Post office woes are stacking up on Vashon

What can we do, as ordinary citizens on one small island, to help fix the brokenness of USPS? We have an idea — but you might not like it, because it involves breaking a habit.

As detailed this week in a commentary by islander Jerry Mathews, several neighborhoods and communities on Vashon are now in the midst of responding to the Vashon Post Office’s decision to no longer provide delivery to individual homes in their areas.

These residents have been told that they must quickly come to community consensus to determine a location to install multi-mailbox units on their streets or find a spot to move all their mailboxes into a single line at a common spot.

The reason given for this sudden shift — after decades of delivery to these same homes — is that safety complaints have made it necessary to suspend the same kind of delivery that some residents in these neighborhoods have come to count on fo decades.

For these residents on Burma Road, Corbin Beach, Sylvan Beach, Point Vashon and Patten Road — some of whom are elderly or disabled — it is not only an inconvenience but also a real hardship to face this kind of bureaucratic demand.

It is also very difficult, for us here at The Beachcomber, to report on the story. In a small community, we don’t want to make anything worse for these residents, so we don’t want to rush to press with a detailed news story about this until some kind of resolution is more in hand.

Dealing with the post office is hard. We know that here at the newspaper. In recent years, whenever a story crossed our desks that dealt in any way with mail delivery, we groaned, knowing that perhaps a more apt unofficial motto of the post office than the one about “neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night” would be “we don’t talk to the press.”

But in attempting to report on this story, we’ve just now heard back from our newly designated United States Postal Service (USPS) press contact, who is based in Plano, Texas, of all places.

She promised to investigate the issue, and we have no reason to doubt that she will — we were happy, just a few weeks ago, to have her actually reach out to us to let us know about the urgency of staffing shortages at our local post office.

At that time, we reported that USPS was looking to fill a total of 15 openings for rural mail carriers at the Vashon Post Office — a position that paid $19 an hour.

Vashon’s affordable housing crisis is no doubt playing into the shortage of workers in our town who are able to live on that kind of a wage, but the USPS hiring crisis is also a national story.

You’d think that USPS could have worked out a sweet deal with retail juggernaut Amazon to deliver its packages — a fat enough contract to help fix its aging infrastructure and hire far more workers.

But USPS, still somehow under the thumb of Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, continues to stagger.

What can we do, as ordinary citizens on one small island, to help fix the brokenness of USPS?

We have an idea — but you might not like it, because it involves breaking a habit.

But still, we will suggest, gently, that if you are able to stop ordering so many things online, that would be a good thing to do.

In the past year, we’ve heard from several former postal workers, who of whom asked for their names not to be revealed, about one reason their jobs on Vashon were so difficult: the exponential increase of package delivery on Vashon. One worker said he had been injured by the weight of the packages he was forced to carry day after day.

We understand that for some people — especially caregivers, disabled folks and the elderly — Amazon Prime, Fed Ex and UPS delivery has been a lifesaving assist. But we suspect many other islanders have simply fallen into the pattern of shopping online for items that they could easily buy from local merchants.

They may be saving some money by doing so, but at what cost?

Daily Amazon and other package deliveries hurt our low-wage postal workers’ backs and drive them from their jobs. These deliveries, writ large across the entire country, also cost dearly in terms of carbon emissions.

But here at home, in our vulnerable island economy, shopping like this really hurts our local businesses, most of which have already taken huge hits during the pandemic.

These incremental costs are heavy and we suspect we’re paying some of that cost right now, as we watch our local post office fail.

Stopping your daily package delivery habit won’t save the post office. But it could speed the delivery of our regular mail, and greatly help our local merchants. That’s worth paying a little bit extra for — not that that will be necessary if you shop the sales, and try to buy less in general.

We’re not asking you to stop shopping. Just stop to think before you press “buy it now.” Could you just buy it, instead, on Vashon, and carry it yourself to your own front door?