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Our View: Systemic challenges mean USPS could lose ‘S’ for service

A few decades ago, do you remembering hearing old-timers say that a solid, great job for life was one with the U.S. Postal Service? Well, that career advice has not stood the test of time. In previous eras, postal jobs were coveted and potential workers clambered to take the postal test and become one of the lucky ones, delivering mail or serving customers in an office.

Fast forward to today with pop-up ads for USPS employees, signs at offices and officials scrambling to fill 3,900 positions this past year in Colorado – to include about a dozen employees to staff Hesperus, Marvel and Durango offices – along with Wyoming. (Hourly wages range from $19.94 to $22.13.) Customers are feeling it as they toggle between USPS and Amazon, sued on Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission and 17 states for allegedly abusing its monopoly power.

Although USPS contracts Amazon for “last mile delivery,” Amazon doesn’t deliver everywhere. For those reliant on USPS, it’s a sketchy situation.

The Hesperus post office has been the source of many complaints over multiple years. As reported in The Durango Herald on Aug. 10, La Plata County commissioners asked U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert to speak with the postmaster general and help remedy the situation. Sen. Michael Bennet has already pressed.

Prescription medicines and live animals don’t arrive on time. Mail is returned undeliverable and no one seems to know why. Some mail simply disappears. Bills go missing. And your grandmother is confounded as to why you still haven’t received your birthday card from her.

Not a secure delivery system.

Marvel’s post office doesn’t fare much better. And a lunchtime line in Durango can mean after waiting for a clerk at a counter, there’s no longer time for lunch.

We’re not alone. All across rural Colorado, systemic problems became more acute and obvious at the start of the pandemic. Staffing problems, mail snags and a dearth of package-handling hubs make for holes in operations. Unless something drastic happens, the USPS can’t fully meet the needs of Southwest Coloradans.

Granted, the government is not a for-profit business. Carriers must drive snow-slicked country roads and deliver a letter even if that’s not profitable for the agency. “Universal service” is legally required in rural areas. Under the Constitution, Congress has the authority to make all laws necessary to maintain postal service.

So where’s the mail?

The situation could get worse, too, after USPS in August announced quarterly losses of $1.7 billion. Closing rural facilities is one option on the table.

We’d like lawmakers to get serious about something as basic and iconic as U.S. mail. And the potential government shutdown, looming at press time, is not providing needed PR in recruiting anyone to federal government work.

To add to the situation, delivery king Amazon is facing that FTC lawsuit that has the potential to seriously change how and where packages land. The lawsuit doesn’t address delivery. But you can bet, any changes, which in all fairness are needed, will affect delivery systems and services.

FTC’s lawsuit says Amazon broke the law to steer business to its own platform, hurting consumers and sellers. Amazon increased fees that sellers have to pay, with a 50% cut to Amazon. Sellers, which tend to be small businesses, pass this along to customers. Also, Amazon’s anti-discounting policy punishes sellers who sell on other retail platforms at a lower price with sellers disappearing from Amazon’s storefront.

A dagger into the heart of small businesses with low margins, especially those in rural areas.

The problem is too common and tired – not enough workers for low-wage jobs in an expensive place to live.

As always, we urge buying locally as much as possible. And with the risk to delivery services, we see hope for investment in light industry and businesses that can produce goods in the Southwest.