“The Postal Service, in many areas, is short-staffed, and when we’re short-staffed, the people of the country are not getting the service that they deserve and are promised under the law,” Dimondstein said. “The lines are too long in many retail units, the mail isn’t coming through enough. Things are often delayed and too slow.”
APWU Local 140 President Dena Briscoe said a banner over the Curseen-Morris Mail Processing and Distribution Center in Northeast Washington, D.C., states USPS is looking for new hires – but local management is having trouble getting them to stay.
“People come in to work, and then they’re pushed to the limit, where they don’t stay,” Briscoe said. “The turnaround rate here is very high. So why would you hire someone, train them for the job and then disrespect them or treat them inhumanely?”
The USPS inspector general’s office in a recent report found the agency’s turnover rate went from 38.5% in fiscal year 2019 to nearly 59% in FY 2022 — well above its 32.5% target for non-career turnover.
Put another way, USPS OIG found the agency had a 47.8% retention rate for non-career employees in FY 2022 — down from 48% the year prior. Both years fall short of USPS’s 50.5% retention goal.
According to USPS exit surveys, about 20% of non-career staff who left the agency did so because of a lack of schedule flexibility. Another 15% said they didn’t like their supervisor, and 14% said they worked too many hours.
The USPS IG’s office also found more than 25,000 instances where non-career employees worked 14 or more consecutive days without a day off between fiscal 2021 and 2022.
USPS OIG found one case where a postal support employee (PSE) worked 84 consecutive days.
Non-career employees make up about 18% of the 633,000 total employees working for USPS. Non-career employees don’t receive the same benefits as career employees, and aren’t guaranteed a regular schedule.
In a competitive labor market, Dimondstein said USPS employees — especially non-career employees — are leaving the agency for similar-paying jobs with better hours and conditions.
“If you have those kinds of opportunities — maybe you don’t have to work nights, maybe you don’t have to work weekends. And maybe you got a job that treats you with more respect,” he said. “When people come in, they’re facing a less-than-respectful work environment, and people aren’t staying. And so then that has this vicious cycle where then the customers are suffering because there’s not enough workers to carry out the job.”
USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said in a statement that the “position being presented here by the leadership of the APWU is absent of anything based in reality.”
“The facts are that over the past two years, we have worked diligently with our union and management associations to address our shared goals of employee recruitment and retention, workplace safety, and career training and advancement,” Partenheimer said.
“We have focused steadily on stabilizing our workforce resulting in employee availability and overtime requirements being at the most favorable levels in many years,” Partenheimer said.
USPS has converted 125,000 non-career employees to full-time career positions since October 2020. About 50,000 of those conversations happened between April 2022 and March 2023.
“We have already reversed years of declining service reliability and now 98% of the nation’s population receives their mail and packages in less than three days, and we are working hard to correct service-related issues in the other limited areas,” Partenheimer said.
Dimondstein said converting USPS employees to full-time career positions is a step in the right direction, but getting non-career employees to work long enough to make it to career positions remains a challenge.
“We’ve done very well to give people the opportunity to get career conversions, but it takes time. And again, if you’re treated with less than respect, why stay?” he said.
Dimonstein said the reaction from USPS management to the APWU’s workforce concerns has been “mixed,” and that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has recognized USPS workforce challenges.
“There was some real effort when the [postmaster general] first came in, and a real recognition that we were very short-staffed in the mail processing side — and management did [too],” Dimondstein said.
Dimondstein said mail processing staffing has improved in recent years, but said retail and delivery operations remain understaffed.
Briscoe said USPS retail employees, already stretched to capacity by understaffing, are also hearing from frustrated customers.
“We work on trying to increase the staffing, and management continues to say they need less workers. Yet the people that do come to work, they’re the ones who take the brunt of it, and are told to work harder, work more hours, and work faster,” Briscoe said. “We love the post office, we love our jobs, and we love serving the public. But that makes it harder.”
Dimondstein said some post offices are only staffed by one employee, and have to limit hours or close early when that employee is on vacation, sick or otherwise unable to work.
“That’s outrageous. They need enough relief staff, where if that person can’t be at work that day, there’s somebody else to keep that post office open for the customers. That has to be fixed. And the post office, as of yet, has not heard that message enough or acted on that issue enough,” he said.
Dimonstein said new hires aren’t getting the training they need to feel comfortable in the job, and that supervisors aren’t getting the training to effectively manage their teams.
“People just can’t be thrown into these jobs. And if it’s not being done right, then they’re getting hassled. But if they don’t have the support to do it right, they’re just going to throw up their hands and leave.”
Briscoe said both frontline employees and new supervisors are feeling less comfortable in their jobs because of cuts in training. She added that frontline USPS employees are being selected to serve in acting supervisor positions — but are getting minimal training, compared to full-time supervisors.
“We’re asking, why don’t you give them the same training? Because they need that knowledge. You can’t pull somebody from working beside, to lead me, and then they don’t know how to treat me or they don’t know what to do. It’s frustrating for them too, but now they’re taking it out on me as a worker. So that’s really a toxic environment,” she said.