A Mess in Maryland: Mail delayed and workers call for an investigation

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Last year, when the Postal Service was studying the Processing and Distribution Center in Frederick, Maryland, for consolidation, postal officials said customers could expect the same level of service as before.  It doesn't look like things have worked out that way.  Numerous problems have come to the attention of the local press, and several former employees at the plan have filed a formal complaint with the USPS Inspector General.

On November 19, the Frederick P&DC was closed, and its processing work moved to the facility in Baltimore.  Frederick’s 180 employees were excessed to various other plants, including Baltimore (a congested 50-mile drive away) and Linthicum, Maryland (also 50 miles away). 

The consolidation actually began in October, and troubles occurred almost immediately.  Julie Maynard, editor and owner of The Brunswick Citizen and The Valley Citizen newspapers, told the Frederick News-Post on Nov. 21 that some of her customers still had not received papers that were printed Nov. 9.  Usually her subscribers receive the issue the day after it goes to press.  Maynard thinks that she lost a number of subscribers because of the delay, and she told the News-Post, “It’s just the beginning.”

As Christmas approached and mail volumes increased, the problems got worse.  The News-Post asked post office customers who had noticed a delay in mail service to contact the newsroom, and about 50 people responded.

One told the News-Post that medication refills he ordered in November from an online pharmacy in Florida were delivered to his home a month later.  A jewelry designer said pieces she sent to mail-order customers in early December had not reached their destinations two weeks later, forcing her to remake the pieces and resend them via UPS.  Other complaints described bills, insurance documents, and invitations that arrived late or never at all, and sale flyers arriving after the sale was over.

Last week, several of the former workers at the Frederick plant wrote a formal complaint to the USPS Inspector General.  The letter identifies examples of when the mail was significantly delayed, when mail was diverted to facilities other than Baltimore, and when trucks of mail were backed up for days, sometimes parked illegally on public roadways.  

The claim about trucks parking on the roadside is verified by the fact that the Postal Service purchased a $2,000 permit, valid Dec. 21 through Feb. 1, allowing use of curb lanes for parking near the Baltimore plant.  That was after Baltimore's Department of Transportation issued several citations for illegally parking on the road.

The workers’ complaint to the USPS OIG also notes an increase in safety violations, like blocked fire exits and mail being sorted in walkways because there’s no other space to do it.

One former Frederick employee, now in Baltimore, told the News-Post that, as of January 19, "We have packages to this date that were mailed maybe a week or two before Christmas that are just now being delivered.  The sheer volume of late mail is ridiculous."

The mess in Baltimore promises only to get worse.  Over the coming months, the Baltimore plant will also absorb the operations of a plant in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  

For more on the closing of the Frederick plant, check out this excellent article on Going Postal, written by Evan Kalish, there on the scene to photograph the plant, just days before the closing.  Also, you can look at the presentation materials that the Postal Service used at the Frederick public meeting in May, 2011 — they’re basically the same materials the Postal Service has been using across the country at similar meetings.

(Photo credits: Frederick P & DF, top and bottom, by Evan Kalish; "closed" sign at Frederick.)

Below is the letter of complaint from the postal workers excessed from Frederick:

*    *    *    *    *

To the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service,

On behalf of all employees of the Unites States Postal Service and the American People, we, the below signed hereby inform you of the following:

On November 19, 2011, the Frederick Processing and Distribution Facility in Frederick, Md. was closed. Employees were excessed to multiple facilities, including the Baltimore, Md. Processing and Distribution Plant and the Incoming Mail Facility in Linthicum, Md.

The transfer of mail processing and distribution formerly performed in the Frederick P&DF has resulted in severely delayed mail and serious safety violations as follows:

1. During December 2011, mail was delayed and kept on trailers in the yard of the Baltimore P&DC and the IMF in Linthicum for 10 days or longer.

2. Trailers of mail were diverted from Baltimore P&DC to the IMF because the Baltimore P&DC could not process the mail.

3. At times there were in excess of 30 trailers of mail at the IMF, so many that trailers were dropped in the employee parking lot for days.

4. At the Baltimore P&DC there were up to 24 trailers full of mail dropped in the yard for days.

5. Mail in the form of Black Friday ads were still on trailers in the yard of the Baltimore P&DC at least until December 13, 2011.

6. Mail on contractor vehicles was parked outside the facility, on public roadways, some with trailer doors open and carrying first class mail, because it was impossible for inbound vehicles to enter the yard or be unloaded due to congestion and scores of vehicles waiting to be unloaded. This was in addition to the trailers dropped in the yard noted above.

7. Mail was stored in certain areas and held delayed days and weeks.

8. Managers of some stations in the Baltimore District were ordered to their stations on a Sunday in December to clear space, including the moving of cases, so that mail could be sent to the stations for storage. This mail was subsequently retrieved after December 25th, 2011

9. Certain large mail customers were given preference over others because the Baltimore P&DC and the IMF combined could not process the mail. Those customers not given preference had their mail substantially delayed.

10. As of on or about January 10, 2012, mail dated December 5, 2011 was still in the Baltimore P&DC.

11. As of on or about January 12, 2012, there was still mail placed in the system prior to Black Friday, unprocessed, at the Baltimore P&DC.

12. Since the closing of the Frederick P&DF, safety violations have increased dramatically, including:

A. Fire extinguishers blocked
 
B. Tray Management System E-Stops blocked
 
C. Fire exits blocked
 
D. Walkways leading to means of egress are blocked by equipment.
 
E. Powered industrial equipment impacting other equipment multiple times per day.
 
F. Mail sortation and distribution being performed in walkways because there is no other space in which to conduct the operations.
 
G. Countless near misses between equipment transported through the plant and employees.
 

We believe the above instances of delayed mail and safety violations are the tip of the iceberg. Mail was and is being delayed intentionally and with the full knowledge of top management officials and daily reports are being falsified as a matter of course with the full knowledge of top management.

We believe that since the closing of the Frederick P&DF, there have been multitudinous and continuous violations of 18 USC Code 1703 and that these violations have been ordered by the highest-level officials of the United States Postal Service, up to and including the Postmaster General of the United States, Patrick R. Donahoe.

It is evident that the Baltimore P&DC is incapable of processing the mail from the Frederick P&DC in a safe and timely manner and that the study used to justify the consolidation was flawed, arbitrary and capricious or intentionally falsified.

We, the below signed, request an immediate, thorough and objective investigation of the above allegations and the totality of effects of the closing of the Frederick P&DC, including possible crimes committed by Postal management officials up to and including the Postmaster General of the United States.

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