South Bay Letter Carriers Say Mail Problems Linked to USPS Cost-Cutting Experiment 

It’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, it all started.

But sometime in or around summer 2017, Miriam Kali-Rai began noticing mail arriving later and later. Often after dark. Some letters never came at all.

The delivery failures complicated matters for all 18 tenants at the Los Gatos office complex she co-owns with her husband, a prominent lobbyist, and a business partner.

“Bills are not getting delivered and checks are not received,” she says. “The whole accounts payable and receivable system is disrupted.”

It wasn’t just that the regular carrier had a bad day, or even a whole run of them. And it certainly wasn’t her imagination.

On Oct. 26, 2017, Kali-Rai emailed her office tenants about how she alerted the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) about the problems and urging them to do the same. On Dec. 11 that same year, she emailed Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) for help. His office tried to intercede, but told her that the USPS, as a federal agency, falls beyond state jurisdiction. On Dec. 13, 2017, she escalated her concerns to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), whose office assigned her a case number a few weeks later.

Then, nothing. Months turned to years without any word or recourse. Kali-Rai adjusted to a routine of re-delivering mail that wound up in the wrong letterbox.

But the problem has since become impossible to ignore.

Complaints in recent months have exploded on social media and online message boards, prompting Eshoo—as first reported by this news outlet—to finally call for federal intervention. Meanwhile, USPS officials are keeping customers in the dark about a controversial experiment that frontline staff blame for widespread service delays.

Ernie Arranaga, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 193, says a national pilot project to uncouple mail sorting from delivery has triggered a staffing exodus since rolling out at the Campbell Post Office toward the end of last summer. According to Arranaga, the USPS initiative, called “consolidated casing,” has placed “a heavy burden” on local letter carriers and caused several of the most-experienced employees to retire.

“They didn’t lay anyone off,” he says, “but they changed some of the work methods so that carriers are out on the street for longer periods of time. Due to insufficient staffing, there’s also a requirement to work a lot of overtime.”

The issues in Campbell have reverberated throughout the South Bay, as local post offices send some of their own employees to the consolidated-casing site to address the staffing shortfall in Orchard City.

In Santa Clara, city officials fielded complaints from residents who never got a community calendar that was supposed to end up in every mailbox earlier this year. Throughout San Jose, mail began arriving well into the evening. Packages bound for addresses throughout the South Bay were marked in tracking systems as delivered even though they never reached their destinations—a problem documented at other facilities in a USPS Office of Inspector General audit issued this week.

“This definitely triggered a whole chain of events,” says Arranaga, who spent three-and-a-half decades working for the USPS. “We also happen to be in an area that has high parcel volume, which is more labor intensive. It’s really caused a lot of frustration for our members, who take great pride in the work that they do.”

When asked for details about consolidated casing, USPS-spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. declined to comment. “That is proprietary information that deals with internal management agreements with our representative unions and employees,” he said.

For a “proprietary” program, there seems to be plenty of public information about it.

Records show that last fall the NALC sued the Postal Service over the consolidated-casing initiative, which officials plan to expand to 230 sites despite horror stories about its impact on local branches throughout the country. A judge dismissed the suit at the end of November, however, saying the court lacked jurisdiction. The union and the USPS now await arbitration over the matter.

The USPS, whose 630,000 unionized employees make it one of the largest federal agencies, has a long history of adversarial relations between management and staff, with much of the conflict centering on workplace safety. Several employees approached for comment on this story have refused, citing fears of retribution. Arranaga says that’s because morale is dismally low, and his members don’t feel secure about speaking out.

Though postal employees make up a fifth of the federal workforce, they account for about half of federal workplace injuries, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. Yet despite being accused by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of discriminating against injured workers in 2015 and again in 2017, the USPS has put more of them at risk by ramping up overtime and expanding territory for each carrier to cover.

While having mail sorted by someone else may be intended to streamline the process, staffers say it’s been slowing things down. And by requiring letter carriers to work longer hours to finish their routes, it might be costing more money than it saves.

Increasingly, Arranaga says, delivery employees have questioned whether the $20 to $30 an hour they earn for such grueling work is worth enduring. Especially when measured against the exorbitant cost of living in Silicon Valley.

On a Reddit forum where USPS employees shared their experience with consolidated casing, one commenter claiming to be a disabled 59-year-old letter carrier from Campbell called the pilot program a “major disaster.” The Campbell office lost six carriers since October, she wrote, as shifts stretched from eight to 15 hours a day. Hundreds of parcels piled up on the mailroom floor.

Consolidated Casing from USPS

NALC Director of City Delivery Christopher Jackson echoed similar complaints about the consolidated casing pilot in a November 2019 newsletter to members.

“Affected carriers are reporting difficulties in obtaining adequate childcare, inability to attend important events and alienation from friends and family,” he wrote. “In some test offices, carriers are herded like cattle down cluttered, congested, unsafe pathways. NALC has observed emergency exits blocked by test equipment, large quantities of staged mail and equipment blocking egress from the carrier cases, and increased length of exposure to inclement weather, all of which puts postal employees in danger.”

The problems inevitably extend to customers, he added.

“NALC has observed numerous customer service failings during the test,” Jackson wrote, “including entire routes not receiving delivery, pre-sequenced mailings curtailed beyond requested delivery dates, and carriers instructed to disregard the address when delivering walk sequence and [grouped] mail.”

Other issues, he said, include changed addresses not being recorded, mail holds being misplaced to unprocessed and packages arriving at businesses after hours.

Despite all the problems being reported, the Postal Service continues to expand its pilot consolidation program, which is part of a long history of austerity measures to keep the self-funded public corporation afloat in the face of multi-billion-dollar annual losses.

Ruiz says the USPS does, however, plan to organize a town hall with local officials to address the delivery delays. The community meeting is set to take place at 5pm on March 19 at the Campbell Community Center.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

18 Comments

  1. Yeah, great mail service. Got a letter with USPS postal stamp that was dated May 2017. Well, guess it got here. Unfortunately it was my tax form.

  2. I used to have a wonderful mail carrier for years, then he was promoted. Was sad to see him leave, but was very happy for him. Ever since he left, it’s been problem after problem with replacement mail carriers. I get the wrong mail. A few times I didn’t even get my mail, it was delivered to another address. One day I caught up with a carrier to tell her she delivered the wrong mail to my house and immediately she started complaining about her job. Three times I received packages for someone else, didn’t even live on my street. Most recently, mail carriers have left scuff marks on my truck. Rather than use the sidewalk and walkway to get to my mailbox they cut across my driveway, squeezing through the space between my truck and garage door, which is only about a foot. Obviously not adequate space for a mail carrier with a large mail bag to get through. I don’t know how many times I’ve complained to the USPS. I can’t even tell you how many mail carriers I’ve had in the last few years, lost count. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

  3. Go to the post office for current commemorative stamps, they have none, clerk says the Postmaster simply has not ordered them. Can you imagine a private business operating like this?

  4. The time has come for the USPS to go away. They have given up and no longer care if they get the job done. Just let parcel carriers deliver sealed envelopes and call it a day!

    • You will be fine as you live in a city. Imagine those people in rural areas, like most of the country. FedEx and UPS would never deliver to them, as it’s too cost prohibitive. The post office, even with all of the problems it has, keeps this country going with e-commerce. You’d be the first to whine about how expensive it is to get your GNC pills when the private companies can charge what they want with no lower cost competitor.

  5. I think they should hire more people, make the routes smaller. If one person is assigned to 1 route it makes it better . But not when the routes are as big as they are. No one has even considered the parcel volume since 2017! That’s what takes up time and confusion. The parcels. Or have 2 permanent workers on one route. 1 to deliver parcels & 1 for the mail. Also, more people should be at the top cause obviously things arent getting addressed promptly or at all.

    • > I think they should hire more people, make the routes smaller.

      Business 101:

      No business plan is worth squat UNLESS it has a COST vs. BENEFIT analysis.

      You say NOTHING about how much your fixes will cost, and who will pay the cost.

      You might just as well have proposed giving all postal employees anti-gravity belts. A great idea, the postal employees would love it, and it would really speed up the mail.

      Cost?

      Who knews. We’ll pay for it the same way Bernie is paying for free college, free healthcare, and free toilet paper.

  6. Seems to me their processing change disrupted the system and employees were not going to take it any more. Maybe USPS needs to bring back the old system ??!!

  7. My husband has worked for USPS for 25 years, luckily he’s about to retire. We live in WNY state.
    Anyway, it’s not really the consolidated sorting system that’s the main issue.
    It’s management and at the heart of it all is the bonuses that the post masters from every office gets. They get bonuses based on how much money their office cuts or “saves” each month.
    Thus making the more greedy PMs cut auxiliary and pivot worker’s hours or actually getting rid of them. Thus, making the already overloaded carriers have to do more and more work in the same 8 hours.
    Heaven help the carrier who needs overtime or returns 10 minutes late.
    The USPS has absolutely NO idea of how to run the business anymore. It’s all being done by greedy people who have NEVER actually worked the streets yet they somehow come up with magic numbers of how carriers can do 10 + hours of work in less than 8 hrs.
    They back office is driven by getting bonuses NOT actually improving service to customers or the safety of the employees.

  8. I was a letter carrier for 6mos, hated every moment of it, transferred to a NDC as a custodian. Best move I ever made, making $30hr with shift differential/Sunday premium. Been making 6figures with overtime/penalty pay. Work about an hour out of a ten hour day 6days a week.elgible to retire this year but why leave this gravy train lol.

  9. I just left the postal service after 7 years. Over those years I was a clerk, custodian, maintenance mechanic, and supervisor. I worked in several of the facilities in the south bay. I also held positions within the union. Unfortunately the local was self serving with the exception of a few officers, and the source of many problems for the workers. The national was supportive despite its flaws. I made many friends there. I worked with some very nice and hardworking people. Unfortunately I could not stay. I had become miserable, and was tired of sacrificing my life, family, health and wellbeing. I finally got an opportunity to get out and I took it. This meant taking a substantial hit in salary, but for the first time in long time I can relax, and be happy. I’m still able to pay my bills. I think the culture there makes us think and believe that the USPS is everything, and our life is secondary… THIS IS WHY I BELIEVE THE USPS IS FALLING SHORT ON STAFFING. Upper management has absurd expectations that are absolutely unattainable. In my opinion what we’re are seeing is exactly what the USPS board of governors wants to happen. They are villinising the workers and in turn the USPS; this will make it easy to sell to the American public the idea of privatization.
    Though I’m no longer an employee, my friends, sisters and brothers are. For them I truly hope that positive change will come their way!!

    • > They are villinising the workers and in turn the USPS; this will make it easy to sell to the American public the idea of privatization.

      USPS sounds like a miserable dysfunctional place. Plus, they do a bad job of delivering the mail.

      Why would privatization be a bad thing? It sounds like it would be a good thing.

  10. My ex, which I won’t say his/her name has told me that thanks to AMAZON, which used to have a contract with FEDERAL EXPRESS, now canceled, so during the holidays, USPS was responsible for delivering all those packages and putting the regular mail behind. THE UNION SUCKS AND DOES NOTHING FOR THE CARRIERS. This is not THE CARRIERS FAULT but upper management, who in the middle of the holidays, decided to change the routes to the NEW, CONTROVERSIAL, experimentation system by having someone else sort their mail in the morning, who didn’t know much ABOUT SORTING, so when the mail carriers where getting in, the mail was already sorted and ready to deliver but there were issues. WHO knows more the routes than the carriers? SO WHY CHANGE IT? WHY WOULD MANAGEMENT CHANGE THE SYSTEM to the EXPERIMENTAL system, during the busiest time of the season. It was just ridiculous. My ex worked so many hours, she/he was getting home around 9:00-9;30 and we had no time to see each other because they were super tired and stressed out. ALL CARRIERS were used to their routes, why change them it during the holidays and make it harder for the carriers? ALL THAT caused a lot of tension and anger among the carriers. SOME THAT HAD BEEN TRAINED, QUIT AND THOSE WHO WORKED FOR YEARS WITH THE POST OFFICE, QUIT. SO OBVIOUSLY, SOMEONE ISN’T TAKING CARE OF THE CARRIERS. YOU WANT PEOPLE TO GET THEIR MAIL ON TIME, GIVE THESE HARED WORKING CARRIERS, TIME TO REST, MORE BENEFITS AND STOP MAKING THEM WORK EVERYDAY AND TREATED LIKE COWS. WHAT REALLY SUCKED was that if someone was sick or taken the day off for whatever reason, no ONE COVERED THEIR ROUTE and once the carriers came back from being sick, they had to come back to the work room with mail that was never delivered, those days. The poor carriers are under staffed, have to work long hours, 12-15 hours a day in bad weather and once they finish their routes, they are expected to go out again and do other people’s work, they can’t get a day off because they are expected to work everyday and they have no benefits and why no one wants to be a mailman these days, especially in CAMPBELL area!! THE UNION SUCKS AND MANAGEMENT NEEDS TO BE FIRED AND MORE TRAINING OF CARRIERS BUT WITH MORE BENEFITS TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO STAY! THEY NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THE MAIL CARRIERS THEY HAVE OR THEY ARE GOING TO LOSE THEM!!

  11. Fun fact: The consolidation idea was proposed by someone who started in 2012 and was never a carrier. Unfortunately, HQ ran with it.

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