Local post offices say the mail is not going through there, either

Posted: December 05, 2008

Conditions at some local post offices mirror the problems at the U.S. Postal Service's processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia, according to letter carriers and a supervisor.

In some stations in the 191- and 190- ZIP codes in Philadelphia and nearby suburbs, postal employees allege:

* Overtime records are falsified to reduce the hours of letter carriers.

* Mail-volume records at the stations are falsified.

* Daily color codes on mail bins are changed to make it appear as if the mail is not late.

* Mail is delayed for days, especially bulk-rate mail that includes time-sensitive circulars and other advertisements.

* Tractor-trailers with mail are sometimes parked at stations to "hide" or not count the mail.

As a result of mail allegedly being undercounted at the Southwest Philadelphia processing plant, prompting the transfer of employees to other sites, and of a yearlong ban on overtime, there are fewer employees to process mail than in the past.

To cope with the resulting backlog, workers and supervisors have told the Daily News that workers in some cases hid and destroyed mail.

USPS spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky declined to address the allegations of falsified reports and mishandled mail, but said, "We take any allegation seriously.

"Our employees have always been encouraged to contact the Office of the Inspector General hot line (1-888-USPS-OIG) to report any alleged violations of our laws, rules and regulations."

Several employees who have brought the allegations to the OIG regional office and to the USPS headquarters in Washington say that they have gotten no response.

Some employees say that management retaliates against them if they identify problems to higher-ups. They say that their hours and work assignments are changed and that if they file an official complaint, they are fired.

The Daily News over the past week has detailed stories from postal customers about late, damaged and missing mail, as well as from postal workers who complain of chronic understaffing.

At one branch office, a onetime supervisor said: "I was told to lie about the amount of mail received at the station. We receive more mail than we're reporting.

"We're not giving the customers all the mail when it comes in. They hold back the mail so [the USPS] doesn't have to pay overtime."

Another postal employee said that the "clock rings" on the computer that tracks carriers' work time can be rolled back like an odometer.

"They can go into the computer and make it look like you worked eight hours, when you had 10 hours," said a carrier who allegedly discovered tampered overtime records.

In the same way, a supervisor "can make the computer record look like the mail is delivered on time," the employee added.

The supervisors, plant workers and letter carriers who spoke with the Daily News asked that their names not be used for fear of retaliation.

They say that the USPS drive to economize has strained the system.

On Oct. 8, Philadelphia-area district manager Frank Neri announced that more than 800,000 work hours had been cut, representing a 23.7 percent reduction in overtime and $27 million in savings.

Recently, the USPS delayed delivery times for letter carriers, resulting in later deliveries. Some businesses complain that they get mail as late as 6 p.m.

"It's embarrassing to deliver the mail at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.," said a carrier. "Don't blame the carrier or the postmaster - these decisions are being made at a higher level."

Sometimes carriers are sent out without full loads, and the remainder is given to part-time employees in an effort to avert overtime, carriers say.

Supervisors must call their area operation manager, who supervises 90 offices, to obtain authorization of overtime.

"The answer is always no," said a 190- ZIP-code supervisor. "How do they know whether we need to bring people in?

"Now, they want us to open a station with only one supervisor" when others are off, the supervisor said.

With some post offices open about 17 hours a day, "one supervisor can't do it all," the supervisor complained.

This week, area postmasters received an e-mail saying: "We continue to experience unacceptable levels and unauthorized, nonscheduled day overtime." *

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