PROVINCETOWN — Residents and business owners from Provincetown to Eastham are reporting issues with mail delivery, with some saying they are waiting days or weeks to receive their mail.
Seven current and former postal workers told the Independent that the slowdown has gotten worse in recent months. They attributed it to staffing shortages and an ever-increasing volume of Amazon packages.
“I was really surprised to see no mail three days in a row,” said Ron Singer, who operates the Flying Plumbers in Provincetown. “I know they’re short-staffed, but if they’re going to skip three days in a row, I think they should offer an alternative, like letting us pick up mail at the post office.”
Singer, whose plumbing business depends on the regular delivery of invoices, statements, and checks, says he’s noticed sporadic delays in mail delivery since the summer.
“So many things have been lost,” Eastham resident Greta Perry wrote on her town’s community Facebook page. Perry says she’s been receiving her neighbors’ mail, and now they keep getting hers. Sometimes, she doesn’t get any mail at all.
A town employee in Provincetown, who asked not to be named to avoid damaging the town’s relationship with the post office, said residents have been rushing to town hall to pay bills in person at the last minute, with some saying they had received their bills a month after the postmark date.
All seven post offices between Eastham and Provincetown have “We’re Hiring” signs prominently displayed in their lobbies. The Provincetown Post Office has an entire table covered with recruitment materials.
The Independent’s inquiries to local postmasters were redirected to a U.S. Postal Service “corporate communications specialist,” Stephen Doherty, who did not respond. As previously reported by the Independent, postal workers are instructed not to speak with the press.
The seven postal employees who did speak to the Independent — including three current carriers — said that demanding and draining working conditions, coupled with low starting pay and a lack of affordable housing, make it a challenge to hire and retain letter carriers on the Outer Cape.
“We are insanely short-staffed,” said one current Outer Cape carrier. “Few people are willing to work a thankless job that is tiring and somewhat dangerous.”
Another current carrier said that outdated infrastructure and delivery practices make an already difficult job harder and described the delivery trucks, some of which date to the early 1990s, as “death traps.”
“These wouldn’t pass a Massachusetts inspection, but they don’t have to since they are federal vehicles,” that carrier said.
Cheryl Andrews, a retired dentist and former select board member in Provincetown who took a job as a mail carrier at the Provincetown Post Office for extra income, said the agency’s training for that job prioritized efficiency above safety and service.
“We were told to look through the mail in our cart as we walked to avoid pauses and exchanges with customers,” said Andrews. “I tried it, and I tripped on the asphalt and cut my hands.”
Andrews said the volume of mail that carriers are expected to deliver and the allotted time for delivery are mismatched. “Overtime was frowned upon, so I had to go as fast as I could to deliver mail,” she said. “The pressure was intense.”
“It’s really a very toxic environment,” said a mail carrier who works in Provincetown. “They shame you, they blame you, and then they throw you in a truck and say, ‘Here are the boxes, have fun.’ ”
According to that carrier, understaffing has led post office management to unduly pressure carriers into completing long routes at an unsustainable pace — and to criticize new hires who struggle to keep up. Provincetown’s carriers are told to prioritize speed over service, including by marking mail or packages as undeliverable if the delivery requires additional walking time.
The housing crisis on the Cape, which is displacing many year-round workers, is also taking a toll on post office employees.
Bonnie Tibbetts, a mail carrier at the Wellfleet Post Office, recently announced on her town’s community Facebook page her decision to move to New Hampshire because of the lack of affordable housing on Cape Cod.
“I have talked to some wonderful people who offered rooms, but I just couldn’t make the finances work,” Tibbetts wrote. “I hope the Outer Cape figures out housing so that hard working people in the service industry can live in or near the communities where they work.”
Kathy Kolbridge, a former Provincetown postmaster, said it was challenging to hire and retain staff on the Outer Cape because of uncompetitive pay, lack of affordable housing, and unpredictable hours for new hires who might have second jobs. The starting hourly wage for mail carriers is $19.50.
“It’s just really hard for people to get by on a postal job out here,” Kolbridge said. “And you often have to work weekends, Sundays, and in some cases holidays when you’re just starting out.”
Some of these problems are not unique to Cape Cod. The Postal Service is the second-largest employer in the U.S. and is losing 59 percent of its “noncareer employees” each year, according to a 2023 report by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
Postal workers are categorized as either career or noncareer employees. Noncareer employees, including “city carrier assistants” in Provincetown and “rural carrier assistants” in Wellfleet and Eastham, are temporary and don’t get the benefits provided to career employees. Their work schedules are often irregular, and they typically earn about half as much as their salaried counterparts.
Most mail carriers start out as part-time noncareer employees. Opportunities to become a salaried career employee vary by post office — but Outer Cape employees said they had to wait a year to even be considered for a career position, even when their post offices were understaffed.
The Postal Service has had a years-long strategy of relying more heavily on noncareer employees to reduce labor costs.
Amazon and the USPS
In rural areas across the U.S., post offices built to hold and deliver letters and just a few parcels a day are also struggling to keep up with the volume of online shopping deliveries — especially Amazon.com packages.
Buildings don’t have enough space to hold all the parcels, and older delivery trucks designed for flat mail are too small to transport them all.
“Literally, the physical structure of post offices is set up mostly for delivering letters,” said Kolbridge.
Periodic changes to Amazon’s contracts with the Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx mean that rural post offices can suddenly find themselves responsible for all of Amazon’s deliveries, according to a November 2023 Washington Post report.
In Provincetown, that happened in 2016, said former carrier Jane Corbin.
“All of a sudden we started getting all these parcels, but we didn’t have enough people to deliver them,” Corbin said. “We were overburdened with parcels.”
“Amazon came, then Covid came, and package delivery exploded,” said Diane Johnson, a veteran clerk at the Provincetown Post Office.
Parcel volume increased just as U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy began closing distribution centers in 2021, Johnson said, leading to mail getting stuck in warehouses and delays becoming commonplace. “It felt like we were all working with one hand tied behind our backs,” Johnson said.
Carriers in Wellfleet and Provincetown also said that postmasters had instructed them to prioritize Amazon parcel delivery over letter mail — another practice that the Washington Post found was common in rural areas, although a spokesperson for the agency denied it.
In summer, when the Cape’s population swells with part-time residents and tourists, everything gets worse.
“It’s pretty common to find pallets of Amazon boxes left on the loading dock or in the sorting area,” one current carrier said, “because there isn’t enough labor to deliver all these things.”