Tri-Citians see effects of mail handling changes

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldNovember 2, 2013 

Wald Postal Pasco

John Michael Wald, local American Postal Workers Union president, says it has been a ÒfiascoÓ since operations at the Pasco handling facility were moved to Spokane.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Tri-City residents are seeing the effects of the recent closure of Pasco's mail handling facility, a union official said.

The post office on Court Street, located in the same building as the former mail handling facility, has been dealing with 20 times more rejected mail since U.S. Postal Service mail handling operations were moved July 19 to Spokane, said John Michael Wald, local American Postal Workers Union president.

The additional manual work required to sort the mail is leading to mail carriers having to push their schedules back, he said.

When the Pasco facility processed its own mail, Wald said it would typically see between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces of mail kicked into the "reject bin" because they didn't have a proper bar code, Wald said. But time constraints in Spokane have caused that number to skyrocket.

"Spokane just doesn't have the time to properly run the rejects, so they give them to us," he said.

And all that mail must be sorted by hand to be placed in proper sequence for delivery, which pushes back the schedule for carriers, Wald said.

This means people who leave outgoing mail in their home mailbox shouldn't expect to see it sent to Spokane the same day. Wald said about 15 of 90 mail routes that operate out of Pasco get back to the post office before the last truck leaves at 5:30 p.m. for Spokane because carriers are so backed up. He said some carriers are on their routes until after 8 p.m.

The result is hundreds of thousands of undelivered letters sitting in the post office overnight, Wald said. When Pasco operated the mail-handling facility, everything would have typically been sent that day, says Wald.

"The employees who work in Pasco are so thoroughly disgusted and almost embarrassed that this is the quality of service the postal service thinks the American people deserve," he said.

Postal service spokesman Ernie Swanson acknowledged there has been an increase in rejected mail and that earlier collection times have led to some mail carriers not getting letters back to the post office in time to be sent to Spokane the same day. To compensate, two new bar code sorters were recently installed at the Spokane mail handling facility.

But Wald said the machines aren't any more advanced technologically than those the post office already has, so they still don't read the mail. And this doesn't solve the problem of workers manually having to program the data from the letter in, said Wald.

"The number of machines isn't the relevant fix to the problem, which is that they don't have the time that they need to do the job," Wald said.

Wald doesn't expect the situation to get better as the holiday season approaches.

"You better start thinking about (sending packages) in the next couple weeks," he said. "There is no way this is not going to have an impact on the service we're going to be able to provide."

The dismantling of the mail-handling equipment in Pasco has caused its own set of problems, Wald said.

Postal service employees made an error when they removed computers they thought were no longer needed from the Pasco facility. Wald said one of the computers shipped to Norman, Okla., controlled the heating and air conditioning for the entire building.

"There's no way to control the system," he said.

The problem has been addressed and the heating and air conditioning system is now working at the Pasco post office, Swanson said Thursday afternoon.

But that was not the case as of Thursday evening, Wald said. He did credit the post office for working diligently on the issue.

The postal service also has assigned five electrical technicians and a mechanic, the Pasco office's highest paid craft employees,to Spokane for involuntary assignments as custodians for an indefinite time period, Wald said. He said that could be a way for the postal service to get around requirements in its union contract to keep it from moving employees more than 50 miles away.

Wald sees the postal service as trying to get the employees to either quit or volunteer to move. He said the agency is wasting thousands of dollars a week on expenses for the employees.

"It really seems like to me that the postal service is going out of the way to make life as difficult as possible," he said.

Any transfers have been made within the guidelines of the union contracts, Swanson said.

The post office had planned to consolidate all its mail handling operations in Eastern Washington to Spokane. But while Pasco has shifted operations to Spokane and Wenatchee is scheduled to close next year, Swanson said the Yakima facility's future is "still up in the air."

Also up in the air is the future of the downtown Pasco post office at 403 W. Lewis Street. Swanson said it is under consideration for possible closure, but no decision has been made.

Pasco City Councilman Al Yenney said he hopes the downtown post office will remain open. But if the post office no longer wants to run it, he would like to see a private company come in and let residents keep their mailboxes there.

"We're going to try to keep it open somehow," he said. "It's important to keep mailboxes there."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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