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By Amy Dalrymple, Published November 25 2013

Postal Service battling burnout

WILLISTON, N.D. – The U.S. Postal Service should aggressively recruit more workers for western North Dakota to provide relief for employees who are being “worked to the bone,” a union representative said Monday.

“We have concerns about the long hours and the burnout,” said Donald Maston, executive committeeman for the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association. “For those employees who are able to live here, they’re being worked to death to the point where they’re quitting.”

Maston and several western North Dakota community leaders participated in a roundtable discussion in Williston hosted by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to discuss efforts the Postal Service is making to improve service in rapidly growing Bakken communities.

Drew Aliperto, Postal Service vice president of area operations for the western area, visited Williston on Monday, the day after local carriers worked Sunday to catch up on a backlog of deliveries after four people suddenly quit.

The Postal Service is recruiting experienced workers from other states to provide temporary relief in western North Dakota while more permanent employees are hired, Aliperto said.

About 12 to 15 employees from Nebraska will work in North Dakota starting this week, and the Postal Service is recruiting from other states as well, Aliperto said.

The Postal Service typically fills 80 percent of its jobs with career employees and the rest are a flexible workforce, Aliperto said. However, future hires in the Bakken will be career employees until the jobs are full, he said.

The Postal Service also will do more employee recognition, he said.

“I think we have to do a better job of recognizing the great work they’re doing and then compensating them for it,” Aliperto said. “And I think we’ll do a better job with retention there.”

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said although residents appreciate the hard-working Postal Service employees, he’s hearing more complaints about mail delivery.

“It’s hurting, and it’s probably hurting more than it was a few months ago,” Koeser said of the service.

Rural Williston resident Blaine Jorgenson received a text message during the meeting from his wife that they received mail on Monday, the first time in a week.

Several roundtable participants said they’ve seen improvements in getting mail delivered to apartment buildings and other employee housing since Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe toured the area in August.

Most participants focused on a lack of staff as the reason for “sporadic” mail delivery and encouraged Aliperto to consider providing employee housing, as many businesses in the area have done.

“They’re going to have to do more, whether it’s helping with housing or helping with pay raises,” Hoeven said.

Maston said the Postal Service should more aggressively market the job opportunities, which can provide good benefits and more than $25 an hour with experience.

“The initial step is getting the people on the job,” Maston said. “And you have to do that by making it attractive.”

Aliperto said his goal is for the job vacancy rate to be less than 5 percent. In the Bakken, the vacancy rate is about 10 percent, he said.

Other improvements the Postal Service is working on include adding satellite locations, such as one that recently opened in the Watford City Cashwise grocery store, Aliperto said.

The Postal Service also has decided to extend hours for about 35 post offices in the region that were previously reduced, Aliperto said, noting that specific announcements would be coming soon.

Participants noted similar delivery concerns from Watford City, Dickinson, Tioga and Fortuna.

Katie Walters, who manages housing developments in Watford City, said many oil workers don’t go home for Christmas, which is going to bring an inordinate number of packages for employees to handle.

“They’re already overwhelmed on a regular schedule and the holidays are coming up,” Walters said. “We know it’s frustrating for them, but it’s frustrating for everyone else as well.”