PORTLAND, Maine — The last holiday season was far from the most wonderful time of the year for the U.S. Mail Service: A flood of shoppers who were hesitant to go into stores, sick workers and overwhelmed private shippers.
As they prepare for the next pandemic, postal workers that recall letters and packages left in distribution centers are more prepared. Low product inventories and disruptions in the supply and port chain are making it difficult to deliver gifts.
The surge in holiday packages is already evident to workers, even though it began some weeks ago.
“A lot of the workers are saying, ‘Oh no. Here we go again,’” said Scott Adams, local president of the American Postal Workers Union in Portland.
U.S. Postal Service and private shippers UPS and FedEx are bolstering their hiring — bringing in about 230,000 temporary workers — and taking other steps to ensure they don’t become overwhelmed by packages.
Nearly 3.4 Billion parcels are anticipated to cross the country during this holiday season. That’s an estimate increase of around 400 million when compared with last year. Satish Jindel from ShipMatrix (Pennsylvania-based ShipMatrix), which analyses shipping package data, stated.
If letters and cards are added, the U.S. Postal Service said it’ll be delivering more than 12 billion items.
“The pandemic is still here. The supply chain is a challenge that’s going to impact how people shop and how products move,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 postal workers.
Jindel noted that, despite their precarious position, FedEx and UPS are better able to handle peak volume and several trends may work in their favor.
More people are shopping in stores compared to last year, and people have been placing online orders earlier because they’re keenly aware of supply chain problems, Jindel said. He also stated that workers have returned to the office, which means there are less supplies being sent to their homes.
He stated that most importantly, shippers are adapting to last year’s hard-hitting experience.
Louis DeJoy (U.S. Postmaster General), who was subject to harsh criticisms last year, but has reported that there were on-time improvements made and operating losses reduced this month. He says that the service is now ready for the crunch.
“We are ready, so send us your packages and your mail,” he said.
An average of a third to a quarter of all first-class mail sent by the Postal Service in December 2008 was not received on time for Christmas.
Tractor-trailers full of mail were left idle outside of postal-sorting areas. Mail and packages were piled up outside distribution centres. Many cases saw delays that grew in number by several days to weeks.
It was painfully clear that two things were obvious. More workers and more space were needed — and both are being addressed.
To get a handle of the volume, the Postal Service is transitioning more than 30,000 non-career employees to the ranks of career employees by peak season, hiring 40,000 seasonal employees, and leasing extra space at more than 100 locations to ensure there’s room for parcels.
As part of a $40 billion investment plan over 10 years, the Postal Service has installed more than 100 package sorting machines. More than 50 large package sorting systems are also expected to be installed before December. Officials stated that these systems combined increase capacity by 4.5 million additional packages each day.
UPS has more than 100,000 employees on its payroll and is adding aircraft and automation. It expects nearly 90% of its packages to flow through automated facilities by year’s end.
FedEx is currently working to increase its national workforce by 90% across all its companies. According to FedEx, most of these new employees will stay after the holiday season.
The shippers insist that shopping isn’t a year to be procrastinating despite the increased workforce.
“Complete your holiday shopping as soon as possible,” said Jim Mayer, spokesperson for UPS.