Do postal workers take too much time off from work?

The General Accounting Office thinks so. It has come up with some numbers that will irritate many of the nation's 600,000 mail processors, not to mention many of the nation's taxpayers.

GAO says that a study of post office leave patterns in Washington, Memphis, Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago shows that the average employe is away from work 50 of 260 working days. It said that in the latter three offices from one-third to nearly one-half of the employes studied appear to have an "attendance problem" that is costing the stamp-buying public.

Postal workers, like other federal employes, each year earn between 35 and 48 days off (depending on length of service) that include vacation time, 13 days of sick leave and nine paid holidays. GAO said postal workers take about the same amount of earned leave (40 days a year) as other feds, but also take 10 days of unpaid leave annually, which it says is more than other feds, and twice as much as employes of the production-oriented Government Printing Office.

GAO said unscheduled absences often disrupt operations and cause the Postal Service to pay overtime to workers needed to cover for absent colleagues. It also said that methods of tracking, counseling and disciplining workers with apparent leave problems are often lax and vary from office to office.

Postal union leaders were not available for comment when the report came out late Friday, but they will no doubt have something to say about the GAO study later on.