Resignation of Chicago postmaster sought after damning report

The Postal Service inspector general found delivery and customer service issues at four sites, including delayed mail, inaccurate reporting of mail conditions, improper scanning and unsecured delivery vehicles.

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Ald. Michelle Harris (from left), Ald. Derrick Curtis, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Ald. Pat Dowell, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. and Alsip Mayor John Ryan held a news conference at the Parkway Ballroom in the Bronzeville neighborhood Thursday, Feb. 18.

Ald. Michelle Harris (from left), Ald. Derrick Curtis, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Ald. Pat Dowell, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. and Alsip Mayor John Ryan held a news conference at the Parkway Ballroom in the Bronzeville neighborhood Thursday morning to demand that Chicago’s Postal Service management be overhauled.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Calls for the Chicago postmaster to resign or be fired are brewing after a report earlier this month from the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general found serious mismanagement at four South Side post offices.

“I was astonished, hurt, deeply saddened about what was in the report,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s an absolute, abject, total, undeniable failure.”

Slamming the “total breakdown in mail delivery,” Rush said he had concluded “we need a new management team,” starting by removing Postmaster Wanda Prater.

Rush said he’s tried working with Postal Service management in Chicago for well over a year to address the problems without any success and his office continues to field thousands of complaints about lack of mail services.

“I can only conclude and demand that Postmaster [Wanda] Prater resign immediately or that she be terminated immediately,” Rush said.

Postal Service spokesman Tim Norman wouldn’t comment on Prater’s future, but said Chicago postal managers are working to implement the inspector general’s recommendations.

At Rush’s request, the inspector general audited mail delivery and customer service issues last year at four South Side stations: Auburn Park, Henry McGee, Ashburn and James E. Worsham. Between them, the four have 188 city mail routes and employ 349 Postal Service carriers and clerks.

That audit documented delivery and customer service issues at all four sites, including delayed mail, inaccurate reporting of mail conditions, improper scanning and unsecured delivery vehicles.

Over 62,800 pieces of mail were considered delayed during the audit, conducted in September. Of those, 60,659 were flat mail, such as letters; the longest delay in that group was two days. There also were 2,207 packages, with the longest delay in that group being 19 days.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) joined Rush along with other members of the Chicago City Council Black Caucus to echo the demand for new leadership. She said her office has been “inundated daily with complaints” from constituents about not receiving mail.

“I myself have not had mail delivered in almost a week, when I do get mail delivered. I have stacks of it in a very small postal box which shows me that they have not been delivering,” Dowell said. “The post office is in disarray — plain and simple.”

The report acknowledged station managers faced challenges due to the pandemic and safety concerns but still could’ve done more.

One example was in the area of carrier assistants, fill-in workers summoned to cover routes for full-time carriers.

Between them, those stations had 61 carrier assistants; but 48 of those remained on employee rolls despite not reporting to work for at least four consecutive weeks.

When station managers allow inactive workers to stay on their rolls, the district can’t hire replacements. Delays could’ve been reduced if those positions had been filled, the report found.

“We need jobs in my community — there are unemployed people — so if you got a job, then do your job because you are already blessed,” Rush said. “For every one of these 48 people that didn’t show up for work, there are at least 400 people waiting in line.”

There has also been a push nationally to hold Postmaster General Louis Dejoy accountable for ongoing mail delays.

On Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin joined 32 other senators in working to “stop harmful changes” to the Postal Service that Dejoy has made during his tenure.

“We demand that you not make additional changes that will harm service for the American people,” Durbin said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth urged President Joe Biden replace the entire board of governors at the U.S. Postal Service. Also, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia held virtual meetings with both regional Postal Service officials and the National Association of Letter Carriers to discuss ongoing delays.

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