Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
When it’s raining cats and dogs outside, it’s usually considered a good thing in New Mexico.
When it’s raining rats and bats indoors, it’s not such a good thing – particularly at local post offices where troublesome varmints are normally limited to “wanted” posters.
There have been a number of incidents in recent years in which U.S. Postal Service employees encountered rodents and bats at area post offices, including in March, when a rat jumped on an employee at the Richard Pino Station on the West Side while he was placing mail in the on-site P.O. boxes.
“A supervisor investigated the incident, and as she opened a drawer in the area, another rat jumped out, causing the supervisor to scream,” said Dan D. Huerta, a spokesman for local 380 of the American Postal Workers Union.
He blamed Postal Service cutbacks to custodial and maintenance workers.
Huerta also detailed other incidents:
In January, a rat was seen scampering across the floor at the Academy Station.
Last summer, a 10-inch vinegaroon scorpion was captured at the Foothills Station, and short-tailed Mexican fruit bats had taken up residence at the Main Post Office.
In January 2018, two rats fell from the ceiling at the Five Points Post Office; one of them fell onto a customer’s shoulder.
While looking for vermin in the ceiling at the Main Post Office, workers last fall discovered the presence of asbestos, leading to the evacuation of the second floor for ongoing asbestos abatement efforts, a process that Huerta estimated could take another three to four months.
Up to 30 workers from the second floor were moved to an adjacent processing plant and to a post office in the North Valley, he said.
However, Carl Fondelheit, the spokesman for the USPS district office in Arizona, said, “These concerns were thoroughly investigated and remediated last year.”
He noted that a company specializing in nuisance wildlife removal and relocation extracted short-tailed Mexican fruit bats, a protected species, from the Main Post Office last June and installed a device that allows bats to exit but not reenter the building.
In addition, professional pest control services were hired to rid buildings of rodents, and those services have been continued.
The Postal Service did address some of the issues last year, Huerta said, but problems at a number of area postal stations have continued into 2019, including the rat incidents at the Academy Station and Richard Pino Station in March.
In addition to grievances and safety hazard reports the union filed with local USPS management, the union also filed complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, citing the risk to employees of contracting Hantavirus from contacting rodent urine, feces or saliva, Huerta said.
Quite simply, a number of area postal stations are in disrepair, are not particularly clean, and the grounds outside are often unkempt, according to union workers and employees in general. “It all comes down to staffing,” Huerta said. “We used to have two custodians at every station, and now we have one, if that, and sometimes they have to cover three stations.”
The results of custodial and maintenance staff cutbacks began to appear after 2011, when New Mexico’s USPS offices, which used to be overseen by a New Mexico district office, were combined with and put under the Arizona district office, he said.
“It appears to me that they haven’t invested in infrastructure and staffing, and we’ve been given a back seat here in New Mexico,” Huerta said. “When they calculate the hours for a custodian, they don’t include the hours for cutting weeds and other exterior maintenance,” which could lead to early detection of access points for vermin into the buildings.
And when those workers do attend to the exterior of the buildings, “nothing gets done inside.”
But the Postal Service’s Fondelheit disputed that.
“We regularly supervise and control the cleaning and maintenance of our facilities, because the safety of all postal facilities for our customers and employees is paramount,” Fondelheit said. “We staff our facilities according to national standards.”
Huerta responded: “If that were the case, we wouldn’t be having ongoing rodent problems inside and ongoing weed problems outside these facilities.”
Bottom line: “There is just not enough custodial staffing to address both indoor and outdoor maintenance and cleaning,” he insisted.