Every day postal trucks drop off about 4,000 packages at a US Postal Service station in central Tennessee, where they’re unloaded by a team of around six USPS employees. Each person grabs a box, rushes to the only scanning machine, runs the bar code, and then places it in the proper gurney for its route. The process takes about 10 seconds, and it can be repeated as many as 200 times in an hour.
“You’ll see all of us, management included, trying to get under the machine, scanning packages and then tossing them, trying to get through it,” said Amanda, a USPS clerk who works there. “I’m pretty sure every one of us has at least one repetitive-motion injury.”
Around one-third of the packages Amanda handles are shipped by Amazon. As the Seattle-based tech giant commands an ever greater share of the retail market, the number of packages handled by the USPS keeps increasing. But employees say Postal Service management hasn’t responded to the surge in heavy items by investing in staffing or infrastructure. Instead, its leadership has cut costs and resorted to what union leaders call “management by stress.”
“We absolutely don’t have proper staffing for the amount of packages we get,” said Amanda, who withheld her full name for fear of workplace repercussions. “Everyone in the office is overwhelmed by it, but the only way management’s going to respond is if you file an incident report. People are just so busy that they’ll say, ‘It’ll be fine tomorrow.’ It’s not.”
Amazon was able to make a deal to ship its packages through USPS at cut-rate prices, because the company preemptively sorts and labels packages by postal route. But transporting and distributing these packages still takes clerks like Amanda much longer than sorting letters, which can be fed through a machine. If the clerks are delayed, the station’s carriers will be delayed in starting routes, which are already longer than ever thanks to the packages filling up their satchels and trucks. Many won’t deliver their final box until well after the sun has set.
“If there’s a lot of Amazon, it just gums up the works,” Amanda said. “Things get backed up by two, three hours.”
For decades Republicans have painted the USPS as a prime example of government inefficiency. Just last year Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California, one of the its most vicious critics, implied that the agency could be nearing its end.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the third quarter, and you’re down by 25 points, and if Tom Brady doesn’t come in, you’re bankrupt,” he said, referring to the quarterback of the New England Patriots known for his comeback victories and alleged support of President Donald Trump.