Updated August 1
One day after a postal spokesman told The Times that jobs were being advertised to help with the Vineyard’s shoddy postal service, a new online application system is standing in the way.
Until August 14 no new job applications will be taken anywhere in the nation, Northeast Postal spokesman Steve Doherty told The Times Thursday. This will not hamper applications already underway, he noted. The new application process will be streamlined from what “used to be a cumbersome system,” he said. Applicants will no longer need to take a proctored exam, and can use tablets and mobile phones to apply, he said.
For the Edgartown Post Office, Oak Bluffs Post Office, and Vineyard Haven Post Office, which are all below optimal staffing levels in the thick of the season, the federal process is a blow.
Postal spokesperson Maureen Marion told The Times Wednesday staff resources had been deployed from the Cape to aid Vineyard Post Offices. Edgartown in particular received staffing help from off-Island.
“We need their help to try to get us back on good footing,” she said.
Marion said it was her understanding the Edgartown Post Office is now current with its packages. On Friday regional US Postal director Michael Rakes visited the Edgartown Post Office to assess the situation, Marion said. And on Sunday the Oak Bluffs Post Office opened for package collection in order to stem its tide of parcels, she said.
Sunday openings are “not common but it does happen,” she said, noting Post Offices will sometimes open on Sundays around the holidays. In addition to the summer influx of mail, Marion attributed the package backups to a sea change in the mail. Previously, letters greatly outnumbered packages in the mail stream, now the opposite is true, she said, and this takes up much more space in a post office.
“Every effort is being made to keep the offices current by flexing personnel and other resources as needed,” Doherty wrote in an email Wednesday.
Problems with the Island postal system are legendary and have even reached the U.S. Capitol building.
“Over the years, our office has regularly been in contact with the Postal Service, including Congressman Keating speaking directly to the postmaster in Edgartown, regarding mail issues on the Island,” Lauren Amendolara McDermott, communications director for Rep. William Keating, wrote in an email. “We are sympathetic to the unique challenges that face Post Offices on Martha’s Vineyard; however, there is a demand that hasn’t been met and the Postal Service has assured us they are repositioning resources to support the Island.”
Meanwhile, the gripes of Islanders continue to roll in:
“Last month I had a check that needed to be deposited on a Monday and was mailed from [Connecticut] the previous Friday,” Fred Roven emailed. “The envelope was scanned in V.H/ Monday AM, and tracking showed it arrived in Edgartown midday. I went to P.O. Monday and it was not there. Checked tracking and went back. I was told it probably was there and they were 3 days behind in sorting and Priority not a special priority. Finally, on Wednesday, I insisted, and lo and behold, [it was] found in a bin.”
“Our mail address is Edgartown,” Woody Forns wrote. “However, the mail is delivered to our mailbox by a carrier from Vineyard Haven Post Office. I got a notice of a certified letter with a notice to pick it up at the Edgartown P.O. We received the notice last Wednesday (7/18). I went to the P.O. on Monday and was told that they couldn’t find the letter because they hadn’t sorted the mail from the 18th yet, and to come back today (7/25). Upon going to the Edgartown P.O. today, they can’t find the certified letter. They ‘think’ it might still be in Vineyard Haven — this after a week! Doesn’t seem that Vineyard Haven is any better than Edgartown. They are both totally inept. How do you not know where a certified letter is with tracking numbers, scanning, etc?”
It’s no better on Katama.
“Our address was a Rural Route number,” Carolyn O’Daly emailed. “A while back the Edgartown P.O. ceded us to the Vineyard Haven P.O. They informed us we were to use our street address. This was fine, except some bills and notifications that come only once a year were not getting through because apparently no one in Vineyard Haven knew what our Rural Route address had been. We have a house in [Pennsylvania] that went uninsured for some time because we never got the bill or subsequent notifications. Yes … this was partially our fault, but if the house had burned down … I also get packages from Amazon Prime, which seems to have some sort of deal with the P.O. to deliver packages for them. My packages cannot be delivered to my home because I have a Rural Route mailbox, so my packages are dragged around by the postman, then dropped off at the Edgartown P.O. for me to pick up. This is inconvenient and just plain wrong. Is Vineyard Haven delivering my mail or not? I understand that there is a shortage of staff, but darn it, shouldn’t take a week to get a package that is supposed to arrive in two days. (I always give them an extra day because … Island time!)”
“I had ordered a gift for my son-in-law’s birthday this past weekend,” Beth Swartz emailed. “We found out that the item was received on the Island last Wednesday, July 18th. On Friday, we went to the Edgartown P.O., to be told that the item had arrived on the island and that UPS, not the USPS, would deliver it today, July 25th. Yesterday I received a text message that the item had been delivered to my P.O. Box in Edgartown. I can’t wait to see if the item is actually at the P.O. when I get back to the island tomorrow.”
“I am a summer resident of Oak Bluffs for 12 years and now moved to West Tisbury,” Leslie Teso-Lichtman emailed. “We also spend winter holidays here. My mail is forwarded every summer from Harvard, Mass., and the process was smooth for 12 summers in Oak Bluffs, which uses a Vineyard Haven 02568 mailing address, Lagoon Rd. office delivers. This summer, I used the same process. My West Tisbury home also uses an 02568 mailing address, and same Lagoon Rd. branch. My forwarding started on June 28. I received no mail for several weeks. I called the branch in V.H., and no one ever picks up the phone. My husband went to the branch and stood in line, to be told everything was in order. On July 16, I finally reached Rich at the branch, who said there was a new mail carrier and he likely did not know I existed and would call me back. I never received a call back, and put a note on the mailbox area to the carrier with a copy of my forwarding order form, asking him to please deliver my mail. On July 17 I received my first batch of mail with Harvard forward stamps of June 28 and into July. I have copies of all of the mail to prove the delay. My mail was sitting in Vineyard Haven for weeks. Just when I thought we were back on track, I was informed yesterday my consulting paycheck was returned to my employer, saying I did not reside here. I have asked them to re-send. I am not optimistic. Why does it have to be so hard?”
“A couple of weeks ago I received a notice that I had a package waiting,” Dick Johnson emailed. “Over the next two weeks I went three times to try to pick it up; every time there was a line of 20 or 30 people, and only one person behind the desk. In previous years there were usually two people, and often three, people working, and the lines were much shorter. I finally bit the bullet, and waited 45 minutes to get the package.”
An Island thing? Nantucket not immune
Doherty said previously Islands pose logistical and staffing challenges to USPS. With that in mind, The Times reached out to two Nantucket institutions to see how they appraised their mail service.
Michelle Soverino, director of development at the Egan Marine Institute, did not paint a nice picture of the Gray Lady’s postal service.
“We chose First Class Mail to get first-class service,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if they just throw it in bulk.”
Soverino described mail as often moving at a sluggish pace. She said among other issues, the institute has endured invitations not arriving at recipients’ addresses until after an event has occurred. In one instance, she said, it took two months for an annual fund gift to arrive.
“It’s a bit frustrating for us,” she said. “As a nonprofit, postage is a big expense for us.”
A few months ago, a small package arrived at the institute for somebody who had moved back to the Midwest, she said. It was postmarked more than a year earlier, and “had a boot mark on it and was moldy,” she said.
Soverino said she nevertheless respected her local postal workers.
Bridgette Hynes, director of marketing for the Nantucket Historical Association, said her association hasn’t encountered much mail trouble. However, the association mails newsletters, appeals, invitations, and postcards — 3,000 to 5,000 at time — from a “mail house” in Brockton near a U.S. Mail processing center, and not from Nantucket.
“It could be that that’s a factor that’s largely in our favor,” she said.
Updated to include more details about what’s being done to ease backlog. -Ed.