January 16, 2013

No service from the Postal Service

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

“We love Watford City and we can’t keep going on like this,” stated one resident at a town hall meeting about Postal Service in Watford City last Tuesday. This statement was a summary of Watford City residents’ feelings toward the post office’s struggles to get the mail out as well as a plea to follow through and fix the problem.
Roy Reynolds, district manager of the Dakota District of the United States Postal Service, admitted that the United States Postal Service has not done a good job of managing the growth that McKenzie County has seen over the last two years and adknowledged that they have been offering poor customer service to those who use and depend on its services.
“We’re here to provide you service, and if we’re not doing that, we need to fix it,” Reynolds stated. “I will be up here all week to meet with area communities and listen.”
On his list of communities to visit, in addition to Watford City, was Williston and Tioga, two other oil-impacted cities that are experiencing post office problems similar to Watford City.
Reynolds laid out a plan that included seeking businesses to partner with the United States Postal Service by becoming a Village Post Office and bringing in an additional manager to oversee the smaller post offices. Reynolds also spoke of hiring someone to manage the growth as well as additional staff.
But while Reynolds’ plan held the appearance of good intentions, those present at the meeting were skeptical.
“There was approval for staffing before. My concern is turnover,” stated one resident, while another agreed and stated, “People that work at McDonald’s start out at a higher wage than the Post Office.”
In fact, many present at the meeting echoed those same concerns because, according to them, it is not just an issue of staffing, but of mail volume, the small capacity of the Watford City Post Office to handle the mail, and paying competitive wages and benefits in order to retain new hires.
“It’s great that we can hire people, but I want to know that we can keep them,” one resident, who claimed to be a former post office employee, stated.
Story after story came out at Tuesday’s meeting of Watford City Post Office employees having to work until 3 a.m. to get the mail sorted, not getting personal or sick time, working 12- to 16-hour days and not receiving competitive pay or benefits.
Then, reservations over Reynolds’ plan turned to issues of frustration over poor postal service.
Residents addressed the post office’s late first class mail delivery and how it has hampered the effectiveness of area businesses and cost them and their employees money. Many in the audience brought up poor package handling, and the fact that the ‘Last Mile Contract’ the United States Postal Service has with UPS and FED EX has cost people time and money and made them feel like they were being punished for something they didn’t even know about.
Reynolds agreed that those were problems that needed to be addressed, and promised to do his best to address them, by again laying out his strategies moving forward.
“Watford City has a shortage of post office boxes, which means more mail that has to be stored in the back. We would like to help reorganize the back room so mail can be more easily found and it will not be a safety issue for our workers,” states Reynolds. “Our target is for you to be in and out in five minutes and I understand that isn’t happening here. Hopefully by hiring more staff, adding more parcel lockers and partnering with businesses to become Village Post Offices, we can service more people without making them have to wait in line.”
Reynolds promised to offer more competitive wages claiming that, though the Post Office has lost money, he received approval to hire new employees. Reynolds stated that he will host Job Fairs in the area, and seek out businesses willing to become Village Post Office partners.
“There will be compensation for any business willing to partner with us in this way,” states Reynolds. “Any business can become a Village Post Office, and this will help shoulder the customer volume the post office is seeing by spreading services throughout the community and getting people out of line at the post office.”
His strategies, however, did not ease those present at the meeting. And as the meeting came to a close, there was a collective request for Reynolds to promise to follow-through and be back to meet with Watford City in six months, to which Reynolds agreed.
Also present at the meeting was Jon Cameron, a representative from Sen. John Hoeven’s office who has been working with the Dakota District of the Postal Service to rectify postal issues in western North Dakota.
“We have been working this problem on both fronts, both locally and in Washington,” stated Don Canton from Sen. Hoeven’s office. “Sen. Hoeven believes the postal issues that have been going on are important, because postal service is infrastructure and it needs to be addressed.”
Canton stated that Sen. Hoeven expects the post office to meet the challenges of a rapidly growing community, and they are working to make that happen.
In the days since the meeting, on Monday, Jan. 14, Dee Weaver started as Watford City Post Office’s Officer in Charge. She states that she is from the Mitchell, S.D., area and arrived late on Friday night to begin her position in Watford City.