Monday, May 04, 2015

USPS workers in N.D. leaving for higher paying oil and gas industry jobs; mail service has suffered

While the U.S. Postal Service continues to close plants and reduce hours, leading to slower mail in some rural areas, the federal agency has faced a different problem in the booming oil field communities of western North Dakota, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post. USPS has struggled to fill low-paying positions in an area with a high cost of living, leading to understaffed branches that have been unable to keep up with a rising demand for service.

"With more letters and packages to deliver and long lines at local post offices that are inadequate to meet a population that has grown 7.6 percent in five years, the Postal Service has rarely met national standards for mail delivery, according to a report by Inspector General David Williams," Rein writes. "The operational challenges—including a jump in package deliveries of 165 percent over the past four years—also have resulted in massive overtime for mail carriers and poorly equipped, space-short mail processing plants, investigators found." (Phillips Energy graphic)

The report found that the cost of living has risen so high in North Dakota that many postal workers are finding higher paying jobs in the oil and gas industry, Rein writes. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) told Rein, “We have a unique situation in North Dakota. We don’t pay federal employees enough to work in an area where rents are so high."

Heitkamp last year started a campaign called “Fix My Mail," Rein writes. "Hundreds of residents wrote to her complaining of late deliveries, nonexistent deliveries, mistakes with mail forwarding and short hours at post offices. Some people said their bills and prescription medications were arriving late. The Postal Service responded, adding self-service kiosks in three communities to decrease wait times, buying scanning devices for postal workers to assist people with relatively simple transactions and adding hours of operation at 32 post offices across North Dakota. A new post office opened in Williston, N.D."

But the Inspector General said the problem has still not been resolved, mainly because the agency has failed to attract more workers, Rein writes. The Inspector General wrote, “Limited benefits, challenging working conditions (such as volatile weather, physical labor and strenuous work hours) and higher competing wages resulted in low retention rates for carriers." (Read more)

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