BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The U.S. Postal Service will grant pay increases and bonuses to recruit and retain mail carriers in western North Dakota's oil patch, where the region's soaring population has led to overwhelmed workers, long lines at post offices and tardy or undelivered mail.
Sen. John Hoeven announced the agreement between the Postal Service and its union on Wednesday. The agreement calls for pay increases of up to 20 percent for rural carriers; newly hired carriers also will receive hiring bonuses that total $1,000 after one year. Current carriers also get the same sum within a year.
"This is good news. The real issue is we need more people," Hoeven told The Associated Press, adding that "mail has been piling up at the post offices."
The agreement covers most cities in western North Dakota, including Minot, Dickinson, Williston and Watford City. Cities can be added or removed without having to modify the agreement, Hoeven said.
The postal service said in a statement it will attempt to fill "about three dozen" rural positions under the agreement and it expects "future opportunities as population in the region continues to grow."
Residents have been pushing the postal service to improve service in western North Dakota for months. Some Christmas packages destined for the area were delivered weeks late, if at all.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe visited the region last year to get a firsthand look at the economic and population growth and its impact on mail delivery.
Donald Maston, executive committeeman for the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, said the agreement was signed Monday between his union and the postal service. He said it was the first such "wage modification" that he had seen in 30 years of working for the postal service.
"It's very rare and difficult to achieve," Maston said. "This took a lot of effort from the union, the postal service and (North Dakota) officials."
The region is short dozens of workers and it has been difficult for the postal service to compete with the higher wages paid by even fast food restaurants, Maston said.
The increases outlined in the agreement will result in starting hourly wages of more than $21 an hour, plus benefits.
"It brings them up to what we feel is a competitive wage," Maston said. "We're hoping to attract some local people who don't want to work in the oil fields."
Veteran mail carriers will receive a wage bump of at least 9 percent, he said.
Several longtime employees have resigned because of the stress of being overworked, Maston said. "A lot of full-time employees have quit because they were working too much," he said.
In Williston, the biggest city in the booming oil patch, the number of postal employees dipped to three as recently as two months ago, he said.
The postal service has brought in temporary employees to help with the workload, but that has been more expensive than hiring new employees and boosting wages, Hoeven said.
"That made no sense," the governor said.