October 31, 2012

Overwhelmed and understaffed

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

“It is worse now than it ever was,” states Jason Hirst, Watford City postmaster, who is referring to the current difficulties facing the Watford City Post Office.
According to Hirst, since he started in Watford City last June, the office has dealt with a mailbox shortage, a general delivery overload, an increasing mail volume and staffing issues.
And, as of Oct. 26, as if the Watford City Post Office wasn’t facing enough issues, Hirst left Watford City for a position with a post office in Bowman, N.D.
“We had been trying to sell our house back home, but it was slow,” states Hirst.
Tired of being in a holding pattern between not selling his house and not finding anything affordable around Watford City, Hirst decided to look for a position closer to his family.
“When your three-year-old says, ‘Come again’ as you’re leaving, it is time to make a change,” Hirst stated.
During the year that Hirst has served as the Watford City Postmaster, over 1,300 post office boxes were added to the Watford City Post Office. But according to Hirst, it barely helped them keep up with the city’s growth.
And, given the fact that Watford City and McKenzie County haven’t stopped growing, the postal service employees in Watford City are still having trouble keeping up.
“We have the same four routes that we had prior to the boom and they are maxed out. We have added over 1,300 boxes and they are maxed out, not to mention the fact that we still have people who receive mail by general delivery,” states Hirst. “There is simply not enough room in the back to hold all the mail and parcels for the more than 5,000 people the post office now serves.”
Hirst states that in order to stay on pace with Watford City’s projected growth plan, the post office would have to add an additional 3,000 post office boxes and four new postal routes. They would also have to hire two full-time window employees, and three full-time or four part-time employees to sort and distribute mail in the back.
“I am paid for 40 hours of work, but I probably put in 65 to 80 hours a week,” states Hirst. “I used to complain when I left at 6 p.m. Now I am getting in at 6 a.m. and leaving at  around 8 or 9 p.m.”
According to Hirst, filling the necessary positions is not as simple as people might think.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to hire someone,” states Hirst. “People just aren’t applying to work here. We can’t compete with the oilfield’s wages, and we find that people would rather make more money than what we can offer.”
Hirst states that he currently has two part-time employees working at the Watford City Post Office, along with him, the full-time postmaster, and, “one of our part-time employees is in window training and is currently putting in over 40 hours.”
To help fill in the employment gaps, the Watford City Post Office is borrowing employees from other branches. The Grassy Butte Postmaster, the acting postmaster of the Arnegard Post Office, and the postmaster of the Blackhawk, S.D. Post Office have been filling in until more employees are hired.
Hirst does state that the district is fully aware of what is going on in Watford City and fully engaged in trying to solve the problem.
“We are aware of the difficulties in Watford City and are working to find a replacement for the Postmaster, but we do not have that resolved yet,” states Pete Nowacki, Public Information officer for the United States Postal Service.
In the meantime, Jacqueline Jbir is serving as the acting officer in charge at the Watford City Post Office as Hirst’s temporary replacement.