They may be able to handle rain, sleet and gloom of night, but some members of the postal workers union fed up with their working conditions and what they described as discriminatory disciplinary actions demonstrated yesterday in front of Baltimore's main post office.
More than 150 members of Local 181 of the American Postal Workers, a union representing 2,200 postal employees in Baltimore, carried signs in front of the building at 900 E. Fayette St. as officials celebrated the 20th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Postal Service and honored Desert Storm veterans inside.
At the top of a long list of union complaints was that although 60 percent of Baltimore postal employees are black, more than 90 percent of all disciplinary actions -- including firings, suspensions and letters of warning -- are taken against black employees.
As a result, the postal service's Equal Employment Opportunity office in Baltimore is deluged with complaints, said Henry "Hank" Putty, president of Local 181.
"They're flooded right now with them. They have so many they can't keep up," he said.
Repeated attempts to reach Baltimore Postmaster Richard Rudez for comment were unsuccessful. Irene A. Lericos, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service in Baltimore, said she could not comment individually on the union members' complaints but said that there is an internal grievance process for handling employee complaints.
"We have held quarterly rap sessions to deal with employee concerns," she said.
Union officials had several other complaints about hiring and firing practices, which they said were related to an expected reduction in the Baltimore work force of 3,000 employees by 1995 because of increased automation of mail handling. The U.S. Postal Service plans to eliminate 90,000 full-time-equivalent jobs overall.
Mr. Putty acknowledged that most of the firings were a result of absenteeism. But many employees, especially postal clerks, have been forced to work seven days a week, often for 12-hour shifts, and much of the absenteeism is the result of fatigue and stress, he said.
Mr. Putty said that management is also trying to reduce the work force by firing employees who are injured or become ill but whose illness or injury is judged to be unrelated to work. He said that employees who are injured on the job often face delays of three to six months in getting workers' compensation benefits because claims are not processed promptly.
Workers' complaints also included filthy working conditions, a frequent lack of towels and toilet tissue in restrooms, and sporadic availability of hot water.
Last Saturday was particularly bad, according to Mr. Putty, who said that the building's water system was not working and only two portable toilets were brought in for employees to use.
Part of the problem, Mr. Putty said, is 40 custodial vacancies -- postions that the union believes will go unfilled.
"We have rats and roaches running around the building like crazy," Mr. Putty said. "The toilets are filthy, the floors are filthy, the workplace is filthy. . . . It's a mess."