City mail gripes mount
"Again, we make no excuses and apologize for any perception of performance that people find not up to par," said Maureen Marion, a USPS spokeswoman.
"Those were performance issues related to that particular post office," Marion said, referring to missed deliveries in Pittsfield on Saturday and Monday, which prompted unhappy customers to contact The Eagle in the wake of an initial story about the issue published Wednesday.
However, Marion insisted that the so-called performance issues had nothing to do with a USPS decision to move sorting machines from Pittsfield to Springfield and the reassignment of 19 Pittsfield postal workers as part of an overall consolidation plan to chisel away at a $7 billion deficit.
Those changes went into effect in August and weren't expected to affect mail carriers or delivery schedules, according to Marion. But a handful of Postal Service employees and their family members, none of whom wanted to be publicly identified, say local postal workers had to take on more work as a result of the cost-cutting measures.
Delivery routes were revamped, they said, and individual carriers are now expected to handle more customers, which has led to late or missed deliveries. That, in turn, has irked customers who have come to expect timely delivery.
Despite Marion's prior statements that consolidation wouldn't affect mail carriers or delivery schedules -- a point she reaffirmed on Wednesday -- many customers claim that's simply not the case.
"It's been going on since the beginning of summer," said Sharon Mack, referring to irregularities in her mail delivery.
"I know my own mail patterns," said the Newell Street resident, noting that she recently received three days' worth of mail -- Friday through Monday -- on a Tuesday.
She said she questioned local postal officials about the changes but didn't get a satisfactory -- or a particularly polite -- response.
"The local girl that talked to me was defensive," said Mack, who then demanded to speak with the postal worker's supervisor.
Mack couldn't recall the names of the people she dealt with, or the precise date of the telephone conversations, but claims her delivery service got worse after that negative encounter.
Mack's frustration Wednesday was shared by others.
"I just got a flier Saturday to vote for Coakley," said Al Bertelli, of Longview Terrace. He referred to piece of campaign literature sent in advance of the Dec. 8 primary, in which state Attorney General Martha M. Coakley defeated rival Democrats to become the party's candidate in next month's special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. A campaign spokesman confirmed Coakley's campaign hasn't mailed any material since before the primary.
"For the past two weeks, we've been getting Friday's mail on Saturday," said a frustrated Bertelli, who claims grocery circulars are among the time-sensitive pieces of mail that are showing up too late to use.
‘It's a big deal'
Kermit Goodman, a Pittsfield attorney whose office at the corner of First and East streets is about 150 yards from the Pittsfield Post Office, is among the many postal customers who contacted The Eagle.
"How is it that residential mail is delivered [in some cases] by 8 a.m., yet I'm right here in the middle of the central business district and I have to beg for my mail?" said Goodman, noting that he's received mail as late as 2:30 p.m. in recent weeks.
Goodman claimed he once received up to five days' worth of mail at the same time.
"For small business people such as myself, believe me, it's a big deal," said the attorney, who estimates he's spent nearly $5,000 on postage this year.
"I think there are so many people who are affected by this," he said.
Goodman said he attempted to discuss his concerns about "erratic" delivery in downtown Pittsfield with Pittsfield Post Office management, but was rebuffed.
"The bigger problem is that mail delivery in the business districts of Pittsfield is so poor as to create major problems for those of us that work in the area," said Goodman, adding that residential neighborhoods appear to get their mail earlier than downtown stores and offices.
Anne Russo, of Pomeroy Avenue, said medications for her and her husband arrive via U.S. mail, but the couple didn't receive any mail on Saturday and Monday.
"We're elders and we get medicines through the mail, and we didn't get our medicine, and I think that's a problem," Russo said.
Russo said they used to get their mail by no later than 11:45 a.m., but now it's arriving much later.
"I could have my bag of cookies ready for him when he was coming down the road," Russo said, referring to her letter carrier, whose uniform delivery schedule was so regular you could set your watch to it.
"I don't blame [the letter carriers]," Russo said. "They do the best they can with what they have."
Reassessing regional needs
Michael L. Witkowski, who is the officer-in-charge at the Pittsfield Post Office in lieu of a permanent postmaster, has called the delivery snafu "an aberration."
Marion confirmed that city letter carriers have been "given more on-the-street responsibilities" and less in-house duties.
Some Pittsfield delivery routes have been consolidated, she said, which means letter carriers are handling more daily mail. The local changes are part of an overall effort to reassess Postal Service needs throughout the Northeast, she said.
Add in the winter weather and the seasonal holiday spike in volume, and you have a period of readjustment, according to Marion.
"What we try to do is establish a schedule that is approximate and routine," she said, adding that it's logistically impossible to inform customers of delivery changes ahead of time.
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