SMC postal staff overwhelmed: thousands of packages pile up

As new and returning students alike settled into campus for the 2021 fall semester, many were surprised by what they saw upon their first trip to the Cohon University Center’s Lower Level: lines stretching nearly 200 feet from the SMC package pickup window, down the hall, past every mailbox, and wrapping around the elevator corridor, with wait times reaching nearly two hours.

As the semester began, students ordered packages to their SMC mailboxes en masse. Little did they know, they would be waiting days, if not more than a week, for their delivered packages to be processed.

Student Package Coordinator Courtney Lepsh explained that the backup was due to a lack of staff following an apparent mass layoff this summer. However, this layoff, which had been announced in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic, was anticipated since retention was promised only until June 2021.

Lepsh described severe understaffing and overworking in Carnegie Mellon Postal Services, Facilities Management Services, campus stores, and restaurants, which was corroborated by a Carnegie Mellon University Bookstore employee who wished to remain anonymous.

Lepsh recounted, “On the first day of classes, there were well over 100,000 backed up packages, and only five of us working. Many of us were working over 10-hour workdays every day just to try and get caught up.” She continued, “FMS (Facilities Management Services) had the same issue with maintenance calls, but they were awesome: they had some of their guys come over and work from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. to try and help relieve the enormous pileup we had on our hands.”

As the first two weeks passed, many frustrated students attempted to make use of the SMC’s proxy service or find a friend who would let them ship packages to their independent or off-campus address. Lepsh stated at the time of the interview on Friday that, “Thanks to the hiring of two new full-time staff, several temp employees, and a whole lot of hard work, we can say that as of today we are fully caught up.” The wait time in line averaged five to 15 minutes on Friday, and, at times, was nonexistent.