More workers report delays in mail operations

Sunday, September 15, 2013
A postal worker empties outgoing mail from a mailbox Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the Post Office at 320 N. Frederick St., in Cape Girardeau. (Adam Vogler)

More employees of the Richard G. Wilson Processing and Distribution Facility in Cape Girardeau have come forward and said they have noticed a delay in local mail operations and delivery. They also are concerned about their future employment with the mail-processing facility.

By early next year, mail destined for Southeast Missouri will be sorted at the St. Louis mail-processing facility along with originating mail, or mail collected in Southeast Missouri, as part of a Postal Service cost-reduction plan. The Cape Girardeau processing center will remain open, but employees no longer will sort mail and instead will conduct other operations, said Postal Service regional spokesman Richard Watkins in a previous interview.

The American Postal Workers Union on Sept. 5 filed a complaint with the Postal Regulatory Commission, charging "the USPS is failing to comply with its own service standards and is depriving individuals, small businesses and organizations of the service they are entitled to by law," according to the Sept. 5 APWU News Bulletin.

Mail delays are occurring daily at a local and national level, some local Postal Service employees said, and plans for employees at the mail-processing facility in Cape Girardeau remain uncertain.

A mail-processing facility employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said a letter dated May 1 notified employees of "possible involuntary reassignment."

The employee said according to the union contract, the Postal Service has to provide jobs for employees of affected facilities, which are mail facilities that will be closed or consolidated.

The employee said Watkins' statement was misleading, and it needs to be clarified which employees will be kept at the local mail-processing facility.

"We all are unsure. I don't know if we have job," the employee said. "We've been told our job is going away."

The collection time of first-class mail was moved from 5 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Cape Girardeau to allow for its transportation from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis. Originating mail operations were moved to St. Louis in late July as part of Area Mail Processing.

Mail not at the plant by the mail truck's 4 p.m. departure sits on the dock until the next morning before it is sent to St. Louis for processing, then sent back to Cape Girardeau for delivery, the employee said, instead of being processed the same night in Cape Girardeau as it was before the collection time was changed.

Any mail that arrives after the earlier pickup time still must travel to St. Louis and back to Cape Girardeau, and "it sits, and to me that's delaying the mail," the employee said.

The employee said just because the pickup time was moved to earlier in the day does not mean there is not a delay.

"By them changing the pickup times, to me is their justification. I personally don't feel it is," the employee said.

Greg Davidson, president of American Postal Workers Local Union 4088, in an email said the best-case scenario for delivery would be if a piece of mail is mailed Monday before the critical entry time, for example. The mail would travel to St. Louis on Monday afternoon and come back to Cape Girardeau sometime Tuesday for Wednesday delivery, which is a one-day delay. However, if a bill does not make critical entry time Monday, it would not be sent to St. Louis until Tuesday, where it might not make it back to Cape Girardeau until Wednesday and would be processed for Thursday or Friday delivery -- up to four days later, he said.

"The truth is that Mr. Watkins is not here to see all the delayed mail we see," Davidson said in an email. "If he were here to visit this facility, I could show him thousands of pieces of delayed mail on a nightly basis."

Another employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said workers have seen mail trucks arrive on time from St. Louis three times since Area Mail Processing began. When a truck is late, a late slip has to be filled, the employee said. Late slips are given to drivers every time they leave a facility late, stating the reason for the delay.

"On every late slip that we get, the reason for the delay on the late slip ... it says specifically, 'late due to late mail processing,'" the employee said.

When it used to be common to see late slips at the end of the week, late slips have become a daily occurrence, they said. The employee estimated seeing an average of 10 to 14 late slips a night.

"It is a transportation issue, but it stems back to [the St. Louis mail-processing facility] cannot get that mail processed and turned around and out to the truck on time to get it out," the employee said.

The mail-processing facility is so short-handed, the employee said, supervisors sometimes sort mail instead. If it wasn't for supervisors' help, the processing center would be in worse shape, they said.

Mail-processing facility employees are used to working short-handed, but they are set up for failure nightly, the employee said.

"If the employees weren't doing more than the job calls for, we would be in a lot of trouble," they said.

What are seen as major delays and problems in the mailing system by local Postal Service employees are seen by Watkins as kinks in a new process that are being fixed.

Watkins said he would have to check with Robert Deen, mail processing manager of the Cape Girardeau mail-processing facility, about supervisors sorting mail.

Watkins on Friday said Deen and St. Louis counterparts speak daily about processing and service issues that come up and could affect service.

One processing issue the Postal Service is working to resolve is bar coding pieces of mail, Watkins said.

In a previous interview, Davidson said the St. Louis mail-processing facility was returning mail without bar codes, and employees at the Cape Girardeau mail-processing facility had to put bar codes on the mail, causing delay. When put through a machine, the bar code tells what town, carrier and order on a route the mail must travel.

As for a delay of first-class mail, Watkins said that is not happening.

"There have been no delays," he said. "I've talked to Robert Deen and his staff over at the mail-processing facility in Cape Girardeau, and they are clearing their first-class mail."

There has been a delay in standard mail, or advertising mail, Watkins said, but as far as first-class mail is concerned, "a majority of our customers said that that is running smoothly."

No employee from the Cape Girardeau mail-processing facility will lose his or her job as operations are phased out, Watkins said.

"No positions are going to be lost," he said. "The postal service will abide by our national agreements with those unions."

Davidson said Watkins "is painting a very rosy picture for the public that really is not factual."

"We all are pretty confident that for the next couple years, while we still have this contract, that we'll still be employed by the Postal Service, but we don't know at what capacity," Davidson said. "So it's all up in the air right now."

He said Cape Girardeau employees do not know where they will work after destinating mail operations are moved to the St. Louis facility.

"What are they going to do with us? We don't know, and apparently they don't know, either," Davidson said.

Watkins had no comment locally about the APWU complaint, which he said will be reviewed at a national level by the Postal Service.

adowning@semissourian.com

388-3632

Pertinent address:

475 Kell Farm Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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