Kelley Kim

Postal problems

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Carriers at the Redondo Beach post office blame workplace conditions and lack of adequate management for the latest delays in mail deliveries

Post office workers sort mail onto trucks for delivery at the Redondo Beach post office. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Post office workers sort mail onto trucks for delivery at the Redondo Beach post office. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Inconsistencies in mail delivery at the United States Postal Service’s Redondo Beach office have resulted in businesses and residents of certain neighborhood blocks reporting that they have, at times, not received mail for up to four consecutive business days.

USPS hiccups extend nationwide. Late and erratic mail delivery has been reported across the country and the service is struggling financially. Last week, the USPS reported quarterly losses totaling $2 billion due, in part, to a congressional requirement to set aside $5 billion annually for future retiree healthcare funds.

Things have gone particularly awry in the main Redondo Beach Post Office, which is located on the 1200 block of Catalina Avenue and serves both Redondo and Hermosa Beach. Letter carriers within the office have filed 204 labor grievances in 2013 and 2014. Mail routes have been lengthened and pressures are on carriers to do more work with less personnel. Carriers say they are working up to 75 hours per week, often delivering mail until 10 p.m. Supervisors follow letter carriers on their routes, allegedly badgering them to walk faster. Last month, a carrier suffered an anxiety attack and was taken from the office by ambulance, according to fellow carriers and union representatives.

Letter carriers at the Redondo Beach post office located at 1201 N. Catalina Ave. complain of routes that are too long and of badgering by supervisors. Photo by Brad Jacobson.

Letter carriers at the Redondo Beach post office located at 1201 N. Catalina Ave. complain of routes that are too long and of badgering by supervisors. Photo by Brad Jacobson.

As a result, local residents and businesses are not getting mail delivered on time.

“Everybody knows that Redondo has the worst delivery system in the world,” said one resident of the 200 block of North Juanita Avenue, who claimed to have lost a $10,000 check in the mail because it was never delivered. “Some days we get our mail at 2:30 (p.m.), some days it’s 9 (p.m.). You never know who’s delivering the mail.”

A Riviera Village doctor’s office received no mail for three business days.

“We get our insurance checks in the mail,” the doctor’s office receptionist said. “That’s how we run our business.”

Barbara Stickler, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 1100, cites two reasons for Redondo Beach’s delivery problems: routes that are too long and an aging workforce being replaced by new hires who are quitting at a 50 percent rate because carriers are not getting adequate support from management.

“We are working hard to get the routes adjusted,” Stickler said. “Routes are supposed to be eight hours, but the routes on paper are longer than eight hours and yet management hasn’t adjusted them, creating assignments which, in turn, would give us more employees.”

Stickler said supervisors are allowed “early outs” – the option to retire early – so post office branches are hard-pressed to find new, suitable supervisors and management. Inexperienced supervisors are filling these positions, creating situations in which routes are left unassigned when a carrier is out sick and route lengths are being underestimated, according to letter carriers and the carriers’ union.

Carriers blame the botched local delivery system on poor management and unqualified supervisors who lack experience in assigning proper routes and managing mail distribution.

“It all stems from management,” said one carrier who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. Easy Reader conducted interviews with more than a dozen mail carriers, all who requested anonymity to protect their jobs.

Stickler estimated that current letter carriers in Redondo Beach are working on average 70 to 75 hours a week. She also said current routes take on average 10 hours to complete, instead of the expected eight.

“We want to be successful and we want to go home on time,” said Stickler, who was a letter carrier for 27 years before becoming a full-time union representative.

USPS spokesman Richard Maher acknowledged an existing overtime problem. But contrary to claims made by Stickler and letter carriers, Maher said carriers working overtime is not a widespread problem within the Redondo Beach office. He said records over the last three weeks show only a handful of carriers working in excess of 60 hours.

“While the use of overtime to complete rounds in Redondo Beach has been running above average and management is taking steps to reduce it, time records show only five letter carriers serving the 77 delivery routes in Redondo Beach have averaged over 60 hours per week during the recent three-week period,” Maher said. “Some carriers request extra hours.”

Easy Reader staff graphic. Source: USPS

Easy Reader staff graphic. Source: USPS

Carriers say the decreased number of letter carriers and subsequently increased length of delivery routes are a core problem. In 2011, there were 113 carrier routes serving Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach. Today, as confirmed by Maher, route consolidation has resulted in 36 fewer routes. Stickler said the number of letter carriers has decreased from approximately 120 in 2011 to 100 today.

“We’re all working like dogs,” one mail carrier said. “We usually try to deliver all the mail. … It’s too much to do it right.”

Carriers say city carrier assistants, hired on a casual basis, bear the brunt of criticism from supervisors.

“I had some CCAs look at me in the eye and say, ‘I have no life,’” recalled another mail carrier. “You could see the hurt in their eyes and their voices. These were good carriers, and they quit because it was just too much for them.”

POSTAL BLUES

Mail delivery is one of the oldest services provided by the U.S. government and something homeowners and businesses expect to be dependable.

The USPS has existed since the nation’s founding and is one of the few governmental agencies mandated by the Constitution. Yet its nature as a quasi-governmental agency – neither public nor private, self-funded yet controlled by Congress – has strained its productivity in recent years.

The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act required the USPS to set aside $5 billion annually toward a long-term health care plan for retired post office workers, planting seeds of debt that, for the seventh consecutive year, have put the agency in the red despite revenue growth and increases in shipping and package delivery.

The USPS introduced an automated sorting system in 2008 called the Flats Sequencing System to sort magazines, newsletters and large envelopes.

The FSS was planned to sort 90 percent of all flat mail, but Stickler said the machines are prone to error and work at about 60 percent efficiency, leaving two extra hours of sorting work for letter carriers to complete before seven-hour delivery shifts.

The FSS was implemented locally in 2011 and immediately created problems at the Redondo Beach office, including longer work hours for carriers and allegations of bulk mail dumping ordered by supervisors and documented by Easy Reader.

Carriers said problems with the system persist.

“Sometimes we get things that are upside down or backwards,” said one Redondo Beach carrier. “We are constantly having to deal with the mistakes of the machine work.”

According to another longtime mail carrier, routes have been made longer on three separate occasions in the past four years. Delivering until 8 or 9 p.m. is normal for many carriers, and some deliver until 1 a.m. during holiday and peak times.

Letter carriers have been working late into the night for many years, using headlamps to correctly sort mail into gang mailboxes. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber, 2011.

Letter carriers have been working late into the night for many years, using headlamps to correctly sort mail into gang mailboxes. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber, 2011.

“All employees, part of their job is to work overtime to deliver the mail,” said Maher. “We don’t tell employees, ‘Well, at eight hours, (you) have to go home.’”

Maher said routes are adjusted to fit approximately eight-hour frames.

“We just want to do a route and go home like a normal person who works a 9 to 5,” said one mail carrier. “We’re forced to do the overtime. They don’t even say please. They just say you’re going to do two more hours.”

Carriers are concerned for their safety when delivering late at night.

“Someone’s either going to get hit by a car, fall or get mugged,” said one mail carrier. “When you call the emergency line, the supervisors never pick up. We could be having a heart attack and they wouldn’t even show up.”

Stickler said carriers have the right to tell management they feel unsafe. But she said some carriers don’t speak up because they are on probation and are concerned for their job security.

“We try to educate that at any point an employee feels it is unsafe, they absolutely have the right to just say, ‘This is stupid. I’m not going to someone’s door at 8, 9, 10 (p.m.),’” Stickler said.

Late-night deliveries are “sometimes unavoidable due to inclement weather, traffic issues or other unplanned events and seasonal fluctuations in mail volumes,” Maher said.

AFFECTED CUSTOMERS

Residents on the 200 block of North Juanita Avenue are upset with the inconsistencies in their mail delivery.

“Every day a truck pulls up next to the (fire) hydrant and it’s a different person,” said one resident.

Homeowners on the 500 block of North Maria Avenue are also dissatisfied.

“They didn’t deliver all of last week,” said a young mother whose family has lived in the same house on the 500 block for 62 years. “(My mother) went down to the post office and she was told they were too backed up to deliver. They said they couldn’t sort it fast enough. She was told to ‘just go home and wait for it to come.’”

Businesses such as Hennessy’s corporate office and Montelongo Salon at 1845 S. Elena Ave. in Riviera Village receive mail at varying hours of day and night, and carriers are always changing.

Former Redondo Beach Councilman Bob Pinzler, who lives on the 1800 block of Stanford Avenue, has been experiencing abnormalities in his mail delivery. Yet Pinzler is hesitant to call them “problems.”

“It’s an old tech in a new world,” said Pinzler, “but (letter carriers) are forced by the law to service every place in the county. … They’re kind of stuck in a vicious cycle that they can’t seem to get out of. I wouldn’t place this on the backs of the letter carrier. It’s not their fault. … It’s more structural than it is the individual.”

Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel confirmed the late-night delivery of mail but said any resolutions are out of his hands.

“My mail sometimes gets there 7 or 8 o’ clock at night,” Aspel said. “The city’s got involved with it but … our hands are tied. We have brought it to (the management’s) attention numerous times on the phone and in person, and we’ve been politely rebuffed saying it’s people power shortage and budget cuts. … It’s nothing about the carriers. They work their butts off late at night. … It is something that the city has urged the post office to fix, but that’s about as far as we can go.”

WORKPLACE AWRY

Sometime during the week of July 21, a letter carrier suffered an anxiety attack and had to be taken away in an ambulance before starting his shift. Stickler and two carriers confirmed the incident. Other carriers describe a system of management by intimidation.

“All this year, I was basically tormented,” shared another letter carrier. The carrier recalled an incident in which the manager of post office operations, Tyrone Williams, sat in his work car and berated the carrier walking from house to house.

A postal supervisor follows a letter carrier on his route in 2011. Recently, carriers have been complaining that their supervisors follow them on routes and berate them. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

A postal supervisor follows a letter carrier on his route in 2011. Recently, carriers have been complaining that their supervisors follow them on routes and berate them. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

“Us carriers have had a fear of white cars, and they come out and harass us in them and say, ‘Why aren’t you walking fast enough?’” the carrier said. “They’ll park and sit there … they don’t consider how much mail we have and how many parcels we have and how tired we are.”

Williams did not return calls seeking comment.

Maher said USPS has policies in place to protect workers, including training that took place this year under the federal Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act outlining the rights and remedies applicable to them under employment and whistleblower protection laws. The No FEAR Act requires federal agency employers to provide a workplace free of discrimination and retaliation.

“The Postal Service is committed to a workplace free of verbal or physical intimidation, discrimination and retaliation,” Maher said.

But letter carriers speak of the rock-bottom morale that permeates their workplace. “People are just tired, depressed and overworked,” said one. “There’s no hope in there.”

“Every day you go in thinking ‘What’s it going to be like today?’” said another letter carrier. “When you drive into the parking lot and you see no personal vehicles there you know it’s going to be a bad day. There’s no one to work.”

“All our vehicles are breaking down,” said another carrier. “Half the time we don’t have enough vehicles or scanners or keys to open up boxes. Everything is just a mess there.”

According to one carrier, an injured CCA was recently given three hours extra work and still told by her supervisor to “be back by 6 o’clock (p.m.),” the time expected for carriers to be finished with their routes and back at the post office. Because the amount of work given to a CCA is at the discretion of the supervisor, CCAs feel obligated to do as they are told without question for fear of losing their jobs.

Photo by Brad Jacobson

Photo by Brad Jacobson

Stickler said she has called for labor management meetings with district manager Ed Ruiz for months to no avail. The district office, she said, continues to respond like “a revolving door,” shuffling complaints in circles and blaming carrier habits instead of addressing more systemic issues.

Due to lack of response, Stickler and post office employees have contacted Congresswoman Janice Hahn’s office and the Office of the Inspector General to see if other government entities can prod the Los Angeles USPS district management to action.

They have not received a response from any office.

Maher said that management personnel at the Redondo Beach Post Office meet regularly with union representatives to address any local issues, and the district manager’s office has not been contacted in regards to scheduling a meeting.

Mail carriers also reported personal affairs between management and staff and nepotistic hiring practices.

“All our upper management are too busy having affairs with each other,” one mail carrier said. According to this mail carrier, two managers of post office operations – Tyrone Williams and Steve Lopez – fathered children with two post office managers.

“Since the affairs started, several people have gotten promoted to higher positions,” Stickler said. “I don’t know when the affairs started, but they (the mothers of the children) are now managers.”

Many seasoned letter carriers said having experience as a letter carrier is necessary to be a good supervisor. Maher defended USPS hiring practices.

“We hire supervisors right off the street sometimes,” said Maher. “The post office is a leader in diversity. It’s not a requirement that you must carry for five years to be in a management position. If someone from the outside has management, has the qualifications, we will hire them as a supervisor.”

Stickler prescribed a two-pronged solution to the mail delivery problems: adjust route assignments to fit eight hours and provide proper staffing in both management positions and letter carriers.

“These guys need to be fired,” said one mail carrier. “They need to be removed from the post office. They just keep breaking people’s lives.”

One mail carrier expressed hope for the future. The escalation of delivery problems to the point where people are not receiving any mail at all, the carrier said, could finally raise enough alarms to bring resolution to longstanding issues.

“I’m not afraid anymore,” the carrier said. “I’ve actually been set free. There’s hope. We just keep praying that even our customers would rise up to complain and get things right because if we can’t do it as carriers because were too tired to do it, hopefully the customers can help us out to get things back to normal and bring back our old supervisors who ran the place.”

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