Since Frederick’s Tilco Drive mail processing plant was shuttered Nov. 18, the U.S Postal Service has said customers can expect the same level of service as before, even though local mail now travels to Baltimore to be sorted before being delivered.
But employees who were moved from Tilco Drive to the Baltimore plant say consolidating the operations was a mistake and has come at the price of timely, efficient service.
Three former Tilco Drive workers spoke to The Frederick News-Post on the condition of anonymity. The News-Post agreed to the request because of the compelling nature of the information and its widespread implications.
“It seems like Baltimore is more concerned with the Baltimore mail,” said one employee, a Frederick County resident who worked at Tilco Drive for 12 years before he was transferred to Baltimore in November.
The News-Post in December asked post office customers who had noticed a delay in mail service to contact the newsroom. About 50 responses were received via phone and email.
‘Weeks at a time’
Bins of mail have been “sitting around for weeks at a time in Baltimore,” the former Tilco worker said.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he saw “a number of trucks” containing unsorted mail sitting outside the Baltimore plant, he said.
Freda Sauter, a postal service spokeswoman, said no unsorted mail was stored in the vehicles. They contained equipment, she said.
According to Cathy Powell, a spokeswoman for Baltimore’s Department of General Services, the postal service purchased a $2,000 permit, valid Dec. 21 through Feb. 1, allowing use of curb lanes for parking near the plant at 900 E. Fayette St. in Baltimore.
Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for Baltimore’s Department of Transportation, said the postal service was cited more than once for parking near the plant before obtaining the permit.
“They did not have a permit for the meters or the detached trailers parked on the city public right of way, therefore they were cited several times for this infraction,” she wrote in an email on Feb. 2. “After they were cited they obtained the proper permits.”
Barnes would not say how many times or how much money was paid for the infractions.
A backlog of unsorted mail sits inside the building, too, the former Tilco employee said.
“They’re still piling mail and equipment in the aisles,” he said.
An anonymous tip about debris crowding the aisles and exit routes at the Baltimore plant was investigated Oct. 25, according to Leni Fortson, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman. Consolidation of the Tilco and Baltimore plants began in early October. An inspection for similar problems was conducted in June, Fortson said.
A $5,000 citation was issued Nov. 1 as a result of the two investigations, she said.
Two former Tilco Drive employees who now work in Baltimore said the “debris” mentioned in the citation was probably unsorted mail.
“There were times when you would have to step over mail just to get where you were going because the aisle-ways were blocked,” said a 15-year USPS employee who worked at Tilco Drive for 12 years before he was transferred to Baltimore.
“We have packages to this date that were mailed maybe a week or two before Christmas that are just now being delivered,” he said Jan. 19. “The sheer volume of late mail is ridiculous.”
‘Not a priority’
Post office customers in Frederick County have noticed problems.
Jerry Markowitz, of Mount Airy, told The News-Post that medication refills he ordered in November from an online pharmacy in Florida were delivered to his home a month later.
Inger Talbot, a jewelry designer based in New Market, said pieces she sent to out-of-town, mail-order customers in early December had not reached their destinations two weeks later. She had to remake the pieces and resend them via UPS, which took money out of her pocket and made her business look bad, she said.
The News-Post received other complaints that described late or missing bills, insurance documents and invitations, sale flyers arriving after the sale was over and mail carriers arriving later in the day than normal, or some days not at all.
According to one former Tilco employee, managers in Baltimore say a lot more mail is coming from Frederick and Washington counties than their superiors told them to expect, before the consolidation.
As a result, “Frederick mail is just not a priority,” he said. “It is definitely Baltimore first. Basically they’re taking care of their own.”
A 17-year Postal Service employee who worked at Tilco Drive for 12 years, said the consolidation has made it hard for her to move around in her new Baltimore workspace.
Equipment from Tilco Drive is crammed into the Baltimore building, she said, and sometimes she leaves work with bruises from banging into it.
She is frustrated by more than her physical working conditions.
Talk of the consolidation being transparent to customers is simply untrue, she said. “(The postal service) tells the public what they want to hear.”
“If this move made sense, we all could deal with it,” she said. “But they’re winging it on a daily basis just to try to get it done.”
‘Through the cracks’
One Tilco veteran and a co-worker were processing newspapers in mid-December when they saw a front-page story about a snowstorm. They wondered how they had missed it, then realized the article was about snow on Oct. 29.
At least one local newspaper has had problems with delivery since the consolidation.
According to Julie Maynard, editor and owner of the Citizen newspapers, some papers printed on Oct. 12 didn’t reach subscribers until Oct. 20. Customers usually receive papers the day after the edition goes to press.
By Nov. 22, some subscribers had not received papers printed Nov. 9, she said.
Maynard changed the printing of her weekly papers from Wednesday to Tuesday in an effort to get them to subscribers by Thursday. This makes the information in the papers less timely, she said.
“I sure do miss Tilco Drive,” she said.
The Postal Service maintains that the plant’s closure was necessary.
The Baltimore District processed 1.5 million pieces of mail per day five years ago, Sauter wrote in an email. That number, including Frederick’s mail, has declined to 550,000 pieces per day.
“And now we are going into our slow season. This means the mail volume will continue to decline. Are we worried? Yes. And that’s why we need to make the necessary changes.”
Sauter admitted to problems during the fall and holiday season, but said customer service has remained excellent.
The overnight service score for the area is 97.16 percent, higher than the national goal of 96 percent, Sauter wrote. Despite the Frederick-Baltimore consolidation, “local First-Class Mail letters that are mailed to local addresses should be delivered the next day.”
According to the USPS website, first class mail includes cards and letters.
In an independent experiment, The News-Post mailed letters Dec. 20 to its Ballenger Center Drive office from 16 post offices around the county. Each letter was dropped before the office’s latest posted pickup time.
All the letters arrived on Dec. 22.
‘It’s not timely’
Postal employees who are concerned about the decline in customer service have also experienced internal problems.
According to the three former Tilco workers, the Postal Service promised to pay them for extra mileage resulting from their longer commutes during the consolidation period, before Tilco Drive was officially shuttered.
None have seen a dime of that pay, they said.
“Prior to November 19, employees were compensated for travel,” Sauter wrote in an email. “After the November 19 date employees were officially reassigned to permanent positions in other work locations, therefore they are not compensated for travel. We worked closely with the union in accordance with the union contract. If the employees have any issues with being compensated they need to work with their supervisor.”
One employee’s biggest complaint about consolidation is not the missing pay. It’s the deteriorating mail service, he said.
“We took pride in getting our mail out on a timely basis — and now it’s not timely.”