Postal managers limiting carrier hours, but explanations vary

Some U.S. Postal Service managers in the Washington area and other parts of the country are telling mail carriers to stop their routes at designated times regardless of whether their deliveries are completed, according to the head of the association of postal supervisors.

The move has prompted complaints from the public, including residents in Bethesda, for example, where some have said they’ve been without mail for a week.

Bethesda’s Marcela Zoccali said she went seven days without mail after a snowstorm hit Feb. 13. She said the streets and walkways in her neighborhood were clear by Saturday, but no mail arrived at her home until Wednesday, when a carrier explained that he was ordered to return to his station every day by 5 p.m.

“With this kind of service, no wonder so many people are switching to other mail carriers,” Zoccali said.

National Association of Postal Supervisors President Louis Atkins confirmed Thursday that postal managers are trying to keep carriers off the streets at night to avoid potential violence. He said he knows of stations in the District, Miami and Seattle that have taken that step.

“Bringing [the carriers] in before dark is something we can control that has a significant effect on violence at night,” Atkins said. “You can’t stop it all, but you can do your part.”

Nighttime violence against on-duty workers has become a growing concern for the Postal Service. In November, D.C. postal worker Tyson Barnette was fatally shot while working a new route in Prince George’s County that often kept him out until 7 p.m.

Washington ABC affiliate WJLA, which first reported the postal delays Wednesday, said that concerns about overtime were the cause for the delays.

But Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan denied Thursday that the USPS has implemented a new policy on carrier return times. Employees were instructed last week to be off the streets by 6 p.m. because of severe winter weather, she said.

“This was a unique event,” Brennan said. “As a rule, it is not Postal Service policy, nationally or in Washington, D.C., that carriers are to return to the office at 6 p.m., regardless of whether or not their routes have been completed.”

Brennan said that the Postal Service has begun taking steps to minimize the percentage of carriers out past 6 p.m. She said the measures include adjusting route structures and start times, reviewing employee performance and reevaluating staffing levels.

Atkins said that the Postal Service could ensure that carriers finish their deliveries before nightfall by requiring them to start work earlier and by hiring more personnel.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and four Democrats from the Maryland congressional delegation sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe calling for a Postal Service plan to protect workers from violence while avoiding multi-day delays in mail delivery.

“Surely the Postal Service is capable of delivering the mail before dark and on time, as it has for decades, without endangering its workers,” Norton said in a statement Friday. “We need to see specific remedies immediately.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the killing of Barnette. The USPS and the National Association of Letter Carriers have also agreed to establish a nationwide network to jointly examine offices with safety issues.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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