'I have someone looking over my shoulder all the time waiting for me to make a mistake.'
--Latino postal carrier at Alhambra
The General Accounting Office, responding to widespread complaints by postal workers about "unbearable" working conditions and racial discrimination on the job, is investigating the Alhambra Post Office to determine if labor-management tension is affecting public service.
Ninety-four of the 100 workers at the main Alhambra post office and a nearby substation have signed a petition asking Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) to intercede. Many of the workers' allegations are contained in a diary kept for six months by one postal carrier. Both the petition and the diary were turned over to Martinez, who gave them to the GAO when he requested the investigation two months ago.
Martinez, who was behind a 1983 GAO investigation of the Monterey Park Post Office, said the postal problems extend beyond Alhambra and stem from poor management regionwide.
Citing an "unresponsiveness" on the part of postal management, Martinez said he will ask the GAO to conduct a follow-up investigation of all post offices within the Sequoia District once the Alhambra inquiry is completed. The district oversees postal service to Pasadena and several other cities in the San Gabriel Valley, Van Nuys, Santa Barbara and Bakersfield.
"I have received similar complaints from postal employees and residents of El Monte, and other representatives have heard complaints about the post office in Baldwin Park," Martinez said. "The problems are regionwide and they stem from an unresponsiveness on the part of management.
"There's no question in my mind that a lot of the complaints by constituents concerning poor mail service are the result of poor management."
Robert Price, a GAO official in Washington who oversees audits of post offices nationwide, said local GAO investigators have been interviewing employees and management at the Alhambra Post Office for two months. Price, who said he expects the investigation to continue for another "few months," would not comment on the nature of the complaints or any preliminary findings.
But interviews with Alhambra postal carriers who complained to Martinez reveal the extent of dissatisfaction with management.
Last November, Alhambra postal workers signed a petition complaining that the work atmosphere had become "unbearable." They said tension between labor and management affected service to the public.
Postal carrier Patrick Wang maintained a diary for six months detailing what he contended were instances of racial discrimination, harsh discipline and disregard by management for the heavy workload of some employees. The diary was turned over to Martinez's Washington office and is now part of the GAO file, according to Maxine Grant, administrative assistant to Martinez.
The diary, according to Grant and postal employees who have read it, details allegations of disparate treatment of Latino, Asian and Anglo carriers and clerks at the Alhambra Post Office.
One of these instances involved Wang, who twisted his ankle last summer when he tripped over a sprinkler while delivering mail in Alhambra. The ankle became swollen and Wang was suspended for 13 days. Wang, according to accounts of the diary, was disciplined because his supervisor, Reggie Martin, had admonished him before the incident that "every accident was preventable."
One week later, according to diary accounts, an Anglo carrier twisted an ankle in a similar mishap and received no formal discipline.
The dairy also details the seven-day suspension of a Latino carrier who was involved in a minor accident that resulted in a scratch on his mail Jeep. Two weeks later, according to the diary accounts, an Anglo mail carrier ran a red light and struck another car. The carrier received no formal punishment.
"I have someone looking over my shoulder all the time waiting for me to make a mistake," said a Latino postal carrier at Alhambra. "I love my job, I really do. But this is no way for grown men to treat each other. We're supposed to be professionals."
Another carrier said he averaged 60 hours a week for six months but his supervisor refused to evaluate his route for adjustment. "If you're overloaded, you lose all sense of things," the carrier said. "That's when accidents take place."
This is the second time in two years that San Gabriel Valley-area postal management has come under GAO investigation.
In 1983, Martinez pushed for the investigation of labor-management problems in the Monterey Park Post Office after employees there complained of harsh disciplinary measures, forced overtime and a general work atmosphere pervaded by fear and backbiting.
A GAO report of its investigation substantiated many of the allegations by postal employees. It found that Monterey Park had one of the poorest safety records of 30 district post offices, and that management efforts to improve safety had seriously strained relations with employees. In one instance, a carrier who tore his fingernail while delivering mail was suspended without pay for seven days. In another case, an employee requesting leave to attend the funeral of a relative was called at home and asked by a supervisor to provide proof of the death.
Sequoia District Manager Hector G. Godinez, acknowledging serious management deficiencies at Monterey Park to GAO investigators, implemented a plan last July to improve the situation. The plan included adjusting postal routes that required overtime to complete and an attempt to resolve grievances before they reached arbitration.
But Monterey Park postal carriers interviewed by The Times complained that after a period of improvement, their work situations have now deteriorated to the level found before the investigation.
The carriers, citing examples of disciplinary action taken against employees who have been quoted in newspaper articles as being critical of management, requested anonymity before agreeing to talk to a Times reporter.
"You've got mail being delivered at 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m. every day," said one Monterey Park postal carrier. "We tell them the routes need adjustment, that Monterey Park is a growing and ever-changing city. But they're too busy looking for heads to chop off to pay attention to the needs of the public."
Martinez blamed Godinez and Reggie Martin, manager of the Alhambra Sectional Center, which services Alhambra and nearby cities, for the deteriorating situation at Monterey Park and the problems at Alhambra.
Repeated attempts to reach Godinez and Martin were unsuccessful.
But Pat McGee, a senior government relations representative with the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, acknowledged that back-to-back GAO investigations in the same region occur "very rarely." McGee disagreed that Godinez and Martin were unresponsive to the problems. He said it would be difficult to compare postal problems in the Sequoia District with other districts in Southern California or nationwide because of the uniqueness of each office.
"Both of those gentlemen are sincerely interested in resolving problems in their area," McGee said. "I do not see the problem as stemming from either man ignoring the situation."