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Post Offices Take Award in Stride

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No champagne bottles popped, no balloons fluttered, no employees chattered aimlessly Thursday at the Castaic distributing plant for the U.S. Postal Service.

But then, it’s that sort of professionalism that has helped win distinction for the Van Nuys district, which, with its main plant in Castaic, has been recognized again as No. 1 in California and No. 2 in the nation in delivering first-class mail on time to San Fernando Valley ZIP Codes.

Next week the Postal Service will host a celebratory luncheon for the facility’s 1,200 employees. In the meantime, it’s another day on the job with employees striving to deliver to homes the million pieces of mail processed Thursday.

“The pressure is continuous,” said Guillermo Palencia, who works feeding letters through a machine that sorts them by ZIP Code. “We are extremely conscious that we have to get the mail out.”

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The quarterly ranking, released by a private accounting firm, shows that first-class mail sent from within Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties was delivered the following day to Valley addresses 95% of the time.

The average score for post offices in the Los Angeles Basin was 94%, according to Price Waterhouse, whose latest results are based on testing conducted Dec. 6, 1997, through Feb. 27, 1998. The race to deliver the mail begins at the Castaic facility, a huge plant near the Pitchess Detention Center.

First-class mail gets sorted during the night shift--from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Fast-moving machines sort letters--hundreds per minute--spitting them into slots designated for specific ZIP Codes. For the Valley area, for instance, a series of boxes are labeled with the names of communities, such as Encino, Chatsworth or Pacoima.

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Even with the high-tech sorting system, workers operate the machines and handle the mail by hand at various points.

The plant--whose motto is “Every Piece. Every Day."--is managed in a businesslike manner. “We try to instill in all our employees that customers come first,” said Richard Orsua, manager of distribution operations.

In addition to the outside testing, Orsua said the plant tests itself by tracking random mail sent to post office boxes at various branches. The internal results closely match the private rankings, he said.

The mail is driven to the Valley’s 50 post offices, where individual carriers finish sorting for specific routes.

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Each morning a late shipment of a few hundred letters arrives on scheduled runs from the Castaic plant--bringing the envelopes maintenance workers found stuck in the machines. The carriers put them in their boxes.

At post offices Thursday, carriers shared in the recognition.

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“Our customers are getting the service they deserve--that’s a big deal,’ said Erica Parrino, manager of customer service at the Van Nuys office.

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There, delivery scores were in the 80s four years ago, she said.

“It makes you proud of the job that you’re doing,” said Shelly Lombard, who delivers mail along a route around Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue. “I’ve wanted to do this job since I was a little girl.”

Van Nuys residents said the honor bestowed upon their carriers was not unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Hetty North of North Hills. “Our carrier is as dependable as ever.”

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