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Mail Carriers Protest Automation System

Postal workers picketed in front of the Van Nuys main post office Wednesday, saying a new automation system designed to make mail delivery more efficient actually slows down the process.

About 60 members of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers staged a peaceful, three-hour demonstration as part of a national day of “informational picketing” at post offices against a massive new automated mail sorting system that they believe is undermining their work.

“We’re not against automation if it helps us do our jobs better, but it’s slowing things down,” said Beverly Mattes, president of union branch No. 2902, which includes portions of the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. “They’re not implementing automation correctly, but they won’t listen to any input from us,” she said.

In the old days, mail carriers arrived at the post office in the wee hours, sorted mail by hand, then hit the streets. Now, mail is sorted by machine at regional processing centers and delivered by truck to local post offices, presorted for each route in the order of delivery.

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The problem, the letter carriers say, is that the system takes longer to sort the mail than they did. As a result, the carriers begin their routes up to two hours later than they did before.

“Some businesses aren’t getting their mail until 4 or 5 p.m.,” said Roger Askew, a carrier in Encino for 28 years and president of the local union chapter. “And it’s the carriers who take the flak for late deliveries.”

Terri Bouffiou, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman, said automation has helped the post office attain a 93% on-time rate for deliveries in California. She acknowledged that carriers have taken the system to task, but said she believes it will eventually be accepted.

“Automation has a major impact on the way carriers do their job,” Bouffiou said. “The heart of their complaint is that the way they get their mail is different from what it was. It’s going to take a certain amount of adjustment until it becomes familiar again.”


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