USPS should focus on service to justify rate hike


Last week I got a text message from someone asking why a Feb. 24 edition of The Red Bay News would just now, in July, be mailed out to a reader in Zion, Ill.

Thing is, it wasn’t mailed out in July. It was mailed out Feb. 24. If this were a random, one-time occurrence it would be just some weird little story similar to those you hear from time to time about a long-lost letter from decades ago finally arriving in someone’s mailbox.

It isn’t a one-time occurrence. It happens WAY too often that our papers are delivered at least a week or two later than their publication date and it is absolutely frustrating. It also makes completely unpalatable the idea of the Postal Service seeking a significant rate increase on mailing “market dominant products” and “under water” products such as newspapers, by more than eight percent. (Publisher’s note: After this column was written two more readers reported receiving their February 24, 2021 editions that same week in July 2021; this cannot be a coincidence.)

As the late Rush Limbaugh might say, what follows is a little “inside baseball,” so to speak, to give you an idea why this proposed rate increase bothers me so.

First, I deal with post offices in Red Bay, Belmont and Baldwyn, Miss. The people who staff these offices and the local carriers are outstanding people and are never anything less than helpful or courteous when we encounter a problem (or when I’ve forgotten that I need to take them a check to replenish our mailing account). These people and the local postmasters are great. My frustration is on the side of the sorting facilities in Birmingham and Memphis. To say I have very little confidence in their abilities would be an understatement.

Here’s how it works in our distribution: Our papers are printed on Tuesday afternoons in Corinth, Miss., where labels are then applied for mailing them to our subscribers. They are sorted into bundles according to their route or their Zip code for distribution through the Postal Service. Our courier picks them up in Corinth and brings them back to Red Bay and Belmont. Papers with a Belmont, Golden, Mississippi or Tennessee address are dropped at the Belmont Post Office, while papers with a Red Bay, Vina or Alabama Zip code are dropped at the Red Bay Post Office.

So far, so good. The local papers go out seamlessly in Red Bay, Belmont, Golden and Vina, while the papers outside these communities have to be forwarded to the regional sorting facilities in Memphis and Birmingham. They might as well be in Guam and Peru.

What happens in those sorting facilities is a mystery because we can’t even get papers delivered to the opposite side of Franklin County in less than five days. Seriously. I know second class postage relegates us to less than a priority (no pun intended) but I could tie papers to a blind racoon and get them to Russellville faster. We were continually getting complaints about the slow delivery process so a few years ago we resumed the procedure of taking Russellville route papers directly to the Russellville post office for delivery. Now, they are usually in reader mailboxes the next day.

We’ve complained before, but all we’re told is that the sorting facilities send them on and then they can sit in the local post offices for several days before delivery.

I don’t buy that explanation – especially after the absolute debacle the sorting facilities were in with package deliveries last Christmas. I understand that was blamed on COVID-19, but the problem still persists, to a degree, several months later. I’ve had a package sitting at the Memphis sorting facility that was originally scheduled to be delivered by Friday of last week, and I’ve got another that the tracking on it went dead on July 6 and has not been updated since. It must be having a great time at an amusement park somewhere in Indiana.

I just don’t think the blame lies on the local post offices. These local people don’t have an incentive to just “sit” on mail and not get it delivered. They know their local customers want their mail in a timely fashion.

I monitor the delivery of our papers through having copies of my papers mailed to the opposite offices (Red Bay to Baldwyn and Baldwyn to Red Bay). Baldwyn seems to get delivered to Red Bay fairly regularly, albeit about a week later, sometimes longer. There have been multiple times, though, when Red Bay’s paper has been delivered to the Baldwyn office two, three and four weeks later, and more than a few times we have had two papers from different weeks show up in our mail there on the same day.

This is not the work of the local post offices; this is absolutely from the sorting centers.

I believe, though I don’t have anything to back it up, that in the Postal Service’s efforts several years ago to economize its operations by consolidating its sorting to large regional facilities instead of at smaller locations, it badly compromised its service but will not admit it. Regional mail used to be sorted at facilities such as Tupelo and Florence and could be rerouted more quickly. When the USPS cut costs by consolidating its sorting it did it at the expense of customer service.

But they don’t care. So long as the paper gets delivered within five months, why should they care? It’s no skin off their nose; they got my money for postage a long time ago, and they know I’m a hostage to them.

Again, the local postal workers are great, helpful individuals. But the bloated bureaucracy at the top and the apparent lack of concern at these sorting facilities makes it hard to stomach when they seek rate increases with no promise of a job better done as a result.