Art by Sofie Koski

Opinion by Natascha Hildebrandt
Special to The Sopris Sun

You’re repairing something. Ace and the COOP don’t have the part. It’s cheaper to order it on Amazon than to spend the gas and time to drive to Lowe’s in Glenwood Springs to see if they have what you need. It arrives in a day or two! This is life in the rural USA. Little do we realize how our purchases burden our local mail carriers.

When I moved two years ago, I began a friendship with my local United States Postal Service (USPS) mail carrier. She wraps packages in plastic, so they don’t get wet, and takes all kinds of care. She works damn hard. Occasionally, she vents — it seems to be all about Amazon. I became curious, how could I help her? What is the problem, exactly?

Auto-ship, for one. We are ordering monthly supplies of dog food, toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, diapers, baby wipes, bleach, bottled water, bottled beverages by the case, reams of paper — sometimes two in a box — that fill the aging vehicles. The carriers must return to the Post Office a second or even a third time, using up more gas and wearing on already old tires. Rural mail carriers don’t get paid hourly, so there’s no extra pay if it takes her until 10pm to finish her route. 

Amazon packaging is such that a USB plug might be packed in a box the size of a coffin and filled with air bladders. Things like RoundUp weed killer fall out of the boxes. The carriers handle items that are marked to be lifted by at least two people. There have been days when my carrier was near tears. She can’t plan anything in the evenings because she never knows what time she will finish work. Last year, she went over eight months working six days a week. Following COVID restrictions, rural carriers were denied hazard pay and apparently have had to take pay cuts due to the new rural route evaluated compensation system. 

This is not an anti-Amazon tirade. The point is to shine a light on burdened members of our community and to realize this scenario is likely playing out throughout the U.S. in other rural areas. How can we make this better? Communication would be one way. The Carbondale Post Office has no way to contact Amazon to suggest they take over the old City Market space or to tell them they cannot handle the average of 2,700 packages a day. They don’t have staff or space to receive packages until 10pm, or midnight to 4am. Amazon will not send a manifest of what packages are coming, so the Post Office cannot plan. The volume of packages is such that there can be only one worker at the counter at the Post Office, which leads to long lines and problems if the person needs to leave their post for a break. 

My carrier has worked for USPS for over 16 years. At times she is paid 7-8 hours for 10-12 hours of work. At Christmastime the carriers used to go on “mission mode,” putting their personal lives aside, falling behind on chores and decompressing once the holidays were over. Now, the mission never ends. She doesn’t understand why Amazon doesn’t have their own fleet of delivery vehicles or why the details of the deal between Amazon and the Post Office are sealed. Is it a conflict of interest that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy owns stock options in Amazon? Why was a deal made where the USPS subsidizes Amazon at the cost of their workers?

As members of the community, we can at least try to be patient and kind with the people who work at our local Post Office and those who deliver for us. We can try to empty our mailboxes and lockers promptly and be more understanding about having to go to the Post Office to pick something up. Some packages are too big, heavy, or there are too many, or something was damaged. Before we complain, we can ask our carrier or local Post Office why something wasn’t delivered.

It’s raining and my mail carrier is negotiating the bumps in our road, with only one windshield wiper working, dreading the next Amazon holiday sale.