U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about mail delivery in the Charlottesville area, after the U.S. postal service told him it has changed management, hired more people and has holiday surge employees on deck.
After a meeting with USPS officials, Warner said he was told that since his August visit, the Charlottesville Post Office, which serves the city and part of Albemarle County, has hired 22 new employees — four clerks, eight city carriers and 10 rural carriers. Another 20 people for 13 city carrier positions and seven rural carrier positions are pending background checks.
On Thursday, Warner again toured the Charlottesville Post Office on U.S. 29 — which he said was “much more organized, much cleaner” than it was in August — and then spoke to media outside the post office on the Downtown Mall.
Warner was joined by Del. Sally Hudson, who represents the 57th District, who said mail was the “number one reason that I hear from constituents these days.”
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“It’s not just the delay in time — this has real practical consequences for the people of our community,” Hudson said. “When those bills arrive late and we see late fees piling up, it’s doing real damage to the family’s finances.”
Postal service nationwide has been slow this last year, but the Charlottesville area’s delivery problems have grown worse over time, with many residents reporting this summer that they went weeks without receiving any mail.
The U.S. Postal Service has not given specifics about what is causing the delays, other than staffing problems due to the pandemic. A USPS spokesperson has said repeatedly he “will see what I can do” about an interview with post office officials in the city.
Warner said there is a new acting postmaster and USPS has added two other senior post office officials, one on integration and one an operations, to the office “for as long as they’re needed.”
Two former carriers told The Daily Progress that during Warner’s August visit, management hid undelivered mail and packages, and hampers were sitting full of packages behind the post office.
“I asked about that,” Warner said. “He said that was some of the packages that were about to be delivered later. I’m not going to be here to re-litigate that. I can tell you this much — I looked all around the building today, there was nothing outside today. But what if we’re seeing that going forward, Delegate Hudson or I want to know.”
Warner said that starting 6 a.m. Saturday, 21 postal employees — who may also be working part-time at other post offices — will “come from all around Virginia” and will be here “through the whole surge of the holidays” to deliver packages.
Eleven retirees are also coming back for the holiday surge, he said.
Leadership reported to Warner that the U.S. 29 post office has also seen a “90% decline in complaints at the window.”
“I’m anxious to hear from the community whether they think that is accurate,” Warner said.
Recently, the post office put up signs on the doors that say, “Customers will not be able to pick up their mail due to non-receipt mail/deliveries.”
There have been management issues at the Charlottesville Post Office for a number of years, and the last time it had a full-time postmaster was 2018. Cloteal Farmer, who became the Charlottesville postmaster in 2017, is still listed as the Charlottesville postmaster on the USPS postmaster finder webpage. But when Farmer is looked up by her name, it says she went to the Glen Allen Post Office in late 2018.
Post offices in Albemarle were mentioned in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party of Virginia against the USPS for “threatening to disenfranchise thousands of Virginia voters” by failing to timely process and deliver election-related mail. According to information provided by the state, about 33.9% of Albemarle County ballots had not been scanned by the postal service as of Oct. 25.
According to filings in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the USPS is working with the Virginia Department of Elections on the issue, and if no further hearings or relief has been requested as of Nov. 8, the court will dismiss the complaint without prejudice.
Warner was told that all remaining ballots at the post office “will be processed and delivered by noon tomorrow,” which is the state deadline for localities to receive mail-in ballots. Those ballots need to be postmarked by Nov. 2 to count.
On Nov. 20, USPS will again hold a job fair in Charlottesville. A USPS spokesman told The Daily Progress that approximately 40 people attended an October job fair.
According to the USPS careers website, it is currently hiring for holiday term city carrier assistants for Dec. 4 to Dec. 31 at $18.51 per hour at the Charlottesville Post Office.
“I think this is a more pervasive challenge that we face with staffing public services in our community, because we are a very high cost of living area, and especially this little 10 square mile town inside of a broader area that’s more rural, I think sometimes we don’t always get the cost of living adjustments that we do for the urban core of our region,” Hudson said.
She said there needs to be continued communication to both the state and federal government that “we need to have the kind of wages that can make these jobs sustainable.”
Warner said he thinks the surge for the holidays will provide some immediate relief, but that he’ll keep focused on permanent relief, such as hiring new employees and the management team.
“I do think this feels like real progress has been made, but we’ll know, I imagine, within the next few weeks,” Warner said.