Now is not the time to run out of stamps. On Friday, I stood in line at the Charles A. Hayes post office on the South Side for over a half hour waiting for service.
I was already disgusted since we hadn’t gotten any mail for three days.
After 20 minutes, I could feel the tensions as a dozen or so people waited and waited and waited. Most suffered in silence. Several gave up and left, shaking their heads.
The truly ticked-off complained out loud about missing packages, no mail deliveries and empty P.O. boxes.
“This is ridiculous,” a woman ahead of me fumed. “I just want to buy a book of stamps.”
Angry South Side residents complained about these problems last year, at the height of the pandemic, some saying they hadn’t had mail delivered for weeks.
“Right now, we are in a transition when it comes to delivery issues,” says Mack Julion, a union representative for the National Association of Letter Carriers and an executive board member of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I have gone to our downtown location and just walked out.
“They don’t have enough people on the window. With things being the way they are, people shouldn’t have to go to the post office to pick up mail. But this is a great institution, particularly here in Chicago, where it has been an almost equal opportunity” employer.
The United States Postal Service says it’s one of the “leading employers of minorities and women. Minorities comprise 39% and women 40% of the workforce, 21% of employees are African-American; 8% are Hispanic; 8% are Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and 0.67% are American Indian or Alaska Native.”
The move to reopen Chicago as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, to try to get back to everyday life, is a good thing. But, in some communities, normal is not going to be good enough.
I’d say going back to normal will be the deathknell for some poorly run businesses, and the Postal Service could end up one of them. That would be a disaster.
As much fault as we find with the post office’s operations, its demise could make it even more challenging for Black and Brown communities to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
In fact, working at the post office helped a lot of families climb out of poverty.
Some of the post office’s staffing problems — mainly when it comes to clerks — existed before COVID, which only worsened those shortages.
And as was the case with other professions that employ many women, the post office had to deal with COVID-related situations affecting mothers.
“When these kids are not in school, the federal government has provided ample leave for them to be home with their kids,” Julion says.
“There are some retail stations that are better than others, particularly in Black and Brown communities,” he says. “I guess we are supposed to be more patient.”
So here is where the community could make a difference — if you’ve got the right stuff. The Postal Service is hiring.
“This is an opportunity for those who want to work for the post office because they are hiring up to 500 city letter carriers, and these are jobs that can change lives,” Julion says.
The union representative tells potential employees these jobs could help them become homeowners and be able to afford that new automobile.
“These are good union jobs,” he says.
Prospective mail carriers will have to pass drug tests and background checks and have a clean driving record for at least two years.
“The post office has been posting jobs like mad,” Julion says. “With people retiring, there is going to be a constant flow of jobs.”
Information about what’s available and how to apply can be found online at https://about.usps.com/careers/ — the Postal Service’s jobs page.
My local post office certainly could do better. But so can we.
Opportunity is knocking.