By CARL GREEN
St. Louis – On a hot, sunny day, St. Louis area postal workers took their message to the street last week – Market Street in St. Louis, at the main post office.
Their goal was to let the public know about how the Postal Service is abusing contract language to reduce shifts but also put workers into a dangerous, unhealthy position that can also slow down everyone’s mail delivery.
About 100 of the region’s workers, mostly members of St. Louis Gateway Local 8 of the American Postal Workers Union, marched up and down the street on Flag Day, chanting “Down with one!” a reference to the Postal Service forcing workers to do jobs meant for two people.
The current contract has language that calls for two people to work on the large, automated machines that help sort the mail – one to feed mail into the machine and one to sweep it out the other side after it passes through.
But the Postal Service has been requiring single workers to handle both ends of the process, so they often have to stop feeding the mail through and hurry to the other end, some 75 feet away, to handle the sweeping. This can work during slow periods, but at normal volume, it leads to stress and mistakes and risks injury, in addition to slowing the sorting of mail.
An 18-year veteran worker at the downtown St. Louis office, Penny Romine Clavell, described it this way:
“You’ll be feeding, but at some point, you’ve got to stop feeding to go back to sweep. And then you’ve got to sweep it all out,” she explained. “And then you start all over again. It’s slowing down production, and it’s slowing down the time we’re spending to make the mail go the way it should. No, it’s not right.
“If you’ve only got one person, you can’t get it out,” she added. “We run back and forth. It’s like being in a gym almost, because with the machines, the top level’s up here, so you’re reaching up, and then the bottom level’s here so you’re reaching down. It’s not what they call ergonomically correct.”
“After work, you’re exhausted. All you want to do is go home, take your shoes off, eat and take a shower,” she said.
Postal Service spokesman Valerie Welsch stepped out to see the rally but said the Postal Service’s position is that the one-worker practice is approved by the APWU contract – that two people is “standard” but one is “acceptable.”
That allows the Postal Service to cut back workers in smaller post offices with less mail, she said. “The mail goes out every night, so I would not say it’s slowing the processing of the mail,” she said.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Fred Wolfmeyer, president of Local 8, said the Postal Service is abusing the contract language to reduce workers where they are clearly needed.
“We feel it’s a safety hazard because our median work age is about 56 in the APWU. We’ve got some people who have bad knees, the onset of carpal tunnel or torn rotator cuffs,” Wolfmeyer added. “And so the Postal Service supervisors come along and say, ‘You’re not working fast enough.’ It’s one person doing the work of two, and yet they’re telling us we’re not going fast enough.”
Two-person crews have been reduced to one in large postal zones such as those serving Clayton, Creve Coeur and Belleville, he said.
The practice is even common at the big post office in downtown St. Louis, Penny Clavell noted.
“A lot of us have problems with our shoulders, we have problems with our backs, and we have problems with our knees,” she said. “My knees are shot. They’ve already told me I’ve got to have surgery.
“It’s a safety issue, it’s a health issue, it’s a time issue.”
The postal workers were supported by members of the IBEW, the SEIU and a delegation from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.