Feud Boils Up at Pacoima Post Office : Workers Complain About Postmaster, Seek Union’s Help
A long-simmering feud between labor and management at the Pacoima Post Office boiled up this week as employees met to complain about their postmaster and to ask union representatives to help get them relief from “impossible” working conditions.
Waving documents and speaking in voices quaking with frustration, employees accused their supervisors of harassing them, changing employee-complaint records and forcing them to work through breaks and lunch to avoid paying overtime. In the last year, six older letter carriers have been hounded into early retirement by constant verbal abuse, postal workers charged.
About 30 of the Pacoima Post Office’s non-management staff of 76 aired their complaints at a meeting Tuesday night at the Reseda hall of the Tri Valley branch, Local 2902, of the National Assn. of Letters Carriers. Workers said that, although tension at the Post Office is high, it has not affected collection and delivery of mail.
Received 35 Grievances
Jon Gaunce, president of the union local, said he has received 35 grievances in the past four months from the Pacoima workers. He said he normally gets five to 10 from other post offices in that period.
Gaunce said he will ask for an investigation by Postal Service officials. If he gets no response, Gaunce said, he will ask for an outside investigation, perhaps by a congressional office.
Many of the complaints Tuesday were aimed at Postmaster Leon Washington.
“This is not the United States Post Office, it is the Leon Washington post office. He runs it, he owns it,” said one employee, who said he would not give his name for fear of retaliation.
Efforts to contact Washington for his response were unsuccessful. His immediate supervisor, W. (Jim) Dillman, told The Times that he did not think it would be appropriate for Washington to be interviewed.
Dillman, area manager for the San Fernando Valley, expressed surprise Wednesday when informed of the employee’s allegations.
“He is doing a good job,” Dillman said of Washington. It is “absolutely untrue” that postal workers are being forced to skip lunch and breaks, he added. He said the employees’ union contract protects them from missing breaks and from other unfair labor practices.
In an interview, Dillman suggested that employees take their complaints to the union and obtain recourse through the grievance process, in which management decisions can sometimes be overturned through arbitration.
Dillman said he is not aware of any more than occasional employee grievances emanating from the Pacoima Post Office.
But Pacoima employees, who said they are fearful of filing grievances, accused Dillman of being unresponsive to earlier complaints.
For some of these employees, Tuesday’s meeting marked the third time in five years they have sought recourse from a management style they claim makes it “virtually impossible to work” at the Pacoima Post Office.
In 1981, employees said, they wrote to Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), asking for an investigation of their office.
According to Paul Clarke, Fiedler’s executive assistant, the congresswoman’s office set up meetings between Dillman and Pacoima employees to resolve issues of sexual harassment, stemming from an incident not involving Washington, and of racial tension.
Dillman said he recalled “some issues of employee dissatisfaction” in 1980.
He said Washington, then assistant postmaster at Pacoima, was transferred to the Sun Valley Post Office in 1981 but that the move was coincidental and was not a disciplinary action. In December, 1984, Washington, 49, a 29-year veteran of the Postal Service, was promoted and returned to Pacoima as postmaster, Dillman said.
The postal employees said this week that they have collected signatures on a three-page petition that they plan to send to the postmaster general, to congressional representatives and others.
The petition claims that “management uses fear, intimidation and threats instead of leadership,” and has “complete disregard for the national contract and all labor laws.”
Workers who attended Tuesday’s meeting said Washington and two other supervisors have threatened to fire employees who attend union meetings or associate with union officials.
A former letter carrier, Harold Mize, 64, who attended the meeting, said he was forced to retire earlier this year because of daily harassment by officials at the post office who told him he was too old for the job.
Said ‘Nasty Things’
“You can’t believe the nasty things they’d say to you. They told me I wasn’t fit to be a carrier,” said Mize, a letter carrier at the Pacoima Post Office for 25 years.
Gaunce urged carriers to file grievances but added that the action creates a “Catch-22" for employees because, “If you file a grievance, they’ll go after you.”
He also charged officials at the Pacoima Post Office with changing or “losing” grievance records.
“It’s the worst office that we’ve seen in the Valley because of the threats and the kind of intimidation being used,” he said.