Departing Bemidji postal worker documents overwhelming package volume

Long, unpaid hours and a toxic work environment are crushing employees at the Bemidji post office, according to a longtime carrier who quit last week. With his help, FOX 9 got a rare peek inside the Bemidji office to see the conditions for workers this holiday season.

Dennis Nelson said he hit his breaking point after several weeks of working more than 12 hours a day, six days a week, since adding Amazon deliveries to his regular route.

And he considered himself one of the lucky ones.

Nelson saw the negatives in his job pile up too high as soon as Amazon packages came to the Bemidji post office.

"The first day we walked in there and saw that it was something that we couldn't even wrap our heads around," he said.

Nelson was a rural carrier for more than 20 years. He knows the 75-mile route well enough to sometimes finish in less than eight hours.

Photos provided to FOX 9 show piles of Amazon packages at the Bemidji post office. (Supplied)

But he says adding Amazon packages in November forced him and his fellow carriers to work at least 12 hours a day. He says they usually didn’t get extra pay for extra work, and he worried about safety on the roads on winter nights.

"Being out there until nine, 10, 11 at night and somebody is probably going to get seriously hurt or killed," Nelson said.

So he broke policy by documenting the package overload inside the office, and he quit before he got fired for it. He says half of Bemidji’s 16 carriers have quit, and staffing was already a problem.

Postal Service management told members of Congress last week that the Minnesota-North Dakota district had 112 seasonal vacancies, but only fully hired 24 employees.

Sen. Tina Smith says the district has only 60% of the staff it needs in rural areas.

"Customers of the U.S. Postal Service in Bemidji are not getting the service they deserve, and that is a problem," said the Minnesota Democrat.

Prioritizing Amazon packages isn’t USPS policy, but individual post office managers have the discretion to prioritize packages over mail.

Spokespeople didn’t answer our specific questions about complaints at the Bemidji office, but responded to Sen. Smith, saying "For the most part, all mailpieces and packages, including in Bemidji, are being delivered daily."

Nelson says that was an almost impossible task that forced him to leave a job he loved until recently. And he was only about five years from retirement.

"I would love to see this all work out with the post office, things get cleaned up and straightened up," he said. "I'd like my job back."

Amazon has contracted USPS for some deliveries since 2013 and occasionally expands where it uses the post office.

Internal USPS documents obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight showed the contract created a $1.6 billion profit in 2019.