Lashann Walker spent more than an hour Tuesday morning picking up her mail at her local post office in Auburn Gresham.
She had to. It hadn’t been delivered to her home for three weeks.
“I’ve been expecting a lot of mail that just hasn’t come in yet,” Walker said outside the Auburn Park branch post office, 8345 S. Ashland Ave.
The post office “didn’t inform me that they were running behind and if they did, I would’ve been here a long time ago,” Walker added. “Even now when I picked up my mail they still didn’t tell me when I will get some more mail. Like, will I have to come back up here every day?”
It’s not exactly clear what is causing home delivery delays in the South Side neighborhood; Walker was among half a dozen residents interviewed by the Sun-Times who told similar stories.
The problems have gotten the attention of the local congressman, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who said his office has been bombarded with complaints.
“A two-week mail delay might not seem like a big deal to Chicago’s USPS leadership, but such a delay in vital services can mean delayed medications for our sick and elderly, or the delayed payment of bills accompanied by undeserved late fees,” Rush said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Despite USPS’s attempts to blame the current pandemic for their own incompetence, delayed deliveries are a recurrent problem ... specifically as it relates to the South Side.”
Postal Service spokesman Tim Norman said mail was being delivered in Auburn Gresham Tuesday; told of residents’ complaints, he recommended calling the Postal Service’s consumer affairs hotline at (312) 983-8403.
“The Chicago District has a dedicated workforce that services nearly 1.3 million delivery points daily,” Norman said. “We gladly work to address any specific issue reported from the community.”
Walker said postal workers told her delivery delays might be the result of coronavirus forcing postal workers to call in sick, but “we were getting our mail every day — and sometimes early — all through the pandemic, so that’s why I don’t understand why it is happening now.”
Norman didn’t say whether the Auburn Park branch was affected by employees missing work due to the pandemic, though the agency is “flexing our available resources to match the workload created by the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus.”
Monday was the first day in two weeks that Anquita Ward, 35, received mail at home. Ward went to the post office anyway, because she was still waiting on a package that should’ve been delivered already.
Workers inside Tuesday morning told her “they are short-staffed and they have mail that has been bagged up since [July 9] and when they get to it, they’ll let us know,” Ward said.
“They won’t even go back there and pull people’s packages and they also told us there is medicine that is in there that hasn’t been delivered.”
Last week, the Associated Press reported mail deliveries could be delayed by a day or more under cost-cutting efforts being imposed by the new postmaster general. The plan eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and says employees must adopt a “different mindset” to ensure the Postal Service’s survival during the coronavirus pandemic.
If postal distribution centers run late, “they will keep the mail for the next day,’’ Postal Service leaders said in a document obtained by The Associated Press. The changes come a month after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump, took over the mail service.
Ward said there’s been tension between postal workers and customers. As Ward was speaking with the Sun-Times, one of those workers stepped in to say a few words.
“No it’s not mail. These people are waiting for f---ing packages that they can’t go to the store and get,” the postal worker said. “So if you can’t buy your cheap-ass sh-- at the store, wait for us to bring it to your house.”
The postal worker didn’t give her name but said carriers have gotten “robbed and jumped” recently and the Auburn Park Branch was short two-thirds of its staff. Most concerning, she said, was the number of people ignoring social distancing and refusing to wear masks.
“When I get COVID, that’s one more employee down, when I give it to them ladies up there that’s three more employees down,” the postal worker said before storming back into the building.
The National Association of Letter Carriers union did not respond to questions from the Sun-Times.
Ward understood the postal worker’s concerns about COVID-19, but wasn’t happy with how workers described the packages people are waiting on.
“Whether a person’s mail is cheap or not, it’s still theirs. ... I just don’t like how they are talking to people,” Ward said. “This is what we always deal with” at this branch.
Rush said similar issues two years ago led to a series of meetings with Postal Service. “Promises were made, but none of them were kept,” Rush said, so he’s “finished with listening to USPS’s excuses.”
Contributing: Associated Press
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.