Three days after mail service in the Baltimore region was rated worst in the nation, 16 managers from the metro area flew to Florida for morale-boosting seminars that officials said will improve beleaguered mail service.
The four-day leadership sessions, attended by 85 managers from Baltimore, Washington, Richmond and Northern Virginia, cost $137,000. They were conducted by a company whose literature states that it is "dedicated to creating rapid, profound and lasting change in attitude and performance."
Union leaders here had a different description: Junket.
"How can you send all these people down there when they say they don't have any money?" said Ron Liszewski, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 3,000 city workers. "Service would probably improve if some of them didn't come back."
Mr. Liszewski said he shredded the memo inviting him to the conference.
"It was a get-acquainted, one of those trust type of things," he said. "It was a touchy-feely type of seminar."
Don McDeshen, executive vice president of the Baltimore region's National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents workers from Aberdeen to Crofton, said the post office should look closer to home in its efforts to solve local problems.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" he said. "We have a lot of nice places in Baltimore where they could meet and exchange ideas and solve problems."
Postal officials acknowledged that the trip could be seen as poor timing because it came so soon after Friday's report.
The survey, conducted over four months, concluded that only 66 out of every 100 first-class letters that were supposed to be delivered overnight made it to their destination on time here. Nationwide, 82 percent of mail was delivered on time.
"Yeah, it is awkward," said Frank Brennan, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, stressing that plans for the trip were made a month ago and that all of the reservations had been made.
"It is the eve of what will be record holiday volumes," he said. "Everyone recognizes that service is not what it should be in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"The interdependence of management upon each other is really important."
Names of the management team who participated in the trip were not available yesterday, but Mr. Brennan confirmed that Richard Rudez, the city's district manager for customer service, and Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore district, were among the participants.
He said 85 managers from the Mid-Atlantic region flew to a conference center 60 miles south of Orlando on Monday and returned last night.
Airfare, rooms at a conference center and food cost $137,000, the spokesman said.
Not only were district managers invited to attend the conference, but union heads were encouraged to participate.
Mr. Brennan said several union officials accepted the offer, including representatives from the Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Association of Postal Supervisors.
Also attending was Richard Hughes, the administrative vice president of the Mail Handlers Union, which represents 500 clerks and mail separators and is one of the three largest postal unions in Baltimore.
"He took the trip, and he's the one you will have to talk to," said Donald Bornheim, the union's health benefits officer. "I don't have any comment."
But APWU's Mr. Liszewski questioned why a union official would go on a trip at post office expense.
"It's not really a conflict of interest as far as the law goes, but I would say anybody who would go would be pretty stupid, especially if you are going to run for re-election," he said. "It doesn't look too good."
The seminars were conducted by the Pecos River Learning Centers Inc., based in Minneapolis, which promotes itself as a corporate training company that offers a wide range of programs designed to teach skills of teamwork, strategic partnerships, empowerment and problem-solving.
"The learning takes place in a stimulating and enjoyable context that promotes personal insight and growth," the company's literature states.
Mr. Brennan did not have an agenda for the conference, but he said the participants learned how to improve customer relations and focus on goals.
He referred questions about what participants did at the conference to the company's president, Elizabeth Wilson, who was not at work yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
The post office spokesman described the seminars as intense, with 14-hour days on Tuesday and Wednesday.
He said officials chose the Florida location because the post office's usual conference site in Natural Bridge, Va., was booked.