BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – Stephanie Hollingsworth could easily understand why mail would be slower around the holidays, especially in a pandemic, but when she tracked one of her packages and found it sitting at a post office, she started making calls.
“It was a full 6-7 days and I finally called,” said Hollingsworth. “I called and said, ‘What’s going on?’ The postal worker was really nice. He looked it up and said, ‘It’s here, but I don’t even know why it’s here.’”
That wasn’t the only inexplicable delay, said Hollingsworth.
“[One package] went from Texas to Indiana to Pennsylvania back to Indiana back to Texas and then to Georgia before it finally came to me. And I literally thought, ‘Why are you taking my stuff on a road trip? Just drop it off.’”
The small-business owner uses the United States Postal Service (USPS) to ship her artwork around the country and has recently heard from customers questioning the shipping delay.
“She was asking, ‘What is going on with the Birmingham distribution center? I’ve noticed when you ship things, it’ll sit there for 3, 4, 5, days just sitting at the distribution center,’” said Hollingsworth.
Shawn Fitzwater found one of his packages sitting there too.
He ordered two packages last month and said one came days after the delivery date and the second almost two weeks later. He went to his post office to ask about his package and the postal worker tracked it down to the Birmingham Annex.
Fitzwater posted about what happened on his neighborhood Facebook page and “almost immediately” people started sharing about their delivery delays.
“People started commenting with, ‘Yes, I haven’t had mail with 3-5 days,’ or ‘I have been waiting on packages two weeks before Christmas’ and that one kind of hit me. I was like, wow, you’re waiting on Christmas gifts?”
Laurie Wilkerson posted on the WBRC FOX6 Facebook page that she is still waiting on packages she bought in October. Becca Herron-Thomas shared a screen shot of her tracking history that shows her package arrived at the Birmingham Distribution Center Annex Dec. 30, but wasn’t processed until Jan. 16.
“I don’t know what’s going on but there seems to be a major holdup at the Birmingham distribution center,” said Hollingsworth.
WBRC FOX6 News has been tracking delays at the Birmingham Distribution Center and Birmingham Annex since August. At the time, Camise Samuel, President of the Birmingham Postal Workers Union, said the delays were attributed to staffing shortages, office closures and lack of equipment.
“We had one machine, when people move and they forward their mail, that machine was taken out, and we only have two for the state of Alabama, and one of them has been taken out. So, now we have one machine, and the mail is backing up,” Samuel explained then.
In December, the USPS warned deliveries might be delayed because of the pandemic and an overwhelming volume of packages and mail.
But at the end of January, Samuel calls the delay customers are still experiencing “unacceptable.”
“We are still experiencing delays. I cannot tell you why we are experiencing those delays other than we are still understaffed.”
He added, “We even had people calling wanting to know if we are on strike. A lot of people are mad, they’re frustrated.”
Samuel shares that frustration.
“We was already behind before the pandemic. For the last two years I’ve been fighting the Post Office. They’ve been telling me we was overstaffed, we needed to get rid of almost 50 employees. So, before the pandemic came, we was already under staffed so, it’s not a catch up, we was already behind,” said Samuel.
WBRC FOX6 News reached out to the USPS for answers, but instead of an interview, was given a statement:
“The United States Postal Service delivered a record number of holiday packages for the American people under some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve faced in the past century — specifically more than 1.1 billion packages were delivered this holiday season amidst a global pandemic.
Throughout the peak season, the Postal Service, along with the broader shipping sector, faced pressure on service performance across categories as it managed through a record of volume while also overcoming employee shortages due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, winter storms in the Northeast, as well as ongoing capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving historic volumes of mail.
As volume pressures strained the system during the peak season, the Postmaster General and the Executive Leadership Team took a number of specific action steps to help address the issues. Those action steps included:
- Working with union leadership we adjusted and increased fulltime career staffing by more than 10,000 positions in several facilities across the country which will stabilize our operations and improve performance.
- Consistent with past peak seasons, we have fully utilized overtime to allow employees to work the time necessary to process the record volume.
- We extended lease agreements on annexes used to provide additional package processing and dispatch capacity beyond the holiday peak season.
- Implemented in August 2020, we realigned organizational reporting structures, providing greater visibility by the executive team into operations, allowing for quicker responses to issues.
As the holiday inventory continues to drop, the Postal Service fully anticipates further improvements in performance.
Customers may visit our website at www.usps.com/ship/ to match their mailing and shipping needs with postal products and services.”
Samuel said the statement “might be misleading.”
“They’re increasing the positions by temporary employees, but like I said, those temporary employees are already working so how are you increasing with your normal staff? COVID started last January, February, so they should have been prepared for the holiday season. We had a shortage of trucks. Most of the time different companies go out to U-Haul and different companies and lease and rent vehicles and stuff. There was a lot of things done wrong in my opinion.”
He added, “Even though we work for the post office, we are also customers. I order all the time so we feel everybody’s frustration, but don’t take it out on the actual employee. It’s not our fault.”