Neither anthrax nor bombs deter postal management bonuses

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Postal Service in Charlottesville had the dubious distinction of being one of the worst in the country-– and that was before anthrax contamination and pipe bombs superseded dog bites as the major physical threats to postal employees.
Today, the Richmond performance cluster that includes Charlottesville and Norfolk is rated 10th out of 85 clusters, says Charlottesville plant manager Dawn Jenkins– up from “83 or 84” a few years ago. Based on that improved performance, local management drew bonuses last year totaling nearly $60,000.
Despite the payment of performance bonuses, some employees are frankly skeptical there’s been any improvement in service– and they doubt whether the nearly $165 million in bonuses paid nationally by the Postal Service is such a good idea in a year it lost $1.68 billion, even with increased revenues of $3 billion.
“We have seen no change,” says one employee, who requests his name not be used.
Jenkins, however, attributes the improvements to updated equipment, better communication, employee recognition when goals are met, and corrective action when targets are not met.  
Jenkins also points out that new management could be a factor. Both she and postmaster Steven Wehr came to Charlottesville two years ago, when service was at its worst. And both say they’re receiving compliments instead of complaints about service these days.
As for concerns about the bonuses, Jenkins notes that management does not receive cost of living adjustments as employees do, and that she wouldn’t have gotten her $3,032 bonus if performance hadn’t improved. “When I was making a $43 bonus, nobody was saying anything,” she says.
In the post-September 11 world, anthrax had a big impact on post office productivity and safety, and some Charlottesville employees are concerned that the local facility was never tested for anthrax. 
“We get trucks daily from Brentwood,” says one employee. Brentwood is the postal facility in Washington that Postmaster General John Potter said was safe-– before two employees there died of anthrax. “Lots of mail went through there,” adds the anonymous source, wondering why the Charlottesville facility was never tested.
In fact, hazmat teams came to the Charlottesville facility several times to test substances that turned out to be baby powder and chalk. 
“We really had no concerns before Brentwood shut down,” says Jenkins. “The bulk of our mail is from Richmond or Dulles, and only one truck a day came from Brentwood.”
Employees were issued gloves and masks, prompting a complaint from a local employee that the masks were worthless without being fitted. Jenkins doesn’t think fitting the masks is that difficult, merely a matter of adjusting the nosepiece and snugness in back.
When the masks were first issued, she estimates 70 percent of Postal Service employees were using them. By Christmas the number was down to 20 percent, and now only five percent are using the masks. No Charlottesville postal employee has contracted anthrax.
One thing both employees and management can agree on: these are scary times for the money-bleeding U.S. Postal Service. Even with the cost of a first-class stamp rising to 37 cents, the Postal Service’s loss this year is projected to be $1.5 billion.
Since September 11, mail volume has dropped, and to cut costs, Postmaster General Potter is planning to slice 20,000 jobs and close post offices and mail processing centers – but which ones?
The Hook’s anonymous source says some employees are worried the plant near the airport may be among the casualties. If Charlottesville closes, letters mailed across town will be processed in Richmond.
Jenkins is worried about Postal Service competition-– and the anthrax threats. “We deliver– at a very reasonable cost– to grandma and grandpa who live out in the country or on side streets,” she says.
There’s one bright spot against a traditional postal foe. May 19-27 was National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and Charlottesville reports zero dog bites so far this year compared to the six chomps on letter carriers last year. 
Postmaster Wehr warns that spring and summer are dog bite season, so those numbers could change. Carriers are gearing up to fend off attacks with pepper spray and their mail pouches.
And if a dog owner doesn’t take care of a vicious cur, the Postal Service has the ultimate recourse: “We call the local dog catcher and, eventually, we cut off their mail,” says Wehr.

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