehouse workers in Germany are currently striking over pay and working conditions, and in the Seattle tech community, Amazon has a reputation for burning through employees.
But now the post office is experiencing first-hand the effects of working with a company that operates at such a massive scale.
Jo Ann Pyle, the president of Branch 79 of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Seattle, sees the problems when visiting dozens of stations around the city.
“We are in favor of the Amazon delivery business and Sunday parcel delivery — it’s fabulous and we want it to continue,” she said. “But we have not staffed up properly. We have some employees working seven, 14, or 21 days in a row, and sometimes 12 hours a day. Even though we want the business, that’s an unacceptable way to treat employees.”
A steady increase in Sunday deliveries
On an average Sunday in Seattle, she said 100 carriers deliver 8,000 Amazon packages, and now with the holidays in full swing, they’ve increased staffing to 130 employees to deliver about 13,500 Amazon packages. Before the holidays, that penciled out to about 80 boxes per route. Now, with the the peak season, that’s up to about 100 packages each.
Sue Brennan, a senior public relations representative from the U.S. Postal Service, said increases are happening nationwide. Last Sunday, the post office delivered 4.6 million packages, up from 1.6 million last year, and on Dec. 7, also a Sunday, the figure was 3.2 million compared to 900,000 a year earlier.
“The volume is promising and we need to deliver for our customers,” she said.
When pushed to address the workers’ complaints, and whether schedules would improve after the holidays, she added: “Everyone works hard, long hours during the holidays. Having this type of volume increase would be a wonderful problem to have to address.”
Generally, the Sunday work is performed by “non-career employees,” which is lingo for part-time employees. But we’ve also heard exceptions to that rule, with full-time workers picking up extra shifts over the weekend, which in turn leads to weeks without breaks. Non-career employees often work regular routes during the week, as well.
Multiple employees have said they do not feel comfortable turning down the work for fear of losing their jobs. Workers receive overtime when they work more than eight hours a day, but not for working multiple days in a row, according to Pyle.
“If you say that you’re unable to do so, you’re threatened with loss of employment or told that you can find work elsewhere, at least that was what my manager told me,” said one carrier, who didn’t feel comfortable sharing his name.
Dozens of job openings are listed on the U.S. Postal Service’s website, calling for temporary help on Sunday. Wages are listed at roughly $15.30 an hour, so it does seem like the USPS is intent on fixing the situation, but it’s not so easy.
“We’re hiring every week, but we are so far behind, and they need to train, and then there’s a problem with retaining,” Pyle said.
Sunday delivery expands beyond Amazon
The problems are compounded by higher-than-expected volumes, as well as delivering packages for not only Amazon, but other companies over the holidays. In an announcement made last month, the post office said that for five weeks, workers will deliver packages for any company — not just Amazon. But the volume of packages listed above for Seattle only includes Amazon shipments. Packages from other retailers are delivered by other personnel.
“I’ve worked with the post office since 1977, and I’ve never seen it like this,” Pyle said. “I think it will be better after the holidays, but I don’t know if it will go away.”
Despite the complaints, no one is really pointing a finger at Amazon.
The post office’s struggles are well-known, with a decade long decline of mail volume. However, package delivery is the one sector that is showing hope, but so far, it is nowhere close to making up for revenue losses from first-class mail, because the volume isn’t as high and it’s not as profitable.
The strain on the system may ultimately be felt by customers.
One Amazon Prime customer told me in an email that he’s complained to Amazon about poor service when his packages do not arrive on Sunday, which he has now grown to expect.
“The reality is that packages rarely arrive on Sunday, and in the Amazon system, they are marked “carrier attempted deliver” when no attempt was made,” he said. “The obvious/assumed conclusion is that the USPS is being paid for Sunday deliveries, but is not in fact following through in good faith.”
With so much work to do, you can bet postal workers have started to count down the number of days to Christmas: Nine more days — but only one more Sunday.