The final holiday season was far from the most wonderful time of year for the U.S. Postal Service: sick and quarantined workers, a flood of packages from shoppers reluctant to set foot in stores and a last-minute emptying of packages from overwhelmed private senders.
Postal workers who recall parcels and letters stacked in distribution centers are better prepared this time around as they prepare for another pandemic crisis. But low product inventories and disruptions to ports and the supply chain are creating new uncertainty about the delivery of gifts.
Already, workers are seeing an increase in vacation packages that began several weeks ago.
“A lot of workers say, ‘Oh no. Here we go again, ”said Scott Adams, local president of the American Postal Workers Union in Portland, Maine.
The US Postal Service and private shippers UPS and FedEx are stepping up their hires – bringing in about 230,000 temporary workers – and taking other steps to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed by packages.
Nearly 3.4 billion packages are expected to crisscross the country this holiday season, an estimated increase of about 400 million from last year, said Satish Jindel, of Pennsylvania-based ShipMatrix, who analyzes data. parcel shipping data.
When cards and letters are included, the U.S. Postal Service has said it will deliver more than 12 billion items.
“The pandemic is still here. The supply chain is a challenge that is going to impact the way people shop and the way products move, ”said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more. 200,000 postal workers.
Despite the precarious situation, the Postal Service, UPS and FedEx are in better shape to handle the peak in volume, and several trends could work in their favor, Jindel said.
More people are shopping in stores compared to last year, and people have placed orders online earlier because they are keenly aware of supply chain issues, Jindel said. In addition, with the return of workers to the office, there are fewer shipments of home office supplies, he said.
More importantly, shippers are adjusting after their difficult experience last year, he said.
United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who came under fierce criticism last year but reported on-time improvements and reduced operating losses this month, said the service was ready for the crisis.
“We’re ready, so send your packages and mail to us,” he said.
A year ago, more than a third of the Postal Service’s first class mail was late for the arrival of Christmas.
Semitrailers stuffed with mail were left idling outside some mail sorting facilities. Parcels and letters pile up in distribution hubs. The delays increased by days, then weeks, in many cases.
Two things were painfully obvious. More workers and more space were needed – and both are being addressed.
To keep the volume under control, the Postal Service is moving more than 30,000 career-less employees to the ranks of career employees in peak season, hiring 40,000 seasonal employees and leasing additional space in more than 100 locations to ensure that there is room for the parcels. .
The postal service installed more than 100 new parcel sorting machines in early November, part of the $ 40 billion investment planned over 10 years. In addition, more than 50 parcel systems capable of sorting large parcels are expected to be deployed before December. Together, they are increasing the capacity of an additional 4.5 million packages per day, officials said.
UPS, for its part, hires more than 100,000 seasonal workers across the country and continues to add aircraft and automations. It expects nearly 90% of its packages to pass through automated facilities by the end of the year.
FedEx, meanwhile, is expanding its workforce by 90,000 nationwide at its operating companies. Most of these new workers are expected to stay after the holidays, the company said.
Despite all these extra workers, shippers agree this is not the year for buyers to procrastinate.
“Complete your holiday shopping as soon as possible,” said Jim Mayer, UPS spokesperson.