Officials with the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 92 say a new pilot program at this Saco USPS sorting facility and 69 others across the nation is causing mail delays and that city letter carriers are working longer hours. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — Postal union officials are awaiting an arbitration ruling on a relatively new way of sorting mail that they say is causing carriers who deliver on designated city routes in Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach to work longer hours.

Under the system previously used by the United States Postal Service, carriers would sort mail for their own routes for about two hours each morning and then deliver for about six hours, said Mark Seitz, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 92, the union that represents the workers.

Now, under a pilot program called a Consolidated Casing Initiative instituted in the Saco sorting facility on Industrial Park Road  in late September — one of roughly 70 pilots across the country, union officials say — postal workers called casers sort the mail for carriers, who deliver it.

It was designed to make the system more efficient; union officials say it hasn’t.

Seitz and Arthur Bowman, who was assigned by the union to be an observer of the new Consolidated Casing Initiative method of sorting and delivering mail, estimate that about 30 city mail carriers on walking routes in the three communities are racking up a total of 50 overtime hours a day, often finishing up around 7:30 p.m. or later.

The men said they hear reports of complaints of late mail from residents and they want them to know why.

“They thought (the system) would save time and money,” said Seitz, who is a letter carrier  working in Portland.

“I’ve observed (the consolidated system) in three offices nationwide,” said Bowman. “All… have been a mess.”

New initiatives are supposed to be undertaken in consultation with the union, but Seitz said that didn’t happen.

Retirements and people leaving the postal service in an era when there is a shortage of workers in many industries are also contributing factors, the men acknowledged.

The CCI was designed to increase efficiency, both for postal carriers and in postal buildings, according to Stephen Doherty, a communications specialist with the U.S. Postal Service in the Boston regional office.

“Two potential benefits of consolidated casing include the anticipated reduction of individuals performing casing duties will reduce the number of physical cases (cabinets), which will allow us to reallocate floor space for packages,” said Doherty in an email. ” Second, we anticipate that separating casing and street duties will result in operational efficiencies and reduced costs.”

“An increase in overtime is not unexpected when such adjustments are made and usually stabilizes as carriers become familiar with their new routes,” Doherty further stated.

Some postal locations have an automated process called a flats sequencing system for items like newspapers and magazines, which might make the CCI easier, Bowman said, but the Saco processing center doesn’t have that system.

The National Association of Letter Carriers union filed a lawsuit in August against the USPS, requesting an injunction to cease the pilot project until the outcome of the arbitration. In November a judge with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. dismissed the suit, writing that because injunctive relief was unnecessary to preserve the arbitration process, it lacked jurisdiction.

Seitz said the arbitration decision is expected sometime this month.

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