June 20, 2008 Volume 109 Number 12

Hidden camera crew trails contracted letter carrier

Union leaders warned management this would happen. If the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) contracted out mail delivery in places like Beaverton, Oregon, there would be accountability problems and breaches of mail security, said National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) officers like L.C. Hansen, president of Branch 82 in Portland.

And that’s what Hansen found in June when she and a hidden camera crew followed Beaverton postal service contractor Kerri Hattig for several days.

NALC’s national office had decided to hire a film crew to document the union’s struggle against postal privatization. Their work will be shown at NALC’s July 21-25 convention in Boston. Members of the USPS Board of Governors appointed by President Bush have pushed postal managers to privatize newly-formed postal delivery routes in urban areas. [Rural routes have long been delivered by private contractors.]

Last year, as part of a union contract settlement, USPS declared a moratorium on further subcontracting, but that expires July 31.

The camera crew first traveled to Miami in late May, where they filmed one side of postal privatization — worker exploitation. They followed a poorly-paid Haitian-born legal immigrant as he drove his postal route, which took him all over town.

Hansen said the Beaverton case shows another side of privatization — waste, inefficiency, and possibly nepotism.

Hattig, who was the girlfriend of a postal supervisor’s son when she got her four-year contract last year, is paid $24,380 a year for what Hansen estimates is just over an hour a day of work.

In preparation for the film crew’s arrival, Hansen read Hattig’s contract and drove out to look at her sorting area in the Beaverton post office and the route itself.

Hattig’s contract requires her to deliver to 89 addresses in four “cluster boxes” at Arbor Parc — a half-built condominium development on which construction had halted after the real estate downturn hit. The development is surrounded on all sides by routes delivered by union letter carriers, and Hansen has argued for over a year that it would make a lot more sense just to add Arbor Parc to those union workers’ routes.

Hansen spent several days looking in on Hattig and asking other USPS employees about her work. She discovered some irregularities.

A scanner that’s supposed to be taken along the route to time-certify package deliveries was instead left in the office; a shop steward told Hansen that Hattig scans deliveries before leaving the office, violating USPS commitment to accurately record time of delivery.

Hattig was supposed to pick up the mail at 10 a.m., but instead arrived at 10:45 to 11:45 on the days Hansen was waiting. A male companion rode with Hattig while she did her deliveries, and Hattig would stay out what seemed to Hansen like a long time for such a short route. On May 31, Hansen watched Hattig pull up at the post office, and then drove to Arbor Parc, expecting to watch how Hattig did her work. Hansen says she waited two-and-a-half hours, and Hattig didn’t show up.

Letter carriers, including contractors, are supposed return to the post office at the end of their routes to turn in the key that opens their secure mailboxes, but Hattig only infrequently returned the key, Hansen learned — a serious violation of postal security.

On June 4, the camera crew waited outside Beaverton’s Evergreen post office for Hattig to arrive. Unaware she was being filmed, Hattig picked up the mail and drove with her male companion to a Shari’s restaurant in Tanasbourne Mall. They ate pancakes while the mail sat undelivered in Hattig’s Jeep outside.

Hansen and the camera crew followed Hattig to Arbor Parc. Hansen, wearing a wire, approached her as she placed mail in a cluster box.

“My idea was to simply engage her about when the mail came, as if I was a resident,” Hansen said.

Hattig told her she picks up the mail between 10 and 10:30 and gets to Arbor Parc between 11 and 12. [It is a five minute drive from the post office, and it’s Hattig’s only delivery.]

Then Hansen identified herself as a union officer. How’s the contract going, Hansen asked her.

“I think this is a solid deal for me, and for the post office,” Hattig replied.

Hansen asked Hattig if she’d be willing to be interviewed on film about her job. She said okay. Hansen waved her arm, and a van-load of people with cameras hopped out.

“At that point, there was like that moment where you know you’ve been filmed,” Hansen recalls. “She wasn’t happy about it.”

Hattig left, saying she was going to tell her supervisor about what had happened.

Cameras in tow, Hansen knocked on doors and spoke to Arbor Parc residents. Several told her they thought they weren’t getting their mail every day, and that it didn’t come at the same time. They hadn’t been notified they’d have contracted-out mail delivery service when they bought the condos.

The next day, when Hansen arrived at the main Portland post office for a meeting with the postmaster, she discovered her electronic access had been cancelled without notice. She waved her postal ID through the card scanner, but the door wouldn’t unlock. For 45 minutes, she tried without success to get a USPS manager to re-activate it.

Then mid-morning June 6, two armed postal inspectors showed up unannounced at the union hall, instructed to seize Hansen’s postal identification.

As a union officer, Hansen has a contractual right to access post offices for representational activity. She was floored, and demanded an explanation from management.

HR manager Corrinne Loprinzi told her the badge had been taken because Hansen is no longer a USPS employee. Hansen, who’d been on leave the previous six years to work full-time at the union, had decided to formally retire at the beginning of May after 34 years at USPS, though she plans to serve out the remainder of her term as union president. But she knows of three other union officials who had done the same and USPS had always extended them the professional courtesy of keeping their postal ID to allow them to access post offices on union business.

It looked like retaliation.

The national union stepped in and threatened to fight the case. Management relented. Hansen got her ID back.

Meanwhile, Hansen had composed a letter to management detailing her findings about Hattig.

The union’s larger battle against privatization continues.


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