Aspen, Snowmass Village post offices in dire need of workers
The Aspen Times
The U.S. Postal Service branches in Aspen and Snowmass Village are considerably understaffed, largely because the lack of affordable housing and high cost of living make it difficult to bring in workers, according to local postmaster Scott Caskey.
Caskey became postmaster for the two offices last March following decades of turnover in the position. He said he needs nine employees — three inside clerks and six outside carriers — to bring staffing levels up to par.
“Just since I took this job, I’ve lost five full-time, regular clerks,” Caskey said.
He said he’s been active in trying to hire people, but after getting all the way through the process of interviews and background checks with would-be workers, they tend to back out.
“They just tell me, ‘Sorry, I can’t find a place (to live), I’m going to have to decline the position,’” Caskey said.
Starting wages for postal workers in the two offices run a little more than $15 per hour, he said. Usually, though, there are opportunities to earn pay increases after being employed for a relatively short amount of time, Caskey said.
“The starting pay used to be higher,” he said.
Another problem related to staffing is the time-consuming hiring process used by the quasi-federal mail service. Background checks and rules that end up weeding out seemingly qualified candidates often slow down efforts to replace workers, but they are necessary, he said.
Of the five clerks who either retired or left the local postal service since March, Caskey’s been able to replace two, he said. The USPS does not own or manage any workforce housing in the area.
He acknowledged that the staffing issues sometimes have a ripple effect, leading to a decline in customer service. Many full-time workers are being asked to work on their days off to help manage the load, he said.
“The staffing situation definitely slows down the lines at the retail counter,” he said. “We’re working on getting that fixed.”
Aspen resident John Darcy, a regular customer of the Aspen post office, said he sometimes dreads going there because of the hassles.
He said there is often only one clerk at the front counter to deal with a line that stretches 15 customers or longer. And, though faced with a large number of customers, the lone clerk still attempts to upsell, offering services (such as Priority Mail) that people say they don’t need, further slowing down the lines.
“It’s really becoming an issue for me,” said Darcy, who is Irish and often mails packages for international delivery.
Sometimes, Darcy said, it appears clerks are deliberately moving at a snail’s pace. A former local postal employee told The Aspen Times that as unionized workers, the clerks have job protection but lack incentives to speed up their service.
The former carrier, who didn’t want his name published, also said that replacing workers can be more difficult in the Aspen area because local residents who have stable housing situations rarely apply for available jobs.
Caskey said the Aspen and Snowmass Village offices have unusually busy counters because of the nature of the communities, with many part-time residents and visitors sending letters and packages to their other residences.
He said he has been placing advertisements for workers with local newspapers and other sources, but added that his new game plan is to be more proactive in getting the word out.
“If we can get more locals to apply and get them hired to work here, that would be ideal,” Caskey said.
David Rupert, USPS public information officer for Colorado, pointed out that Aspen is not alone when it comes to post-office staffing issues. He mentioned Seattle and other cities and towns where the postal service has difficulty competing with the private sector for workers.
There is no across-the-board entry level wage for USPS workers, Rupert said. Starting pay runs from $12 to $16 per hour, and Aspen stands on the higher end of the range, he said.
Aspen’s expensive housing market, though, is a recognized problem in trying to replace clerks and carriers, he said.
“Along with other businesses, the postal service must recruit and retain employees in a competitive market with a challenging housing market,” he said.
As for the customer complaints, Rupert added, “We are working to mitigate any customer service impacts.”
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