At the U.S. Postal Service’s parcel support annex in Tampa, Santa’s helpers are getting their own help — from robots.
The warehouse space is staffed by a crew of 90 workers that is expected to grow by two-thirds in the coming weeks. They are gearing up for a busy holiday season.
Twelve robots are expected to help sort heavy packages, and a new Single Induction Package Sorter processes about 3,000 packages an hour into bins for different ZIP codes. By Thanksgiving, the annex will be operating 24 hours a day.
“Last year, we did all this manually,” plant manager Megan Conley said during a tour of the facility. She said she’s expecting to handle more parcels this December than the 12.5 million her plant handled last December.
The Postal Service and other major carriers, including UPS and FedEx, will be tested this holiday season as they deal with a massive surge in shipments in the midst of global supply-chain and labor disruptions and a continuing pandemic.
The nation’s mail service, which is almost entirely self-funded but is struggling financially, is betting that tech upgrades and more equipment will help it run smoothly and efficiently in the next crucial months.
“We’re modernizing the Postal Service,” spokesperson David Walton said.
The Tampa annex opened in July and is one of 45 opening nationwide to expedite shipping for the holiday peak season and beyond. (The Postal Service temporarily used the same space last holiday season, too.) Its package sorter is one of about 1,200 deployed nationwide.
Consumers may never see the robots and other behind-the-scenes workings at this facility. But here are some things Tampa Bay residents should know if they plan to ship gifts this holiday season.
How will the Postal Service’s delivery standard changes affect me?
The Postal Service on Oct. 1 enacted several changes meant to help return the organization to financial sustainability. That includes new “service standards” that determine how long the Postal Service should take to deliver a piece of mail.
Mail traveling within the same region will still have a delivery time of two days, but some first-class mail and periodicals traveling long distances may take a day or two longer, especially if they’re traveling from one coast to the other.
The Postal Service said 61 percent of first-class mail and 93 percent of periodicals will be unaffected by the new service standards.
The Postal Service has said the new standards will both reduce costs — allowing it to use more ground transportation instead of flights — and increase predictability. The organization had been struggling to meet its service performance targets for first-class mail.
The Florida 2 District, which includes Tampa Bay, has seen a decrease in customer complaints and inquiries compared to last year, according to Walton, the spokesperson.
Am I going to pay more to ship things this holiday season?
The Postal Service has temporarily increased some of its prices for the holidays, effective until Dec. 26.
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The increases depend on how far mail is traveling and how much it weighs, with increases ranging from 25 cents to $5 for retail ground and first-class package service.
How many people is the Postal Service hiring to help this holiday season?
Nationwide, the Postal Service said it will be hiring 40,000 seasonal workers. The Florida 2 District is adding about 1,100 seasonal jobs, Walton said.
Other holiday shipping jobs are also available. For instance, UPS said it is hiring 550 seasonal workers in its Tampa division. It’s also offering current employees $200 for every eligible employee referral they submit.
How many packages will the Postal Service handle this holiday season?
The Postal Service has seen a decline in letters and other first-class mail in recent years as people use different methods to send messages and other items. But it’s seen a recent increase in packages as consumers increasingly shop online.
In the 2020 holiday season, the Postal Service set a record with more than a billion packages delivered. It is expected to release information this week on how much volume it’s expecting.
What deadlines should I know?
The best advice for consumers shipping presents this holiday season: Start early, said plant manager Conley.
For those of us who are deadline-driven, here are some dates to know for packages meant to arrive by Christmas:
For the Postal Service:
Dec. 9: Priority and first-class mail for overseas military
Dec. 15: Retail ground service
Dec. 16: Priority mail express for overseas military
Dec. 17: First-class mail
Dec. 18: Priority mail
Dec. 23: Priority mail express
For UPS (within the U.S.):
For ground shipments, check ups.com/ctc for recommended shipping dates.
Dec. 21: Three-day select service
Dec. 22: Second-day air service
Dec. 23: Next-day air service
Note: Service guarantee suspended for some services
For FedEx (within the U.S.):
Dec. 9: Ground economy
Dec. 15: Ground and home delivery
Dec. 21: Express Saver
Dec. 22: Two-day shipping
Dec. 24: Same-day shipping
How do I get a postmark from the North Pole?
Yes, Virginia, there is a postmaster at the North Pole.
Parents wanting to get a letter postmarked from Santa’s post office should address the letter as usual and put a holiday stamp on the envelope, then put it in a larger envelope or Postal Service Priority Mail box. Put postage on the larger envelope or box and mail it by Dec. 10 to:
North Pole Postmark
4141 Postmark Drive
Anchorage, AK 99530-9998