Bozeman Daily Chronicle: USPS staffing woes continue as Daines and Tester seek action

by Laurenz Busch

The United States Postal Service in Gallatin County has yet again received the attention of Montana’s Senators, as low staffing persists, and residents continue to report issues with their mail.

Last week, senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines issued letters to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to voice their concerns and seek solutions.

“As the Bozeman Post Office continues to face severe staffing shortages, too many Montanans are experiencing interruptions in service and it’s unacceptable,” wrote Sen. Daines, who asked that DeJoy provide a list of solutions the USPS has implemented. “I urge you to work with the Board of Governors and the broader Postal workforce to develop innovative long-term solutions to this problem.”

Resident reports have included delays, incorrect return-to-senders, missing mail, and mail delivered to the wrong address. Much of the criticism has honed in on staffing issues and inadequate wages.

In one instance, Lauren Hill was waiting on a check that — according to her — was returned to the sender and marked undeliverable. Recently, she said that her mailbox was labeled as vacant and a request for current inhabitants was left for her to fill out, despite having lived at the address for three years.

Other residents have similar stories. Brenna Kelleher sent her taxes and HOA fees last spring and said they never arrived. Jim Dolan has had good service at his home but not at his office in Four Corners. He said issues have persisted for two years including receiving other people’s mail from other states and having his mail labeled undeliverable. Michelle FitzGerald said she “stopped using the mail to pay bills” because of its unreliability. She recently received someone else’s title that was sent via certified mail.

Current employees of the local USPS could not be reached for comment or did not want to go on record.

Not everyone is experiencing issues — many people continue to receive good service and have voiced support for the postal workers delivering mail each day.

“The people that work at the post office are doing their best,” Hill said. “I did have to wait for about an hour… at the Baxter post office, but they were so courteous and kind and helpful.”

However, as a vital function of government that is legally obligated to deliver — and for some agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the main form of communication — residents are frustrated.

Joel Gunderson, a customer relations coordinator with the USPS, acknowledged their current staffing shortages but confirmed that they are actively hiring. He also stated that according to an inquiry with the USPS, the county is up to date on deliveries.

“The Postal Service is not immune from the current staffing and hiring challenges encountered by nearly every industry, and that includes the Gallatin-area Postal Facilities,” Gunderson said in an email.“However, hiring, and staffing issues remain. The need is especially urgent in most areas for mail handlers, clerks, and mail carriers.”

The USPS is not the only business impacted by staffing shortages, as numerous others across the county face similar problems.

One solution that the USPS has resorted to is bringing in postal workers from neighboring counties and states, Gunderson said.

Still, for Tester and Daines, more needs to be done as their calls for change continue into their second year, having issued similar letters in 2022.

“While I appreciate USPS’s efforts to bring in short-term help and deploy additional resources to the community,” Tester wrote. “I am alarmed that little has been done to address the underlying lack of resources that make it impossible to hire and retain adequate staff in Montana communities with high costs of living.”