A United States Postal Services employee's mail cart in Chicago in April 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A majority of City Council members are demanding the resignation of Chicago’s postmaster following a scathing report from by the U.S. Postal Service’s watchdog about severe delivery problems at four South Side post offices.

The Feb. 1 report detailed a months-long probe into delivery delays, missing mail and customer service issues at the Auburn Park, Henry McGee, Ashburn and James E. Worsham post offices. Investigators from the Office of the Inspector General said they tracked nearly 63,000 pieces of delayed mail, 2,207 undelivered packages and 18,456 underreported non-deliveries, according to the report.

Nearly 11,000 customer complaints were filed at the four stations between May and July, according to the report, with mail and packages sitting at the station for days or even weeks.

A resolution calling for Postmaster Wanda Prater’s resignation is sponsored by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) with 29 co-sponsors. It was set to be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting before it abruptly adjourned.

The resolution follows a letter sent in August by 42 aldermen to Prater requesting a meeting to discuss issues with the Post Office. That letter has been ignored, according to the aldermen.

“The residents of Chicago deserve efficient and reliable mail service, and it is clear the current management of the Chicago District of the USPS is unable to provide the postal services that the residents of Chicago need and deserve,” according to the resolution.

Timothy Norman, a spokesman for the Post Office, did not respond to questions about Prater’s position, though he said the Post Office is working with the Office of the Inspector General to implement its recommendations.

The resolution adds to a growing number of elected officials calling for Prater’s resignation and sweeping changes to post office service. Rep. Bobby Rush said at a press conference last week said he was “deeply saddened” by the report and thinks Prater should resign or be fired, according to the Sun-Times. Rush’s office pushed for the investigation after receiving more than 600 complaints about mail service.

At the same news conference, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the post office is in “disarray,” according to the Sun-Times.

“I myself have not had mail delivered in almost a week, when I do get mail delivered. I have stacks of it in a very small postal box, which shows me that they have not been delivering,” Dowell said.

The Henry McGee Post Office is one of several stations that have seen an increase in customer complaints. Credit: Photo/Google Maps

South Siders Fed Up

Badly delayed mail service has plagued several areas of the city, especially as the pandemic caused major staffing shortages and other problems.

But South Siders say unreliable mail service has been a problem long before the pandemic and repeated pledges to fix the problems have gone nowhere.

Southeast Side resident Javondlynn Dunagan said she and neighbors long have faced service issues and understaffing at her assigned station in Greater Grand Crossing, the Worsham station at 7715 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

The issues got especially bad over the summer. She said she found Amazon packages that were set to be delivered in August still sitting at the post office in October.

“The postal worker refused to walk up the stairs,” Dunagan said.

The post office report shows Bronzeville’s Henry McGee station, 4601 S. Cottage Grove Ave., topped the list with 5,317 inquiries related to undelivered mail and missing packages. The Greater Grand Crossing Station received 1,958 complaints.

Some delayed mail at two stations, Henry McGee and Ashburn, failed to deliver important voting information from the Secretary of State.

The stations also faced understaffing because dozens of mail carriers were not showing up for work for several weeks. Station management never listed those staffers as “inactive,” which is a required step in order to replace them, according to the report.

In a sampling of packages, investigators found hundreds of packages that were marked as delivered but weren’t actually brought to customers’ homes or picked up.

All four stations also badly underreported how much delayed mail they had on hand. The Auburn Park and Worsham stations each had more than 20,000 pieces of delayed mail but had only reported a fraction of that number. The McGee and Ashburn stations reported there was no delayed mail, but investigators found more than 10,000 delayed pieces between them.

Englewood aldermen Raymond Lopez (15th), Stephanie Coleman (16th) and David Moore (17th) told reporters at a recent press conference they’d been personally impacted by slow service, as well. They reached out to federal leaders for help and freshman Rep. Marie Newman agreed to convene a task force on the matter, Lopez said.

Rush also co-sponsored a bill introduced earlier this month that would grant the House of Representatives power to “take all appropriate measures” to ensure mail delivery.

On Tuesday, seven representatives serving the Chicago area signed a letter demanding accountability for Chicago’s mail service, but they stopped short of calling for Prater’s resignation.

“Our constituents’ complaints and frustrations are a justified response. We request that all necessary steps be taken to ensure the delivery of our constituents mail. We request the United States Postal Service management and operations in the Chicago area be thoroughly investigated and reviewed,” the letter said.

Complaints of delayed mail have dogged the Post Office for months, with issues reported in every part of the city. In December, Rep. Jan Schakowsky said people are not getting their mail on the Far North Side, another area that has long been dogged with subpar mail service.

“This is just completely, completely unacceptable,” she said.

In August, postal workers told Block Club they have been left understaffed, overworked and exposed to the coronavirus during the pandemic.

At the same time, the Post Office is under fire for slow service throughout the country and claims of being politicized under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed in the Trump administration. With President Joe Biden in office, Democrats are ramping up pressure on the White House to oust DeJoy from his position.

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