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Mounting vandalism and unfilled job positions delay USPS mailbox repairs

Viewers reached out to the KVUE Defenders after their boxes weren’t fixed and they weren’t getting answers from the post office.

AUSTIN, Texas — Vandals are delaying postal deliveries across Austin.

"I learned from my mailman that my mailbox had been broken into right around Labor Day," Molly Pitts said.

Pitts is in remission from breast cancer.

"I get my prescriptions delivered. I have some cancer treatment that I get. I need to take it every night and it gets delivered through the mail because it's cheaper to do it that way," she said. 

The prescriptions help her stay in remission.

“It's kind of a first-world problem, right? To have to go to the pharmacy,” Pitts said.

It's a problem felt elsewhere, too.

At a post office 20 minutes away, Rachel Loving and Chris Graham fought for half the year to get their mailbox fixed.

“You literally have to take time off of work in order to come and get in line at the post office,” Graham said.

The KVUE Defenders witnessed the long wait. Loving and Graham were fourth in line when the parcel window opened, but no one answered the bell until after 9 a.m. It took 40 minutes for them to be helped.

“I've seen the line go all the way to the back wall there, and then corner around and then go outside the post office,” Graham said.

Credit: KVUE
Rachel Loving and Chris Graham talked about long wait times to get mail at their post office in Austin, TX, on July 28, 2021.

When a man opened the window to help people get their mail, he said they are short-handed. 

Loving and Graham live at Treehouse Apartments in Austin. Typically, the apartment complex is responsible for making repairs to mailboxes.

“The apartment complex keeps telling us that it's the main lock on the boxes,” Loving said to the worker. 

“So, it's supposed to be us. Now, those have been on backorder. Once they come in, they come in,” the worker said.

Another worker told KVUE the person who answers the door also operates the sorting machine. That job is the first link in a chain of events. If mail doesn’t get sorted by route automatically, workers must do it by hand. They give the sorted route to the carriers. The carriers then sort the mail by mailbox.

“There are a lot of broken mailboxes. Vandalism,” the worker said. “We've got so many work orders in.”

A December 2020 federal report shows any time an employee changes what they’re doing, they must swipe their timecards again.

"Postal Service procedures also require employees to enter an operation code each time they begin a new operation. Each swipe updates their timecard record in TACS [Time and Attendance Collection System] and is commonly referred to as a 'clock ring,'" the report showed.

So, answering to the lines of people in the post office lobby can delay everyone in their ZIP code.

“The Postal Service strives every day to provide excellent service to our valued customers. Local postal officials continue to review operational practices and make adjustments, to include assigning more resources to minimize wait times and operate in an efficient and effective manner,” a USPS spokesperson said in an email to the Defenders.

A report released on Sept. 21, 2020, showed productivity continues to decline across the nation.

“Nationwide, employee availability for mail processing career employees has been below 80% since January 2020; the average employee availability was 77.2% in FY 2020 and 76.2% through Q3, FY 2021,” the USPS Office of Inspector General reported. 

Staffing was an issue nationwide. 

“In addition, mail processing operations nationwide were consistently short‑staffed in FY 2020 through Q3, FY 2021, by an average of 1,135 career employees, or 1.5%. Further, as of June 2021, the Postal Service had 366 vacancies for mail processing manager and supervisory positions, with an average vacancy lasting 235 days” the report showed.

“Any other place I feel like would have just been out of business,” Graham said.

Pitts said she never experienced a wait like that at her post office.

“It went pretty lickety-split. So, it made me feel a little better about having to go up there. I still don't want to wait months and months,” Pitts said.

After the KVUE Defenders interview, Loving and Graham started to receive their mail.

“We are pleased to report that the apartment mailboxes have been repaired, and mail delivery has been restored. The Postal Service strives every day to provide excellent service to our valued customers,” the USPS Spokesperson said.

If you have any concerns regarding mail services, the spokesperson recommended calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) or reach them online at www.usps.com/help.

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