eKC feature
May 18, 2007

 


Outsourcing your mail -
US Postal Service plans to use
private contractors to deliver
mail in Kansas City
by Tom Bogdon

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Inscription: New York City
Post Office

There is an increasing possibility that your U.S. mail will be delivered by a private contractor or subcontractor, and career letter carriers don’t like it.

“I’ve found that in many military installations, mid-level government installations and even nuclear power plants, mail trucks just get a nod and a wave through the gate from on-site security,” said a Kansas City letter carrier with 24 years service that asked that his name not be used. “This has a lot to do with the public trust of letter carriers.

“The Postal Service predates America,” this letter carrier continued. “It was around several years, serving the colonies, before we declared our independence.”

Dave Gwin, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 30, said his members are primarily concerned with security of the mail and maintaining the current qualifications of mail carriers. (photo by Ron Johnson)

With mail delivery contracted out, the letter carrier said, Al-Qaeda could use a front person to become a mail delivery contractor, which would give the terrorists the opportunity to distribute weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) anywhere they wanted.

“The other concern you have,” the letter carrier said, “is what do you do in the Midwest when the Heat Index is 117 degrees or the Wind Chill Index is 40 degrees below zero? You need dedicated, career, professional letter carriers to deliver in the face of adversity. When the weather’s bad, the Post Office even now has trouble retaining casual employees — summer help or Christmas help who assist regular carriers during high-volume periods.”

This carrier added that in the event of a radiological or biological attack, career letter carriers have agreed to deliver antidotes as needed. “I’m not saying that contract delivery personnel wouldn’t deliver these remedies. What I’m saying is, are we sure?”

The U.S. Postal Service has long used contractors on what were called STAR Routes and Highway Contract Routes, which delivered to sparsely populated areas with a density of less than one delivery point per mile driven. Recently, the Postal Service changed the name Highway Contract Route to Contract Delivery Service, and changed the definition of this service to include any new delivery point, regardless of its territorial location in urban, suburban or rural areas.

This new definition is being phased into the Postal Service’s management practices in cities, towns and rural delivery areas across the United States, including the Kansas City area. It has been met with strong resistance from the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Association of Postmasters, among other organizations. The new policy has also incurred the wrath of many members of Congress.

While “contracting out” of carrier routes is now occurring across the country, the first case in the Kansas City area involves a contract issued to the daughter of a local Postal Service official.

A Postal Service spokesman confirmed that Victoria Barba, the daughter of Pat Barba, an assistant to Postmaster Terry Freeman, would be paid $13,709.09 per year, effective this month, in a 4-year contract on a 50-household route in a growing subdivision in Kansas City, North. As households are added in the subdivision, Victoria Barba will receive additional compensation.

The Postal Service spokesman said that the contract was not considered nepotism because Victoria Barba and her mother do not live under the same roof. The spokesman did not identify other routes where mail delivery would be outsourced in this area, but said this practice would be applied in new delivery areas in the Kansas City area and across the country. Such new delivery areas, the spokesman said, serve up to two million new households per year.

A Kansas City letter carrier with 19 years service, which requested anonymity, told eKC online of another Postal Service outsourcing move in the downtown area that apparently was reversed after the letter carrier filed a grievance with the carrier’s union, the National Association of Letter Carriers. NALC, which has represented the 240,000 letter carriers for a century, maintains that widespread delivery outsourcing violates their collective bargaining agreement.

“I had the route for seven years,” the letter carrier said. “Delivery was already established there. The building was sold and converted into lofts. I set up the mailboxes and started deliveries full-time in February.

“I delivered there for two or three weeks,” the letter carrier continued. “And then they (Postal Service supervisors) told me to stop delivering because they were going to contract it out. I had to do what I was told at that time, so I started leaving the mail in the station. So a supervisor delivered the mail that day and for the next two or three weeks.

A subdivision in Kansas City North that has been subcontracted by Victoria Barba, daughter of Pat Barba, an assistant to Postmaster Terry Freeman. Victoria Barba will be paid $13,709.09 per year, in a four-year contract on the 50-household route. (photo by Ron Johnson)

“The day they told me to stop delivering the mail, I filed a grievance with my union steward because contracting out is supposed to be for new developments — subdivisions or buildings that haven’t been delivered by a regular carrier,” the letter carrier said.

The carrier said the supervisor asked why the carrier wanted to see the union steward, and the carrier replied it was to file a grievance.

“Even though my route had grown because of loft development, I wanted to file a grievance because I wanted to protect established delivery territory,” the carrier explained. “It’s not new territory. It’s already been established. It didn’t follow the guidelines for contracting out.

“If they can take territory off of me, what would stop them from taking territory off of other carriers?” the letter carrier asked. “So we filed the grievance and the supervisor continued to carry my mail. Then, they gave it (the mail route) back to me and they haven’t said any more about it. So I’m still delivering it.”

While filing a grievance helped, the letter carrier added, “The public really needs to know about contract carriers

“What’s the criteria for these people? For many years, we (career letter carriers) have been tested to be hired, had criminal background checks, drug tests. We’re public servants. When they contract out, what’s the criteria for that person delivering your checks, bills, personal correspondence?

“This is an important issue,” maintained the letter carrier. “We learn a lot about our patrons by the mail they receive. We consider it private information. We don’t discuss it with other people or among ourselves. If the Postal Service contracts to the lowest bidder, who knows who’s going to be delivering the mail?”

It’s the same question Dave Gwin, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 30, asks.

“We are primarily concerned with the security of the mail and maintaining the high qualifications of the current letter carriers,” said Gwin. “We’ve already have been told of the Postal Service hiring convicted felons and illegal immigrants to deliver your mail in other parts of the country.”

Gwin said his NALC branch represents 1,200 letter carriers in Kansas City, MO. There are other branches in Kansas City, KS, Shawnee Mission, Independence, Grandview and Liberty with additional membership of about 800 members

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, has some of these same concerns, and also worries about the nation al security implications of a privatized postal system. So he recently introduced House Resolution 282, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States Postal Service should discontinue the practice of contracting out mail delivery services.”

In explaining his thoughts in introducing the resolution, Sires invoked the memory of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, just across the Hudson River from his northern New Jersey district.

“Times have changed after the terrorist attacks against our country,” Sires told eKC online. “The proximity of my congressional district in New Jersey to downtown Manhattan, where the destroyed World Trade Center buildings were once towering landmarks seen for miles, makes us aware of the importance of keeping our residents safe.

“National security issues are constantly at the top of my priority list,” the congressman explained. “It is important that the workers who deliver the mail are adequately screened and qualified to ensure that danger doesn’t knock on the door of American families. Another issue that we must address is mail theft and mail fraud, and the ability to prosecute these crimes.”

The text of House Resolution 282 can be found at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=H.R.110-282.

Currently, H.R. 282 has 149 co-sponsors, including all members of the area congressional delegation except Rep. Sam Graves, Republican of the 6th Missouri District.

Jason Klindt, Graves’ press secretary, said, “Sam does not support any elimination of jobs due to contracting out. He does support increased efficiency, but not at the expense of losing current jobs. He is still asking questions to get the right answers.”

In explaining why he had signed on as co-sponsor of H.R. 282, Rep, Dennis Moore, Democrat of the 3rd Kansas District, said: “Like food safety, air traffic controllers, and utilities, there is room for competition and a private market, but our economy and our citizens depend on government to provide safety and oversight to keep the economy running smoothly. We must ensure that only qualified individuals handle the mail and that the integrity of mail delivery services and the safety and security of our nation’s mails are protected.”

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced a resolution stating that the Postal Service should discontinue outsourcing mail delivery. The congressman has national security and privacy concerns about the hiring of private contractors. (photo courtesy of Congressman Sires)

Also signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 282 are Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri’s 5th District; Rep. Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri’s 4th District; and Rep. Nancy Boyda, of Kansas’ 2nd District.

Jerry McKiernan, manager of media relations at U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, was asked by eKC online if the considerable support generated by H.R. 282 over a short period of time would persuade Chairman John C. Miller III and the Postal Service Board of Governors, and Postmaster General John Potter to draw back from the Contracting Out initiative.

“If the House Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the measure, we will express our views to the committee at that time,” McKiernan said. “In the meantime, we are in informal discussions with Congress conveying our view that we would prefer not to be restricted in how we deliver the mail.”

H.R. 282 has been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose chair is Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. In turn, the bill has gone to that committee’s Federal Workforce, the Postal Service and the District of Columbia Subcommittee, whose chair is Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat. The ranking Republican is Kenny Marchant of Texas.

Laurie Hayman, counsel for the subcommittee, noted that the subcommittee had held a hearing on the resolution April 17. Hayman said another hearing is unlikely before late June. She noted than Congressman Davis, who represents a Chicago district, had not yet signed on as a cosponsor.

Still, Davis said, “Anybody that knows anything about me knows I’m against contracting out mail delivery.

“I believe it’s in the best interests of American workers that they should not be denied fringe benefits, health benefits, a livable wage and job security.”

Davis went on to say subcommittee members and staff are monitoring what both sides were saying about the issue. He added that if a vote were taken on H.R. 282 now, it would pass the subcommittee.

Davis said he expects a hearing to be held in July on the resolution and testimony would be heard then.

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at tjbogdon@yahoo.com.


              
              
                 

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