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Mountain West post offices struggle with staffing shortages and increased demand

A US Mail van that is parked in the street is getting buried by the falling snow.
Roman Tiraspolsky
Adobe Stock
A US Mail van that is parked in the street is getting buried by the falling snow.

News brief: 

Large parts of the Mountain West are experiencing postal problems, including delayed or lost packages, inconsistent delivery routes and long lines at mail facilities. The United States Postal Service has attributed the issues to its struggles to hire and retain staff.

The situation has gotten so bad in some Colorado mountain towns that several municipalities are preparing to sue the Postal Service. Issues with mail delivery have also been reported in recent months in Cheyenne, Wyo., central and eastern Idaho and Lake Tahoe. Politicians, including Idaho’s congressional delegation and Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, have pressured U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to improve the situation in their communities.

Edmund Carley, president of the United Postmasters and Managers of America, said when hiring slows down, customers notice almost immediately because delivering mail is an “essential service.” The Postal Service has a goal of running continuously for six days a week. It also serves extremely rural areas private carriers won’t go to, and in almost any weather conditions.

“Because of the labor-intensive nature of the actual delivery, if we're short, then we experience delays,” Carley said. “But rest assured, we're all working to try and get that cleared up.”

Another problem affecting deliveries is the increased demand for mail. Carley said more people have been ordering parcels online since the pandemic began, and more people are living in rural areas while working remotely.

“We may need a few more people than [we] did in years past and it just makes the problem exponentially hard,” he said.

Carley said the Postal Service needs to conduct better outreach to get younger people interested in becoming mail carriers. When he first joined the profession in the late 1990s, he said a few hundred people would apply for each opening. Now, getting any qualified applicants is a challenge. But he said the job can still generate a solid middle-class income for a person uninterested in college or the military – and there are reportedly 600 open positions in Colorado alone right now.

“The job’s not for everybody,” Carley said. “There’s some tough days. But also, 200 out of the 303 delivery days tend to be gorgeous. And for the most part, you're on your own. You’re out in the neighborhood performing a service that everybody recognizes.”

As a temporary fix for staffing shortages, the Postal Service said it’s transferring employees from towns without major mail issues to other areas that need help.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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