Mail carriers struggle to make their appointed rounds

12/08/2013 4:02 PM

12/08/2013 4:04 PM

Cathy Pepper is fed up with mail that is being delivered late — sometimes after dark — or that is sometimes placed in the wrong mailbox.

Pepper and her neighbors, who live in the sprawling Villages of Woodland Springs subdivision in far north Fort Worth, are concerned that mail carriers can’t read house numbers or the addresses on packages.

“This has been going on for a year or more,” Pepper said. “But lately, it has gotten serious.”

What is happening to Pepper and her neighbors may not be an isolated incident. Consolidations and cutbacks by the Postal Service has some carriers going out on their appointed rounds later in the day, sometimes putting them on their routes in the gloom of night, post office and postal union officials said.

Officials with the Postal Service point out that despite consolidating mail operations throughout the country — including Fort Worth — that they are largely meeting “service standards” for delivery.

“This is not a local issue. This is a larger, national issue. We are looking for ways to improve this,” said local Postal Service spokesman Sam Bolen.

The Postal Service ended the 2013 fiscal year with a net loss of $5 billion, marking seven consecutive years the agency has posted losses, according to a Nov. 15 news release.

In a positive sign, the loss was a fraction of the record $15.9 billion the agency reported losing last year.

The Postal Service is being threatened by “onerous mandates in existing law and continued First-Class Mail volume declines.” First-class mail, the most profitable product, fell by 2.8 billion pieces from 2012.

A five-year business plan put forth by the Postal Service makes several recommendations for legislative changes, including restructuring the employee health plan, adjusting delivery frequency to six days for packages and five days for mail service and restructuring workers’ compensation.

Taking a long route home

Following a piece of mail from Pepper to someone in her neighborhood shows why the mail arrives so late.

A letter first goes to the Keller post office then goes to the North Texas Mail Processing Center in Coppell where it is scanned and given a bar code that determines if the mail will be delivered in Texas or elsewhere.

Then, the letter goes to a secondary processing center in Fort Worth before it is sent back to Keller, where it is sorted again and sent out with a carrier to be delivered, Bolen said.

This, admittedly, has moved back the time of arrival, he said.

“When someone is used to getting their mail at 10 or 11 in the morning, it is being delivered later in the afternoon,” he said.

Despite that circuitous route, and despite Pepper’s and her neighbors’ complaints of deliveries in the dark of night, Bolen said that on average the carrier in their area has returned to the Keller post office by 3:30 p.m.

The carriers are also meeting the service standard, which is delivery of a letter in the area by the next day, to another address in Texas by two days and to another state three days.

There were three instances when the carrier recently returned after dark, he said. On Oct. 15, the first delivery date after Columbus Day, the carrier returned at 7:10 p.m. On Nov. 12, after Veterans Day, the carrier returned at 7:25 p.m., and on Nov. 30, the postman returned at 8:40 p.m.

But to help with mail delivery the agency is adding someone who will deliver packages, leaving letters and other mail to be delivered by carriers, he said. There also have been management changes at the Keller post office.

“This should improve things,” Bolen said.

Pepper, who said she had trouble getting anyone at the post office to talk to her about her concerns, and neighbors had mixed responses when contacted about their mail delivery concerns.

Louise Nelson said in an email to the Star-Telegram that she had “zero problems” with her mail delivery.

“Only once or twice have I gotten our neighbor’s mail. I have always had friendly service from the post office,” Nelson wrote.

But Phoebe De Muynck Saenz said that on Monday night her doorbell rang after 9:30 p.m., after her children had gone to bed.

She was startled and asked who was at the door. She was surprised to learn it was the postal carrier.

“I justified his unusually late arrival with the special handling and volume. ... I truly felt sorry for him,” Saenz wrote in an email.

A tough situation

Ed Thompson, president of the Fort Worth Local of the Postal Workers of America Union, said that consolidating mail service has had a “devastating” effect on Fort Worth.

Last year, the Postal Service shifted operations from the Jack D. Watson Fort Worth Processing Distribution Center at 4600 Mark IV Parkway to Coppell as part of a nationwide consolidation plan intended to save the financially struggling agency nearly $1.2 billion a year.

Adding to the Postal Service’s money crunch is the Postal Service Accountability Act, which requires the Postal Service to pre-fund healthcare for retirees at a cost of $5.5 billion a year.

During the past six months, the Postal Service has shed about 31,000 full-time employees, consolidated 61 processing facilities, eliminated 350 delivery routes and reduced work hours in 5,000 offices.

Locally, about 210 employees have taken a $15,000 retirement incentive, Bolen said. Approximately 55 employees were placed in other jobs.

Nationally, the Postal Service has the fewest full-time employees since 1966.

“It’s just sad because none of this is necessary,” Thompson said. “As much as they try, the mail comes out late. The carriers leave late while trying to meet delivery standards.”

According to the union’s website, a complaint was filed against the Postal Service, alleging that it was not meeting delivery service standards.

The Postal Regulatory Commission has ordered the union to provide additional evidence to back up its claims, according to the website.

This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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