Amazon package contract changes US postal service

Posted 1/22/20

Postal customers calling to complain about home delivery in Port Townsend are learning the changes in their hometown service are a side-effect of the rapid growth of online shopping.

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Amazon package contract changes US postal service

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Postal customers calling to complain about home delivery in Port Townsend are learning the changes in their hometown service are a side-effect of the rapid growth of online shopping.

“Where (the mail) used to come in the morning or early afternoon, now it will come between 5 and 7:30 p.m.,” said Michele Bruns, who lives in the letter streets off Cherry. “All the neighbors here have had the same problem,” said Bruns, who has lived at the same address for 23 years and in Port Townsend since 1973.

Bruns, a Leader subscriber, said Wednesday evening is too late to get the paper if she wants to attend events listed in the calendar for that day. Several other callers have noted late and skipped deliveries in recent months.

Bruns went to the post office to complain. What she learned was that the U.S. Postal Service’s contract to provide Amazon “last mile” delivery of packages seven days per week is upending long-established patterns and schedules at the post office.

The U.S. Postal Service, which receives no tax support, watched its income drop after Americans rapidly adopted email and other digital substitutes for stamped mail. About the same time, Amazon moved beyond its original business - books - into all areas of retail and needed the kind of direct-to-door delivery the post office provides. In 2013, Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service negotiated a contract for that service.

For a carrier like Justin Carver, the contract is a boon. “I like the (extra) hours, I like the money,” he said, though he acknowledges he is a newcomer, while some longtime postal workers are stressed out by the changes. They get called in on their days off and wrangle more weighty mail than before.

As Amazon customers embraced quick delivery, the postal service, which had been losing staff, had to juggle schedules to accommodate seven-day-per-week delivery.

Details of the contract are shielded by privacy terms, but some investment banks that track Amazon shares estimate the post office delivers more than 40% of Amazon packages. “Related to our agreement with USPS, we don’t disclose deal specifics,” Rena Lunak, Amazon’s senior PR manager/transportation wrote in an email response to questions. She did confirm the contract started in 2013.

Carver said increased package traffic does account for some of the later delivery patrons notice. His downtown route may not be fully delivered until 6 p.m. some nights now.

Many Amazon packages are delivered part of the way by United Parcel Service and other carriers, but then dropped at post offices for the final leg of the journey.

Port Townsend Postmaster Mary Jane Duff, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, said the changes have been rapid and difficult.

“Thank you for your patience really is all I can say,” Duff said. “We’re taking every effort and striving to provide more reliable on-time service for our customers.”

She said the local demand for Sunday delivery is spiralling upward. “I would say over the last year it has increased 100%. We used to look at about 500 on Sunday delivery and we’re up over 1,100 to 1,300.” At Christmas time, she said, they had a 2,000-package day.

Increased volume, for an organization that suffered major losses when mail traffic slowed, should be a good problem to have, she admits.

But, “It’s ever-changing and for me it’s difficult to manage. Change is the only thing you can count on and there’s constantly changes.”

Nationally, packages have become a larger and larger percent of all mail.

“To have 100 packages to deliver when you’re delivering mail, that used to be Christmas-time in the late ‘90s and now it’s a daily thing,” Duff said. “I think that the impact wasn’t quite expected when they took on the contract with Amazon.”

She said her team is doing the best it can. “The crew in this office is amazing. They literally do go above and beyond.”

Duff is in the final phase of adding eight new people, mainly to handle the rising load of Amazon packages.

One new hire is now on board, two are in training and the remaining five have been selected, but still must give notice at their old jobs and be trained. She expects to be at full staff by March, although the new staff are assistant-level and not career carriers yet.

At present, Duff said, her staff includes nine regular carriers and six “city carrier assistants” who substitute and help pick up the Amazon load. Duff also oversees six “highway” routes that are delivered by contractors. Eight clerks sort mail and handle walk-in customers.

Other short-term obstacles can delay mail, too, Duff said. The week of Jan. 13, for instance, three of her staff were out sick, which caused some delays.“I want to see my employees happy and healthy and not hurting themselves.”

Duff said it has been surprisingly hard to find applicants who can pass the required tests and that she finally found the people she needed by running a job fair and sending 13,000 direct mail flyers to every address in the area. The people who could pass the necessary tests and background checks and will take the assistant-level jobs are mostly retirement-age residents looking to supplement their income, she said.

Most of their work will be related to the Amazon contract, said Duff.

In addition to new hires, Duff said, she has also been allocated another delivery vehicle, which will allow her to put one person to work just running parcels all day.

Another problem she is working to solve: the package volume is up, and so is the nature of packages.

“They don’t want to go to the store,” she said of modern shoppers. “They want their 50-pound bag of dog food delivered to them.” Items of that nature, once unusual, now have to be accommodated routinely in a carrier’s load.

And while the post office restricts the size and weight of items it will deliver, some wrapped pallets dropped off for local delivery include surprises in the mix: a generator, large furniture, even a kitchen sink, she recalls.

“Typically what I hear is ‘UPS was supposed to deliver that,’” Duff said. “We end up calling the people or notifying them. We really do go above and beyond to see that people get their packages.”

Bruns said she isn’t inclined to criticize local postal staff for the changes in delivery to her home.

“To find out the post office has signed a contract so that postal workers are required to deliver Amazon’s mail seven days a week just infuriates me. I think they’re making slave labor out of these folks.”

“I’d like to get a message out,” Bruns said. “People, you have no idea of the consequences. This is not justice, it’s not fair, it’s greed and it’s filtering down to people who just want to get their mail.”

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