Post office employees fed up with angry customers, extra workload

Joined by a few local members of the United Farmworkers and machinists unions, the picketers complained about personnel reassignments instituted last September by San Antonio Postmaster Manny Arguello. As a result, about

Carlos R. Trevino (center) joins other postal workers in a picket line at the Tejeda station on the city's Southeast Side. Photo by Mark Greenberg
62 retail clerks were shuffled to the city's mail-processing plant on Perrin-Beitel Road. Arguello also closed the Harlandale station on South Flores Street, which some postal workers contend has left the Southside underserved.

Picketers marched for two hours in the morning, and another two hours in the afternoon, carrying signs that read: "More Clerks, Less Management," "Job Cuts Delay Your Mail," and "USPS: No More Lip Service." Meanwhile, the postal service parked its mobile, customer-service truck outside the Tejeda station on the morning of the protest, apparently to defuse customer complaints.

Leading the charge for the picketers was president-elect Alex Aleman, a longtime employee at the Valley High postal station. In 22 years of working for the postal service, Aleman says he had never picketed until last December, when the job reassignments frustrated him.

"The customers have been complaining a lot about window services, because management eliminated a lot of the window clerks," Aleman said. "They based their decision on mail volume, but the workload for window clerks has nothing to do with mail volume. Their job has to do with customer service, people buying stamps, things like that."

Aleman also is concerned that Harlandale residents must now drive a long way to the Tejeda station to buy stamps, send mail, or check a post office box. "Our union is for customer service and what management is doing here today is just window dressing, because that mobile unit is only here because we're picketing. It doesn't satisfy us."

Last September, postal service management tried to speed up the city's mail processing by using automation and restructuring the local workforce. The move resulted in fewer retail clerks, and union members say post offices that historically employed three to four clerks are now getting by with one or two.

They argue that clerks must now work twice as hard as they used to, while impatient customers bark at them for being too slow. Post office management didn't respond to phone calls from the Current.

"When I'm coming home from work in uniform, people on the street ask me why there are such long lines, why there's nobody servicing the clerk windows," says Robert Proo, a postal maintenance worker.

"We work our butts off," adds Cristina Navarro, an 18-year customer-service clerk. "We take all the bull from the customers. They throw their tantrums and yell at us. `Management` will reassign us to jobs that we can't do, that we're not trained to do. They should just let us be."

While the union is eager to express their disapproval with the postmaster's decisions, federal law prohibits postal workers from striking. Instead, they plan to continue picketing once a month, and only on their off-duty hours. Such a small-scale offensive probably won't influence Arguello to change his policies, but it might serve the union's secondary purpose: convincing customers that management - and not an employee - is to blame for the bad customer service at post offices.

"People get angry, and they're taking it out on the people who are there, the clerks themselves," says union activist Robert Rodriguez. "All of these problems are creating the impression that the clerks are at fault. If the manager's not coming out to address the problem, you're going to come away thinking the person behind the counter is responsible." •

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