Historic USPS backlog threatens on-time delivery of millions of holiday packages

With fewer than 10 days until Christmas, unprecedented online shopping amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is fueling a historic package-delivery gridlock that threatens to overwhelm the U.S. Postal Service.

According to The Washington Post, private express carriers FedEx and UPS have halted new deliveries for some retailers, diverting huge quantities of packages ordered past deadlines to the USPS. In addition, postal employees are putting in extraordinary overtime hours, further depleting morale as the pandemic rages nationwide.

“We’re really gridlocked all over the place. I’ve never seen it like this before,” a USPS transportation manager in Ohio told the Post.

“UPS and FedEx have shut us off. Nobody can keep up right now, but we don’t have the luxury of turning people down,” the manager added.

Meanwhile, a Detroit letter carrier told the Post that colleagues across the city were scheduled for two eight-hour routes each day last week to counter backlogged deliveries and staffing shortages.

According to public payroll data, nearly one of every five work hours within the agency during he first two weeks of December was an overtime hour, the Post reported.

“We thank our customers for their continued support, and we are committed to making sure gifts and cards are delivered on time to celebrate the holidays,” USPS Chief Retail and Delivery Officer Kristin Seaver said in a news release issued Monday. “We continue to flex our network including making sure the right equipment is available to sort, process and deliver a historic volume of mail and packages this holiday season.”

According to research compiled by Adobe Analytics, online retail sales for November and December are expected to increase 33% to $189 billion, compared with the same two-month period in 2019, the Post reported.

In turn, the USPS encouraged customers to shop early and allow ample time for packages to arrive; hired more than 50,000 seasonal workers; added transportation and packaging tracking; and expanded Sunday deliveries in cities with unusually high volumes, the agency stated in a news release.

Meanwhile, WTHR in Indianapolis spoke with two supervisors at area post offices on Wednesday who offered firsthand accounts of local gridlock contributing to the broader USPS backlog.

“All priority mail is now running one-to-two weeks behind, but the post office won’t admit that. They won’t tell anybody anything. … And this isn’t just here in Indiana. It’s the entire country,” one of the supervisors told the TV station.

In turn, maintaining proper tracking information has become a serious problem.

“They’re so overwhelmed, they’re just throwing [packages] in the trucks without scanning them. It’s a big mess,” the supervisor told WTHR.

Meanwhile, a different post office supervisor told the TV station that staffing shortages fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic are crippling the agency during its busiest season of the year, and the harried employees who are carrying the burden are discouraged from volunteering any information about the severity of the current shipping backlog when asked by customers about delays.

“If they ask, we tell them shipping times might be longer than usual. But if they don’t ask, we’re not supposed to offer up that information,” the supervisor told WTHR.

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