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Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Postal Staffing Shortage Blamed
By Harry Moskos
Of the Journal
Albuquerque's new postmaster blames the area's recent late mail woes on staffing problems, and asks residents for "a little more time."
Acting postmaster Barbara Plunkett, who assumed her job last month, said she understands that the patience of local residents is "wearing thin."
She replaced Susan J. Beck, who was named to the post in June but is on a leave of absence because of illness.
Plunkett stepped into the position as complaints of late mail delivery sometimes as late as 8 p.m. escalated throughout the state. There have been complaints of lost or stolen mail.
New Mexico's senators met with the Postmaster General in January to outline the litany of problems.
Plunkett said five manager and seven supervisor positions were vacant along with "numerous letter carriers and clerks" slots that need to be filled.
"We're in the process of filling vacancies, but some of the new people leave after finding out it is harder work than they thought it was," she said in an interview.
While many of the problems are not unique to this area, she said, the Postal Service in Albuquerque has an attrition rate that is higher because of an aging work force.
"We have a 5 percent turnover rate. Two years ago it was 3 percent. A good portion of that is in the management ranks."
Plunkett said the Postal Service is "aware of the issue.
"We apologize for falling behind, and we will get Albuquerque to the way it used to be a very high performing district."
But she said the trend is going in a positive direction, noting that in December the on-time performance for overnight delivery of mail in Albuquerque was 93 percent. This month it is at 94.53 percent.
"We are on our way back up," she said.
The main Albuquerque post office handles most of the state's mail. Plunkett, whose salary is $88,000, supervises 1,123 employees who deliver mail to more than 230,000 homes.
She said mail delays are more frequent in new construction areas where there is a greater volume of advertising mail, such as catalogs.
"We have upgraded our equipment with an automatic machine that will sort flat mail," she said.
She pointed out Albuquerque's population is growing at a faster pace than the national average, which means more mail.
Regarding complaints about theft from neighborhood cluster boxes, Plunkett is urging that higher security mailboxes be installed by developers. Such cluster boxes have been installed in Arizona and have been proven effective in reducing mail thefts.
Plunkett started working for the Postal Service in Tucson. She was later promoted to station manager in Chandler, Ariz., and then to distribution center manager in Gilbert, Ariz., just outside of Phoenix. In 2004, she was transferred to Bangor, Maine, as a plant manager, and then to Albuquerque.
Beck was the first woman postmaster in Albuquerque since 1879, making Plunkett the second in 125 years.