Steven Fulmer, wearing a T-shirt from the National Association of Letter Carriers, is a letter carrier in South Portland. Fulmer, who lives in Lisbon Falls, is on leave from his job after reporting concerns about mail being thrown out. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

U.S. Postal Service customers in Greater Portland are experiencing major delivery delays because of worker shortages and the prioritizing of packages over first-class mail, according to the union representing letter carriers.

The postal service denies that any packages are prioritized over first-class mail, and said some delivery inconsistencies are unavoidable as resources are strained.

However, a union leader and a local letter carrier say some customers are now going five or six days without regular mail delivery – at the busiest time of the year for the postal service, which has previously grappled with disruptions resulting from high package volume and a dwindling workforce.

“There are extreme delays every day,” said Mark Seitz, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 92, which represents about 700 workers in southern Maine.

Seitz said mail for 15 to 20 routes in the area doesn’t go out for delivery every day, primarily because management is illegally delaying first-class mail in favor of fourth-class packages – most often from Amazon – in order to collect bonuses. The problem seems to be widespread but is particularly noticeable in Portland, Westbrook, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Cumberland Foreside, Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, he said.

Stephen Doherty, a spokesperson for the USPS Northeast Region, denied the postal service prioritizes Amazon packages over delivering other mail.


“We deliver mail for thousands of companies just across New England,” he said in an email. “No one (company’s) mail is given priority over others.”

Earlier this month, mail was not delivered to Mabel O’Brien’s Falmouth home on a Friday, Saturday and Monday, she said. But on that Sunday, an Amazon package addressed to someone else was dropped off at her house. While she understands the postal service is shorthanded, she wishes she could depend on it to be more reliable.

“It doesn’t seem right to keep raising the stamp rate and you don’t get what you pay for,” O’Brien said.

Doherty said the postal service is hiring new employees, investing in new technology and delivering a volume of packages that has grown exponentially in recent years. Some customers may see their mail delivered later in the day or by a different carrier during the holiday season, he noted.


“The current hiring strain, combined with holiday volumes, can cause us to stretch our capacity beyond its limit and result in pockets of delays in our delivery network,” Doherty said. “When this happens, we use all of the tools at our disposal, including overtime, delivering earlier in the day, later in the evening and on weekends and, in emergency situations, utilizing management personnel to deliver the mail.”


The postal service recently converted more than 100,000 employees to full-time career status and is aggressively hiring, Doherty said. “The current low unemployment rate in Maine makes this a challenge as there are many companies hiring and fewer available job seekers.”

John Graham sorts through mail while making deliveries on Ray Street in Portland in Dec. 2021. While he once expected to deliver 10 to 20 packages a day, he says it’s now more like 120 a day, and more during the holidays. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Despite efforts to hire more letter carriers, the staffing issue continues to worsen, Seitz said. Some carriers are working 16-hour days, seven days a week. Carriers are frustrated, as are customers who aren’t getting their mail consistently, he said.

“They want the mail to get delivered, but they’re hamstrung by management’s inability to hire and manage mail properly,” Seitz said.

Steven Fulmer, a city letter carrier in South Portland for the past five years, is concerned about carriers being forced to work overtime and deliver long after dark, especially following the murder of a postal worker in Milwaukee last week.

Fulmer’s bigger concern, however, is about mail handling at the Scarborough distribution center. Last year, he told the postal service that the weekly South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry newspaper was being discarded along vacant routes instead of being delivered. He said he recently discovered and reported that the same thing is happening again.

The Sentry is part of the Masthead Maine publication network that includes the Press Herald.


Fulmer has since been placed on leave. Fulmer said supervisors told him that he made a statement that made people uncomfortable and is considered a threat, but both he and Seitz say the leave is retaliation for whistleblowing.

Doherty said he is not aware of any accusations of mail being discarded, which is a criminal offense. Those types of accusations are investigated by the Office of the Inspector General, he said.


Seitz said he has contacted the offices of Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree about the persistent delays. Pingree’s office also has been receiving complaints about mail delays. She has called for the firing of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“Mail delays throughout my district are ongoing and completely unacceptable. My constituents should not have to worry if their Social Security check, medicine, or grandchild’s holiday card will make it to their mailboxes,” Pingree, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Sen. Susan Collins has been pushing for answers from the postal service about widespread delays and staffing levels since early this year. In an October letter to DeJoy, the Republican said persistent problems must be addressed, reiterating the importance of the postal service in a rural state like Maine.


“The problems are frequently blamed on ‘staffing shortages,’ but there has been no guidance as to what USPS is doing to address the matter – which has been a problem for an extended period of time,” Collins wrote. “The bottom line is that basic services are not being met.”

In a response to Collins on Nov. 3, USPS liaison Scott Slusher said the service was unable to forecast a date by which staffing levels would be at the level needed to meet obligations throughout Maine.

“There are insufficient applicants relative to the vacancies, and our overall staffing levels have dropped each month since December 2021. Nevertheless, we are continuing to participate in recruitment events and promoting employment opportunities on various platforms,” Slusher wrote.

Carriers from NALC Local 92 plan to rally Sunday morning outside the U.S. Postal Service building on Forest Avenue in Portland. Among their demands are improvements in management, workplace safety and mail delivery.

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