U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush

At a news conference, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) called for Chicago Postmaster Wanda Prater to resign or be fired after an investigation into chronic complaints at four South Side stations. (Review photo)

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush has had enough.

After years of complaints from constituents about the United States Postal Service (USPS), Rush (D-1st) held a news conference at the Parkwood Ballroom in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Feb. 18, and he called for Chicago Postmaster Wanda Prater to resign or be fired.

Joining other elected officials whose constituents have endured chronic problems with the USPS, Rush said his criticism of Prater came after considerable thought—and thousands of complaints every month.

“I don’t do this lightly,” Rush said. “I don’t take this position on an African-American person, especially an African-American female, but accountability to those who depend on you must be held above any other consideration. The leadership has to assume the responsibility for the failure of what we’re all experiencing, especially during this pandemic, of a failed public service, a failed post office.”

Rush, whose district includes portions of Beverly/Morgan Park, presented the results of a USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation that he requested concerning four South Side postal stations—none of them local—from September 2020 through February 2021. He also expressed disappointment that in July no USPS officials attended his virtual town-hall meeting regarding complaints about the USPS.

According to Rush, over 3,500 people attended that meeting.

The OIG investigated the Auburn Park station, 8345 S. Ashland Ave.; the Henry McGee station, 4601 S. Cottage Grove Ave.; the Ashburn station, 3639 W. 79th St.; and the James E. Worsham station, 7715 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

The investigation concluded with findings of delayed mail, inaccurate reporting of mail conditions, improper scanning of packages and unsecured delivery vehicles.

Station managers said some mail wasn’t delivered because postal carriers had concerns regarding civil unrest and would only work during daylight hours; the report also found that managers did not properly document when carrier assistants, who are full-time alternates for regular carriers, did not report to work, which hampered Chicago district management’s ability to hire more carrier assistants.

Rush concluded that “final responsibility rests with the management that [station managers] report to.”

Prater has worked for the USPS since 2014. Her staff directed a request for comment to USPS Spokesperson Tim Norman in the Chicago district’s office of strategic communications.

Norman referred to the audit report created after the investigation, which included three recommendations from USPS officials for Chicago District Manager Randy Stines: continue to ensure that managers of the four stations under investigation review corrective-action processes with city carrier assistants who did not report to work; instruct Prater to continue directing the four station managers to prioritize reporting of delayed mail, undelivered routes and other delivery metrics; continue to instruct customer-service operations managers to monitor compliance with scanning and package-handling procedures at the four stations; and continue directing the four managers to follow a verification-of-activity checklist and properly manage and safeguard USPS assets.

Stines said that, due to the pandemic, several hundred employees have been on leave. He also said civil unrest, as well as violence against USPS employees—including a carrier from the James Worsham station being shot in the leg during the summer—has caused many employees to not come to work due to fear of being harmed while delivering mail.

The First Congressional District of Illinois extends from the South Side of Chicago into the southwest suburbs. It includes all of Morgan Park and portions of Beverly.

Rush said problems with USPS service extend throughout Chicago and into the suburbs.

Indeed, residents in the 60643 and 60655 ZIP codes have complained about poor service for years, whether it’s mail not being delivered for weeks at a time or poor customer service from carriers and station employees. Former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski co-signed a letter with several other local officials last summer asking USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to respond to their concerns.

At Rush’s recent town-hall meeting, postal carriers said problems have arisen from a lack of staff and because of changes in their working hours, including needing to work later into the night.

Elected leaders at the news conference agreed with Rush in calling for Prater to be replaced.

Alsip Mayor John Ryan said poor postal service is a national problem. He said he hadn’t received mail in a week—and that correspondence he mailed to a company a mile away was returned to him 10 weeks later. He said the problems mean that bills are being paid late and senior citizens aren’t receiving timely delivery of their medications.

“The whole thing is a failure right now,” Ryan said. “I completely with the congressman. We need to do more. We need to make a change in management and leadership right now with the postal service.”

Ryan also said unreliable mail delivery hurts the economy.

“Don’t give industry or business, or residents for that matter, any more reason to try and leave our area,” he said. “We do as much as we can to try and bring business to our community, to our cities. It’s hard enough doing that; and then you get a failure like this, and they can’t collect invoices, things that we just take for granted.

“We can’t use the pandemic as an excuse all the time, either. Let’s face it; everybody’s working more remote; people are shopping more remote. [The USPS] needs to step up. They actually need to staff this thing correctly and grow their system, their infrastructure with us. If we’re growing our communities, they need to grow with us, and they’re not doing that.”

Howard Brookins Jr., alderman of the 21st Ward, which is just east of the 19th Ward, said the poor service that Rush described is “commonplace” and a “catastrophe.”

“This situation is a travesty, and we have to do better,” Brookins said. “Our citizens deserve better. People rely on the post office for essential goods and services.”

Rush said the USPS has recently been “an abject failure.”

Asked if there’s any hope the problems can be solved, Rush was optimistic.

“We’re going to use hope as a springboard to action,” he said. “We must act. The postal service must act.”