DETROIT, Mich. — Thousands of packages are stacked up inside a metro Detroit mail distribution center as a perfect storm of the pandemic, holiday mail volume, and what some call poor planning, which could spoil the holidays.
Those mail delays are also costing local business owners dearly.
A beautiful ad celebrating the hardworking men and women of the US Postal Service is airing on TV these days, as a singer croons, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.” But for small business owners like Alicia Christensen, the post office has hit a low note.
“I’m not counting on them, because I had to shut my shop down. I can’t rely on the flowers to get there before Christmas,” said Christensen.
Christensen makes hand-painted aluminum wreaths and wall art shaped like flowers. In January, this artist from Wixom opened her “Bendable Blooms” shop on the website ‘Etsy.’ But the wreaths she mailed to customers on Nov. 29 got stuck “in transit” at the USPS Detroit Network Distribution Center (NDC) in Allen Park.
“My Etsy shoppers are starting to contact me, wanting either their money back or wanting to know where these are at,” said Christensen.
Christensen was forced to choose between losing about $800 by refunding customers, or getting bad reviews which can have a long-term impact on her business. So she temporarily halted her online sales, sent refunds, all the while anxiously watches for shipping updates of the packages stuck at Allen Park.
And she’s not the only one wondering why her packages haven’t moved out of Michigan.
Today the 7 Investigators counted at least 50 tractor-trailers waiting to get on to the Allen Park USPS property, not to mention the dozens of trailers stacked with packages already inside.
“It has mail from wall to wall,” said American Postal Workers Union Detroit Local 295 President Keith Combs. “This is something that I have never seen in my 30 years of being a postal employee.”
Combs represents Detroit-area postal drivers, clerks, and maintenance workers. Combs says the USPS restructuring ordered by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy added to the backlog caused by the pandemic and normal holiday mail volume increases. Combs says some of that restructuring means employees based in metro Detroit now report to managers out of state.
“They should have started hiring these seasonal people much earlier than they did, I would say back in May, June or July-- getting prepared to bring those new people on. The tractor-trailer guys that I represent would have needed to have more trailers, even if they needed to be purchased or rented. So you can have a place to have this mail staged to be able to move smoothly from point A to point B,” Combs told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. “I don’t think that happened. And there needed to be some thought process on how the mail flow was going to operate inside the building so that the safety of the employees was addressed and you didn’t have so much mail that there was not even walking room in some of these plants.”
Combs says letters are also piled up at the USPS facility on W. Fort Street in Detroit. He says he and other union leaders reached out to management last May to prepare for the holiday “peak” as postal workers call it. Combs said their requests fell on deaf ears.
“Postal employees are so diligent in what they do and feel like they need to do a great job all the time, as they do. I’m getting calls from my members and employees saying this is a problem, we need to be better. And again, they’re doing such a great job with trying to get this mail delivered. But it’s the people who are appointed over them that are not doing a great job in making sure that’s happening,” said Combs.
Combs says letters are also piled up at the USPS facility on West Fort Street in Detroit.
USPS spokeswoman Elizabeth Najduch sent us a statement about the delays in Allen Park:
“The 640,000 employees of the U.S Postal Service across the nation are proud to provide an essential service to our customers during the pandemic and to meet unprecedented challenges of this extraordinary year.
The Detroit NDC has faced challenges recently due to COVID-19 at the same time mail volumes have dramatically increased. We have taken steps to address issues caused by the pandemic as we approach our busiest weeks, including hiring seasonal employees and allocating employees to facilities that need additional resources.
There has already been progressing at the Detroit NDC, and we are confident that our processing and delivery will return to normal levels quickly.
As we do each year, the Postal Service reminds customers to send mail and packages early to avoid glitches. For additional holiday information and resources, including mailing deadlines and packaging tips, check out the USPS holiday newsroom.
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.”
On Friday, Sen. Gary Peters released an oversight update of the USPS, that “confirmed previous findings that Postal Service leaders failed to consider the impacts of their changes and that on-time first-class mail delivery plummeted in the weeks after Mr. DeJoy assumed leadership. USPS leaders did not complete any study or analysis of the impact the changes would make on mail service prior to implementation, nor did they seek stakeholder input or public hearings,” according to a press release.
Meanwhile, Alicia Christensen just hopes her “Bendable Blooms” customers will return to her after the mail delays are resolved.
“We’ve got to stay positive and there’s always hope. There’s always 2021,” said Christensen.
Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence responded to the investigation with the below statements:
Is the Congresswoman looking into this?
Yes. Earlier this month, I sent a letter to the United States Postal Service Inspector General requesting an investigation into the origins of the mail delays. In the weeks leading up to the election, data provided by the Postal Service indicated a drop in on-time mail delivery, a trend that has continued in recent weeks.
Are you aware things have gotten so bad again?
Yes, I am aware that the delays have gotten worse. Historically, the holiday season is the busiest time for mail delivery for the Postal Service. The combination of enormous mail volume and thousands of USPS employees quarantining due to COVID-19 has further strained a Postal Service that is already struggling to keep up with demand.
What can be done?
Last Friday, I spoke to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to express my concerns with the ongoing mail delivery delays across the country. Although you specifically mentioned a backlog in Allen Park, USPS facilities across the country are experiencing similar delays as workers seek to work through the backlog as quickly as possible. Please know that I will follow up with the Postmaster General to ensure the concerns are properly addressed.
In addition, please find attached our letter to the USPS IG and a statement in response to USPS delays in general.
"Following a 30-year career in the United States Postal Service, and upon my election to the U.S. House of Representatives, I have continued to serve as a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the lone committee in the House with jurisdiction over the Postal Service. In the weeks leading up to the November 2020 election, data provided by the Postal Service indicated a noticeable drop in on-time mail delivery as millions of Americans used the agency to vote-by-mail. To understand these delays, I sent a letter to the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service to request an investigation into the origins of the delays, and more importantly, what needs to be done to reverse these trends. Unfortunately, during the Holiday season—the Postal Service’s busiest time of the year—the combination of record mail volume and surges in COVID-19 cases have further hampered the agency’s ability to promptly deliver mail. In fact, as UPS and FedEx prioritize the distribution of vaccines, the Postal Service has taken on much of their package volume, adding more stress to an already overwhelmed system. Last week, it was reported that thousands of Postal Service employees were quarantined due to the pandemic, creating employee availability shortages across the country.
For the duration of the pandemic, Postal Service employees have reported working each and every day to ensure mail delivery continued as states across the country enacted stay-at-home orders. As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, I am fighting to ensure these heroic Americans are classified as essential workers, therefore enabling them to be among the earlier recipients of the vaccine. Last Friday, I spoke with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy regarding the ongoing delays associated with mail delivery and stressed the need to rectify the situation as millions of Americans continue to rely on the Postal Service. Let me be clear—the more than 600,000 Postal Service employees nationwide are among the most dedicated public servants in our government workforce, and I have no doubt that they are doing everything in their power to move the mail as quickly and safely as possible. This country owes them a debt of gratitude for their commitment, dedication, and perseverance over the last 10 months. I will continue to use my voice as a member of Congress, and as the only representative to have served an entire career in the Postal Service before being elected, to ensure the Postal Service is able to fulfill its mission to promptly deliver mail nationwide."
This story was first reported by Heather Catallo at WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan.