A new U.S. Postal Service office will open at its facility on Seventh Street on July 1. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

If your mail has been late in recent months Google is partly to blame, or Amazon, or Fresh Direct, or Instacart, or Ebay, or Dollar Shave Club, or Zappos or whoever you ordered from online instead of buying at a brick and mortar store.

Postal officials said the growth of e-commerce has dramatically increased the number of packages flowing through the Postal Service and at the same time, Santa Monica’s Post Office has experienced a staffing shortage due to wave of retirements.

“It’s a new world and mail volumes have changed drastically,” said Richard Maher in the Corporate Communications division of the U.S. Postal Service. “Our package volume has increased 30 percent because of e-commerce and we deliver packages seven days a week.

Maher said the 4.5 billion packages delivered last year are part of the problem, but an aging workforce is also a factor.

“A larger percentage of our employees are eligible for retirement and are retiring,” he said. “We can’t hire new workers fast enough.”

In addition to a bottleneck in the hiring process, Maher said postal work is harder than most people realize, particularly the physical nature of moving mail from point to point.

“Santa Monica, as well as many other offices, is understaffed and the Postal Service is diligently working on the challenge, constantly hiring and training new workers,” he said. “It is a physically demanding job and many new hires do not last, either not meeting USPS standards or resigning.”

The lack of boots on the ground has created notable delays in local delivery for some customers. Residents have taken to Facebook, called the Daily Press and commented at community meetings about their experiences.

Maher said the Post Office is keenly aware of the issue and is doing what it can to bring service up to the community’s standard.

The service disruptions have their roots in the mechanics of delivery. Each route should have its own permanent carrier who covers the area five days a week. Extra carriers are hired to cover the routes during the regular carriers weekends/days off.

However, due to the current staffing shortage some routes do not have an established, permanent carrier. Instead, those routes are divided up among carriers working overtime shifts.

As the overtime shifts begin after regular mail is delivered, arrival times on those routes are delayed. In addition, as any available overtime carrier can staff the routes there’s no institutional knowledge established regarding the individuals on the routes, contributing to delivery errors.

In Santa Monica the goal is 140 positions to cover 105 routes, two business collection routes and varying numbers of parcel routes or Amazon Fresh routes. Current staffing figures were not available but officials said one in five employees are currently new to the Postal Service.

“About 20 percent of current Santa Monica employees are recent hires, they are not as experienced and are going to make mistakes but we’re working to improve their performance,” he said.

Maher said “recent hires” equated to about six months or less of work experience.

“We’ve got this constant flow of new employees coming in, we are continuously hiring,” he said. “Los Angeles hires more people than any other Postal district in the state and it’s not unique to Santa Monica. We have a staffing issue and when we don’t have enough employees, when we don’t have a carrier on every route, we have no choice but to work overtime.

He said volunteers who want the extra hours cover most overtime shifts but during times of particularly high mail volume, such as the holidays or during an election year, overtime could be required.

 “We’re going to delivery the mail every day. What are our choices? Not deliver the mail or deliver it late in the day. We’re always going to choose to deliver the mail,” he said.

Between the staff churn and replacement carriers, Maher said mistakes do get made. He said the Post Office wants to hear about them in order to increase training and to weed out employees that can’t make the cut.

“Missed delivery is a human error,” he said. “We want the carriers to double check at the delivery point but if we get a missed delivery complaint, when we get enough information with an address and when it occurred, we take action on that.”

He said the Post Office needs details of the complaint so they can clearly document the situation and address the shortfalls with those responsible.

To report problems, contact the Santa Monica Post Office at (310) 319-5369 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday) or the Postal Service Customer Care 800-ASK-USPS (800-275-8777); or www.usps.com  (ZIP Codes, rates, general information, online mailing and shipping).


Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...