Newton is one of many cities around the country experiencing staffing shortages with the United States Postal Service — straining workers, causing disruptions in mail delivery, and leaving some residents wondering why their mailboxes are empty.
In an email, US Postal Service spokesperson Steve Doherty said the agency is “aggressively hiring” across the Northeast, but “like many other businesses right now, struggling due to low unemployment numbers and job competition.”
In April, Massachusetts recorded an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Due to the incredible flexibility of our workforce and their willingness to work where the mail is, temporary absences in one office can usually be filled by moving personnel from neighboring communities to carry that workload,” Doherty said in the e-mail.
Delays in mail delivery have been occurring at varying intervals around Newton over at least the past several months, as recently as June 11, some residents said in interviews.
“Monday, no mail. Tuesday, no mail … Wednesday, I went to the post office, and to my total and complete amazement and surprise, the door was open but there was no one working,” said Newton Centre resident Phyllis Schwartz, 82, describing an experience in late May.
Schwartz said she recalled an employee at the nearby mail sorting center telling her they were short of help and how her mail would arrive between Wednesday and Thursday that week. She said most of her backlogged mail did not arrive until Friday.
“Think of the people who are getting prescription drugs through the mail or people who are waiting for checks, or people who get bills that need to be paid right away if they don’t get it,” Schwartz said.
Others in the same complex where Schwartz lives said in interviews they recently had not received mail for multiple, consecutive days. Some also said they receive bills via the mail. “It’s not inconsequential,” said Newton Centre resident Cynthia Pill, 83.
“Many older people … they’re distressed that personal information and credit cards and so on can be hacked somehow if it’s online,” Pill said. “So, it is distressing when you don’t get your mail for three or four days in a row.”
The postal service hosted several job fairs in the region throughout May, placing an emphasis on hiring City Carrier Assistants — part-time alternates who often cover for full-time mail carriers when they’re sick or on vacation.
Flyers, cards, and a sign promoting open positions were on display at the Newton Centre post office last week.
The postal service can usually address temporary absences in an office by authorizing overtime for mail carriers and “while it’s not the norm or preferred practice,” utilizing supervisors or managers to deliver mail “when all other avenues have been exhausted,” Doherty said in an e-mail, adding they are currently implementing these strategies throughout Newton.
Doherty also described how the postal service has experienced pandemic-related “employee availability issues due to illness, close contact, caring for a loved one or child care issues.”
“These temporary employee availability issues can strain our ability to flex our workforce and have resulted in pockets of short-term delays in some delivery areas,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Some residents said they have a friendly relationship with their mail carrier, noticing delays and mix-ups when — due to illness, vacation or some other type of leave — their regular mail carriers do not deliver to them.
“This is an intermittent event,” said Newton Centre resident Ronald Levy, 83. “It basically depends on whether [our mail carrier] is on duty. If she’s on duty, we get good service. If she’s not, it’s terrible.”
In separate interviews, Schwartz and Pill said they’ve voiced their concerns to government officials — specifically US Representative Jake Auchincloss and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.
Newton spokesperson Ellen Ishkanian said in an e-mail the mayor’s office has received “one call recently” regarding delays.
Auchincloss spokesperson Matt Corridoni said in an e-mail they have received complaints from across the district.
In response, he wrote, Auchincloss’s office has stayed in communication with Boston Postmaster David Guiney, and the congressman has worked on reform measures for the agency on the Hill.
“We will continue to stay on top of this issue as working to improve the USPS is a priority for both the Congressman and our constituents,” Corridoni wrote.
Jesús Marrero Suárez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.