Postal service disputes union claims of delayed mail

The U.S. Postal Service is denying claims by a local postal workers union that a recent consolidation has resulted in massive delivery delays.

In fact, officials say, service has improved.

The union alleges the amount of delayed first-class mail in ZIP codes starting with 600 mail that's delivered at least a day late has grown from about 30,000 pieces daily from July to October to between 100,000 and 150,000 pieces each day this month.

The area, which covers most North and Northwest suburbs, was affected earlier this year by a transition of some sorting and canceling operations from the Palatine Processing and Distribution Center to a similar facility in Carol Stream.

“There is mail there in Carol Stream that should be delivered the next day, but it's not,” said Jackie Engelhart, president of the American Postal Workers Union's Northwest Illinois Area Local chapter. “(The postal service) said there'd be no degradation of service and there has been.”

Greg Johnson, senior plant manager for the postal service's Northern Illinois District, said that on the rare occasion that first-class mail is delayed, the amount has never totaled more than 10,000 pieces on a given day. He believes the union is categorizing mail as delayed when it really isn't.

Johnson said the consolidation with Carol Stream means outbound mail is getting on roads and planes faster, and noted the agency recently posted its best overnight performance in seven quarters.

An independent firm rated the district at 97 percent, meaning all but three of 100 pieces of first-class mail gets delivered on time. Customers aren't complaining more, either, Johnson said.

Similar streamlining is taking place across the country, and spokesman Tim Ratliff said the postal service is responding to a dramatic drop in mail volume the best it can.

In fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, the agency reported a net loss of $8.5 billion. Revenue shrank from $72.6 billion in 2006 to $67.1 billion in 2010. Mail volume fell from 213 billion pieces to 170.6 billion pieces over the same period.

“Here's the reality: We have an excess amount of facilities, equipment and staffing to process the declining mail volume,” Ratliff said. “The consolidation has saved us costs and improved service.”

While some employees got new work assignments due to the move, nobody was laid off and union agreements were followed, he added.

Engelhart and the union fervently opposed the consolidation to Carol Stream, even organizing a picket on Northwest Highway outside the Palatine facility.

She said more than a dozen career employees were given the option of either relocating to another state or becoming part-time regulars. Those who chose to stay saw their hours cut to just a handful a week, she said.