CHICAGO — Tensions were high at the Roseland Post Office Tuesday as locals shouted down the lone clerk at the counter relaying a message from management: Folks in line to pick up mail that hasn't been delivered in nearly two weeks were out of luck.
"Oh hell, no," a woman yelled. "Which one of you is going to pay the late fees on my bills. Where's the manager. I need my stuff."
Over the last few weeks, Chicago elected officials say they've been receiving an increasing number of calls from frustrated residents.
Representatives from the U.S. Postal Service have refused to admit there's a problem. A spokesman told CBS 2 that mail operations in Chicago are "running as normal."
Chicago Patch readers disagreed. About 40 percent of Chicagoans who responded to Patch reader poll asking folks to rate the reliability of their mail delivery said they often didn't receive mail for days or weeks at a time. Another 10 percent of poll respondents reported getting mail arrived late at night.
Nearly 30 percent of the folks who reported missing mail deliveries lived in South Side postal districts that serve the Roseland, Pullman, Beverly and Mt. Greenwood neighborhoods.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said the survey confirms what folks in Mt. Greenwood's 60655 ZIP code have been dealing with "not for weeks or months, but years."
Locals say they've heard all kinds of reasons for delivery troubles when visiting post office counters including staffing shortages and an abundance of mail carriers calling in sick during the coronavirus pandemic. A mail carrier working a route in the 60628 ZIP code said the local postal district has been short-staffed with as many as 50 postal workers out sick.
"The U.S. Postal Service is a disgrace. Speaking for my community, we are sick and tired of the excuses: Cold weather, hot weather, a pandemic. The garbage man is going to work. Police officers are going to work. Firefighters are going to work. Go to work and do your damn job," Ald. O'Shea said.
Related Coverage: No Mail For Weeks: Is Postal Service 'Falling Apart' In Chicago?
The Associated Press recently obtained documents that suggest sweeping changes that could cause slower mail delivery have been put in place under newly appointed U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Trump with no postal service experience.
If postal distribution centers are running late, "they will keep the mail for the next day,'' Postal Service leaders say in a document. "One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that — temporarily — we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks,'' another document says.
In the last three weeks, Chicago mail carriers have been ordered to start delivering their routes at 9:45 a.m. – almost three hours later than before, according to National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 11 President Mack Julion. The changed delivery times are a key part of a raging dispute between the labor union and new postal service management.
The memo from Postal Service officials obtained by the Associated Press calls for eliminating overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers as part of an effort to make the USPS "fundamentally solvent which we are not at this time.''
In Ald. Ray Lopez's Southwest Side ward, parts of the West Englewood neighborhood are considered overtime delivery districts covered by mail carriers after they finish their assigned routes.
It's unclear if the overtime ban mentioned in the memo from postal service officials has worsened delivery delays citywide.
But Julion, the letter carrier union boss, says he's noticed an alarming trend in the last three weeks:"Mail delivery in the city is falling apart."
About 45 percent of folks living in suburban Cook County postal districts who responded the Patch survey reported they're mail being delivered every day. About 13 percent of poll respondents who said they live in Will County reported that days or weeks sometimes pass before mail gets delivered. About 77 percent of those poll respondents reported living in Joliet ZIP codes.
Nationally, some Democrats have accused the Trump Administration of trying to destroy the postal service at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has election officials urging voters to use mail-in ballots in the November presidential election.
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey called the new postmaster general's proposal to delay mail delivery a "stunning act of sabotage against our postal service," and "a direct attack on American democracy itself."
Ald. O'Shea said mail delivery problems in his district are a harbinger for mail-in election troubles.
"We're talking about an election in a pandemic using mail-in ballots. With what we're seeing, we already know there's going to be a problem," he said. "The postal service has to be held accountable."