Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation pressed the U.S. Postal Service for answers this week after increasing reports about delays and disruptions with regular mail delivery in southern Maine.

Residents of Saco, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and elsewhere have complained in recent weeks that regular mail is being delayed for days or goes undelivered entirely.

The U.S. Postal Service blamed high volumes of parcels during the holiday season and COVID-19 infections among letter carriers for the mail disruptions.

Unions representing postal workers pointed instead to a dwindling Postal Service workforce facing breakdown because of backbreaking work schedules.

“We’ve been short-staffed for years, and we’ve been on a downward spiral and asking postal management to start doing something,” said Mark Seitz, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 92. “They want to blame it on coronavirus, but this started way before that.”

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said her office receives dozens of complaints about mail either not being delivered or suffering delays, with some letters arriving weeks behind.

In response, Pingree said, she supported a House resolution to suspend new standards and postal rates implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy pending an investigation.

DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major Republican campaign donor, was named head of the Postal Service by former President Donald Trump. He has been a target of Democrats for his management of the Postal Service, including changes that delayed mail before the 2020 election.

“(DeJoy) has implemented policies that are deliberately slowing down mail, eroding the integrity and reliability of America’s beloved Postal Service,” Pingree said in a news release Wednesday. “Americans all over the country are feeling the impact of Postmaster DeJoy’s misguided leadership when their paychecks aren’t delivered, bills arrive past the due dates, and medication doesn’t come on time.”

On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Susan Collins sent a letter to DeJoy asking him to explain what has caused the mail disruptions and how much COVID-19 is to blame, as well as provide a timeline for the Postal Service to resume regular delivery.

Many constituents “who have reached out to the U.S. Postal Service share they have received no reply from the agency,” Collins said in her letter. “I am extremely concerned about the deterioration of service reported by my constituents, as well as the apparent shortage of mail carriers and the lack of information about USPS plans to resolve this issue.”

In an interview Wednesday, Seitz, the union president, sounded unimpressed with Maine’s elected representatives’ response to the problem.

The union has tried multiple times to reach members of Maine’s congressional delegation and raise its concerns about staffing and management, but to no avail, he said.

“They are probably putting out a press release to satisfy their constituents, and they don’t care,” Seitz said. “If they did, they would get back to us.”

Local Branch 92 represents about 700 mail carriers in southern Maine. Victoria Bonney, Pingree’s director of communications, said Wednesday that her office had missed the union’s overtures because of staff turnover but would schedule a time to meet with carriers soon. A spokesperson for Sen. Collins’ office said the office could find no record of contact with the union.>

DeJoy’s administration has little to do with recent mail disruptions, Seitz said.

Instead, the workforce has fallen prey to years of understaffing and a two-tiered hiring system that pays new hires less and provides them fewer benefits than those given to veteran workers, he said.

To complicate matters, Postal Service management’s prioritization of packages over regular mail means thousands of letters stay in the depots every day while parcels go out to homes and businesses, according to Seitz.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis, he said. The Saco post office, which should have 45 carriers, is down to just 19. The remaining team is working 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and many are ready to quit, Seitz added.

“There are are going to be a lot of carriers walking out the door here,” he said.

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