Montauk Post Office Complaints Stack Up
Rampant problems at the Montauk Post Office last summer had been attributed to staff turnover and the volume of mail and parcels, particularly because of the Postal Service’s deal to deliver for Amazon. At times, packages were literally stacked on the branch’s loading dock for days.
Now, with Christmas just around the corner and Hanukkah underway, very little has improved, according to Montauk residents, who say the system is broken and have started deputizing themselves as mail carriers. They report skipped delivery days, mail being delivered to wrong addresses, and mail and parcels being left in spots where they can be damaged by the weather — if their deliveries show up at all.
Some businesses report being hamstrung by delays in getting time-sensitive payments or needed stock. Residents reliant on paychecks, Social Security checks, or medicine via mail are also suffering.
“You have no idea how bad it is. It has in no way improved,” said Wayne Schoenbrun, a Montauk resident for 35 years. “This can’t be blamed on Black Friday. It can’t be blamed on the holiday season — it’s not. This is something that has been evolving for the past two years, and it’s been getting consistently worse the last four months or so. We get mail three or four days a week now instead of six. They’ll leave packages out in the rain. Sometimes they don’t come till 7 or 8 at night. It’s really amazing to me that a federal agency can get away with this.”
Many residents say they have called or visited the post office to offer solutions, not just air complaints, to no avail. Among them are Karl and Sallyann Stork. They say they’ve experienced a long list of problems in recent months: missing mail, skipped or late-evening delivery days, packages tossed on the curb, and an occasion when their carrier tried to jam a large package into their mailbox and badly damaged it. Mrs. Stork said her husband had put a water-soaked package in a plastic bag and taken it to the post office to show employees. “It’s terrible,” she said.
Mr. Stork failed to receive regular checks expected from the State of New York several times, which forced him to reapply and accept delayed receipt of the money by three to four weeks each time, he said, while the state investigated, canceled the checks, and reissued new ones. “They owe me about $1,500 now,” he said with a sigh.
In addition to reporting these problems, Mr. Stork said he told post office employees that his mailbox was broken. When he returned days later, however, he was told there was no record of his report. “I flipped out and said, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Mr. Stork said. “And as I was still there, there was a woman in line with 15 or 20 packages and only one gentleman working the front counter. He was very personable, very nice. But this guy was all by himself and asked for help numerous times. Nobody came out to help him. Finally another man waiting in line in the lobby started shouting, ‘Hey, is anybody else working here? Can I get some help? Or at least maybe a drink while I wait?’ It was so bad, we finally started having fun with it by the end. I answered him, ‘Sure. What do you want? A Scotch and soda?’ ”
Montauk is a small place in winter where longtime residents tell you only the last four digits of their phone numbers without the preceding “668.” Many of those who spoke for this story traced the decline in mail service to the 2017 departures of four longtime employees — two carriers and two clerks — plus the fact the postmaster had changed three times. They insist it’s not just the avalanche of Amazon parcels that causes problems.
Richard Brown, a rural route carrier in Montauk for 15 years before retiring, agrees. He said he runs into former customers at the I.G.A. supermarket or other spots around town who decry how bad mail service has become. He is sympathetic, he said, noting that he has experienced delivery problems himself. But he also laments the challenges his former post office colleagues are experiencing. Mr. Brown said he has tried to offer the management some suggestions, based on his experience, without success.
According to Mr. Brown, new carriers are not adequately trained before they’re “thrown to the wolves” and told to handle routes that can number 500 or so deliveries each day. He said some workers are temporary summer help, “or they come from UpIsland and places as far away as Brooklyn. They don’t know the area here, how there are a lot of streets with similar names, or streets that don’t show up on GPS.”
“The post office treats Montauk more like a summer community and it’s a year-round community,” he said. “There are still 3,000 of us here in the winter.”
Mr. Brown said all of his attempts have “fallen on deaf ears.” Much like Mr. and Mrs. Stork — who text a few neighbors each night saying, “The mail just arrived,” or, “Nothing tonight” —Mr. Brown is among those who have tried to devise solutions. He said he and his neighbors at the Camp Hero subdivision often avoid talking to post office employees at all now and take misplaced mail and parcels directly to one another. “We all know each other over here,” he said.
A woman who lives at the Montauk Manor and relies on mail deliveries of medicine spoke for this story, but asked to remain anonymous. “This is a small town, and they [post office workers] can be spiteful if they want to be spiteful,” she said. When she called in a recent complaint, a postal worker told her, she said, that some Montauk carriers are now being timed on how long it takes them to finish their deliveries. The apparent hope is that will improve their performance.
“But all it really means is they throw the packages down now and run, because they’re in a hurry,” she said. “I’ve seen it. I worry because my medicine comes in glass vials. They also constantly leave my postal box unlocked and thrown open.”
Mr. Brown said he sometimes gets in his car and goes looking for packages he is waiting for because he knows his address is similar to one in Hither Hills. “Sure enough, the parcel would be at that house,” he said. He added that he now has the post office hold all his mail. “Instead of it winding up in 5 or 10 or any one of the 700 mailboxes on the route, I just go pick it up when I want to. At least I know it’s there.”
“When you take someone who hasn’t been trained or isn’t from here and throw them to the wolves, how do you expect them to be competent in their work?” Mr. Brown said. “You know, the U.S. Postal Service is the only agency that goes to every address in the United States every day — and when I worked there, I was proud of that. But people here in Montauk are not getting their mail. And it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. It’s been happening a long time.”