Payday, normally a time of anticipation rejoicing, has become a recurring nightmare for thousands in the government's largest single operation - the U.S. Postal Service.

Many employes claim they never know when, how much or even if they will get paid when that magic time, once known affectionately as "Mother's Day" rolls around every two weeks.

At the moment, one of the USPS's biggest delivery problems is getting $450 million each payday to the 650,000 people who help deliver the mail.


A Washington man recently got a U.S. savings bond from the Postal Service. It was supposedly paid for by deductions from his paycheck. The problem: he left the post office more than three years ago.

Many employes complain that they have not seen a regular paycheck since May. Because of "systems problems" they are paid at the office in cash or by voucher or even money order. Anticipating deductions for taxes, insurance and retirement, the Postal Service gives them 70 cents on the dollar.

With 1978 drawing to a close, many workers caught up in payroll snarls are afraid their taxes will be equally fouled up either because of overpayment or underpayments.

Because errors jump when job situations change, many workers say they dread promotions, overtime, merit raises or reassignments to different offices.

Unions complain that they no longer get regular printouts from the Postal Service showing payroll dues deductions.

A supervisory postal organization says that last month all its East Coast members had an extra dollar taken from their checks for dues, although dues have not gone up. They are having a tough time explaining that to members who think an increase was sneaked in on them. (Postal officials say the problem has been straightened out.)

The problems are there, postal officials say, but they believe they have been "blown out of proportion" and that many of the horror stories are old or exaggerated.

Last May, to conform to the new Fair Labor Standards Act, the Postal Service changed its payroll system. It involved retraining 28,000 payroll clerks to handle new forms - and double the amount of paperwork required best. So far it is only halfway there, by the new law dealing with job classifications and overtime.

Officials say that the new upsurge in paperwork, new requirements, new forms and the "learning curve" problem in retraining payroll staffers resulted in many new problems up through August. But they claim they are over the hill now.

Postmaster General William Bolger, an up-from-the-ranks employe, has ordered crash programs to resolve current and old payroll problems, hoping to avoid W-2 tax form problems for worker. He has authorized thousands of hours of overtime in payroll centers, and told postmasters to pay employes for work when checks do not come throught.

Officials say they hope to get back to normal within a short time. Even with the new complicated system, they expect the payroll error rate should get back to its old levels early next year.

The goal of the Postal Service is to have not only the world's biggest civilian payroll operation, but also the [WORDS ILLEGIBLE].