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Postal service audit exposes Kansas City mail problems

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The mail arrives late at night or it’s dumped on your porch, instead of in your mail slot just inches away. 

Or worse yet, your mail doesn’t arrive at all.

It’s the sad state of mail delivery across the nation, and particularly in Kansas City.

Mail delivery has become so erratic that Congress ordered an investigation and audit by the inspector general for the United States Postal Service. 

But many of those who work for the postal service say that yet another audit isn’t necessary. 

“There have been times when people would come in, work for an hour and leave,” said Toni Robinson, who has been a postal employee since 1985 and is now head of the local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.

FOX4 spoke with several postal employees who say the root of the problem is obvious: Poor management and inadequate staff retention.

Robinson blamed long hours and bad management for causing nearly 60 percent of new employees to quit within the first year. 

Those claims are backed up by the findings in the inspector general’s audit, which investigated working conditions at postal stations in multiple cities across the country. 

It found more than 162,000 instances where new employees – called non-career employees – worked more than 60 hours a week.

One letter carrier worked 114 hours in a single week.

“Our contract says you do not work more than 20 hours a week overtime,” Robinson said. “That’s our limit.”

Robinson said managers at a post office in Kansas City’s Northland were the most flagrant in abusing the overtime rules for employees.

“I found out they were working – every time I said it to the postmaster it didn’t make sense to me – they were working like 79 hours a week,” Robinson said.

“One young lady said to me, ‘I have a 45-minute drive home.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’”

The working conditions are so onerous at some post offices that customers are seeing postal employees make unusual mistakes, like the one Paula Kingman discovered at her Northland apartment complex.

The letter carrier forgot to close the doors to the apartment’s mail cluster box after depositing everyone’s mail inside.

“Wide open, both doors,” said Kingman.

Paula Kingman, a Northland resident, says her mailbox was left wide open after the letter carrier delivered her mail. She said it’s a security concern.

The vast majority of overworked postal employees are new employees, Robinson said. 

Veteran postal employees, also known as career employees, have more union protections and have more control over their hours and days off, plus they get a cost of living increase each year and a pension.

But new employees don’t get any of that. 

One former Kansas City letter carrier told FOX4 that she regularly worked a 16-17 hour day and would often work two weeks straight with no days off. 

She quit after four months.

According to a federal audit of multiple postal operations across the United States, 17 percent of the non-career employees interviewed said they worked more than 12 days in a row.

One carrier worked 35 days without having a single day off.

“You can’t keep people if you don’t treat them right, don’t train them right,” said Mark Diamondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

The USPS promised in a letter to Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver’s office that it is making changes to improve the lives of postal employees.  

Its started allowing some post offices to hire people as career employees, instead of making them work two years before becoming eligible for a career-employee position.

The USPS is also expanding vehicle insurance coverage to newly hired rural carriers who have to use their own cars to deliver the mail.

“It certainly gives people some hope, but it’s not enough and we need to do better,” said Diamondstein.

One career postal carrier in Kansas City said the post office needs to improve its job application process. 

He said it’s difficult finding jobs on the website. He also said the website can only be accessed by computer. 

He said he believes more young people might apply if  there was a mobile app that could be accessed by phone.

Customers like Colleen Green said what she really wants is a return to the good old days when she maintained a relationship with the carrier delivering her mail and could always count on it to arrive.
“He would walk up on the porch and hand us the mail. I mean, we’d buy him boxes of chocolates for Christmas,” Green said.