By Lilly Milman
For the past two Fridays, July 26 and Aug. 2, the Skagway post office opened its doors at 12:30 p.m. — four hours later than usual.
The shortened hours were the result of unexpected short-staffing, said Brian Sperry, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) communications programs specialist for Alaska. USPS is in the process of hiring a new employee and the post office should return to its normal Friday hours by Aug. 9, he said.
Skagway isn’t the only small city in Alaska with recent post office staffing issues. In early July, about 20 people gathered around the post office in Wainwright — a city in the North Slope Borough with a population of about 550 people — protesting a 12-day stretch without mail service in their town. The Wainwright post office was closed due to an “unforeseen lack of staffing,” a USPS spokesperson told Anchorage television station KTUU.
This past February, Napakiak, a city near Bethel, with a population of 350 people, was left without any postal service for two weeks because the postmaster was on maternity leave, Bethel radio station KYUK reported.
In 2012, Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the postal service in Skagway “intolerable” in a letter to the Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and asked that USPS resolve the issues within the week. At the time, there were three job vacancies in the post office and residents were complaining that it took up to 20 days to receive mail that was stacked in the back of the office.
“Skagway has no pharmacy, so all medications are shipped to the community through the mail,” Murkowski wrote in the letter.
USPS responded by transferring a postal worker from Juneau to Skagway within two months.
Two years later, then-Sen. Mark Begich wrote a similar letter to Donahoe, once again demanding reliable mail service in Alaska. Begich listed mail delays, post office closures and understaffing as issues affecting the state, specifically mentioning Skagway’s staffing problem.
“For years, the Skagway post office has been understaffed, particularly in the summer tourist season when many retailers gain the income which they need for the rest of the year,” Begich wrote. “It is long past time for a creative solution for staff recruitment, management, planning and housing.”