Worker complaints up at post office

The work environment at the Harry J. Parrish Post Office in Manassas has disintegrated, according to carriers, clerks and union representatives.

And they don’t want to take it anymore.

Earlier this month, a clerk at the Manassas office sent a scathing letter to Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th District, citing a laundry list of concerns and pleading for help with the situation. The letter was signed by 59 carriers and clerks, more than half of the employees at the Sudley Road location.

Their anger stems primarily from what they see as a hostile work environment in which confrontational supervisors and an overly demanding postmaster have intimidated and bullied a large percentage of the work force.

“Those of us who have not quit or chosen to retire to escape the mayhem are now looking to our elected officials for intervention,” the letter states. “We simply ask that you investigate the facts.”

Dan Scandling, a spokesperson from Wolf’s office, said that they responded to this situation chiefly because of the sheer number of signatures on the letter. Scandling said they have contacted the Manassas post office management via phone and mail since receiving the faxed letter and have tried to impress on them the importance of a management meeting “with all of the employees.”

Scandling said he hopes the congressman’s office, while not an arbitrator of the dispute, can become a facilitator for future meetings between management and its employees. He also said his office will always have an open-door policy to both sides.

The page and a half typed letter also says “clerks and carriers make daily complaints to union representatives of humiliating, unprofessional, bullying tactics used by management to intimidate them. There have also been numerous complaints made by employees that they feel they are being harassed and physically threatened by managers.

“There are impossible deadlines being forced upon carriers and clerks each day, causing many to skip lunch and regular breaks to avoid reprimand.”

Manassas postmaster Danny Grant declined to comment when reached by phone several weeks ago.

Deborah Yackley, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson for the Northern Virginia area, said management and “outside people” have checked into the complaints and the situation is improving.

Those “outside people” come from both the district office in Merrifield and the area office in Gaithersburg, Md., said district human resources spokesperson Leonard Napper.

Napper said that two employees from the district office recently met one-on-one with some of the carriers. District office representatives also have met with the postmaster and made him aware of the complaints, Napper said.

He said communication lines have improved and the postmaster and supervisors said they are doing their best to improve the situation since the concerns of the employees have become more clear to everyone.

So far this year, there have been 22 disciplinary grievances filed with the union that have gone past the informal A level, according to Steve Brown, a shop steward for the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 3520 that works in Manassas. That’s more than triple the seven received last year. In all, there have been 43 grievances that have gotten to this point in 2007, said Brown, which includes both disciplinary and contractual grievances.

“It’s a lot of grievances for an office that size,” said union president Tom Cleer.

The informal A level involves a meeting between the union shop steward and a management supervisor. The next step is called the formal A level, which involves the president of the local union and the postmaster. If this doesn’t work, they enter step B, which typically involves regional members of the union and management addressing the situation.

The final step in the process would involve federal arbitrators, who deal with more than just post office concerns, said Brown.

Disciplinary grievances typically arise from complaints regarding what is perceived as an unfair amount of discipline or an unfair disciplinary action against an employee by a supervisor.

Cleer said the number of grievances filed at the Manassas office in 2007 is comparable to the number of grievances filed at the Arlington office, which has 300 employees, nearly five times more carriers than Manassas.

According to Brown, there was a total of just 11 grievances that reached formal A status in 2005, which was a typical year for the office that he said perennially had the fewest complaints. Grant took over as postmaster at Manassas last fall.

Yackley said there are many avenues that postal workers can take to register their concerns with their work environment or any other on-the-job issues. For example, Equal Employment Opportunity complaints are first handled in-house with the two sides meeting with a mediator and, if desired, a representative from both sides. Many cases are resolved at this level.

According to Napper, there have been nine EEO cases resolved at the mediation level and approximately 30 grievances still in the system for the Manassas office as of the last week of July. One recent EEO complaint that remains unresolved was lodged against Grant by a carrier who claims sexual harassment.

According to the mediation conference letter, a carrier overheard Grant on June 9 comment to two male co-workers: “I’m beginning to wonder about you two. Maybe you should go back to your case. I don’t want you two rubbing all over each other.”

Along with this pending mediation, former carrier Tony Rivas has filed an assault and battery charge against supervisor Jack Jackson stemming from a situation that occurred on June 30. The case is scheduled to go to court in September.

Rivas’ incident occurred during a discussion over a job-related matter in which Rivas claims that Jackson pushed him backward with both hands.

Yackley said that many employees of the Manassas office may be upset by the lack of overtime they are receiving. According to Yackley, postal workers at that location have around 30 percent less overtime than they had in previous years.

But according to Brown, making less money is, for the most part, not the problem. Last year it was quite the opposite. Union reps at the Manassas office received 24 grievances in 2006 – and most of them were complaining about the excessive overtime they were having to work.

This year, there have been a lot fewer overtime complaints but the hostile work environment ultimately led to meeting at a local pizza parlor in early June during which more than 50 postal workers from the Manassas office showed up to discuss the issue.

Yackley questioned how many of those attending workers at the parlor worked at the Manassas office and also questioned the motivation of some of the workers.

“Maybe [the organizers] bought them all dinner and some came for the free meal,” said Yackley.

Brown chuckled when he heard Yackley’s response.

Despite the efforts made by management to improve the situation, Brown said the employees’ concerns have often fallen on deaf ears and nobody in management is making a real effort to improve the working environment at the Manassas office.

Former carrier Matt Wright was employed at the Manassas post office earlier this year after serving in the military in Iraq and said he was constantly and unfairly criticized by supervisors.

Wright quit in April after just six months because he didn’t want to tolerate the working environment any longer.

“I told a supervisor before I left that in a year in Iraq, I was treated with more respect and dignity than when I was at the post office,” Wright said.