For mail carriers, Saturday routes roll on — at least for now

Wanda Feagen, a mail carrier with the United States Postal Service, delivers mail on a Saturday route.
Wanda Feagen, a mail carrier with the United States Postal Service, delivers mail on a Saturday route. (Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun)

Wanda Feagen pulled on her blue United States Postal Service coat and a pair of thick black gloves shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday, blinking against a hard wind and waiting for her mail delivery truck to fill up on gas.

"Hoo hoo!" she said of the cold weather.

Feagen had just set out from the Gwynn Oak post office after cataloging mail since the start of her day at 7:30 a.m., and was on her way to the rolling residential hills nearby to begin her regular weekend delivery route.

"A Saturday is just like a normal day," the 51-year-old Army veteran and longtime mail carrier said. "We still get medicine on Saturdays, still get parcels on Saturdays, still get normal mail on Saturdays. So it's just like a Monday-through-Friday day."

At least for now.

Last Wednesday, USPS officials announced that, starting in August, the postal service will cut the home delivery of first-class mail to five days a week. Feagen said the news surprised her and many of her colleagues, and is a real concern for some.

"People are going to lose their jobs," she said.

Since 2006, the Postal Service has cut 193,000 jobs, and if Saturday delivery is ended, more will have to go, Feagen said. But things seem up in the air, she said.

"I just thought it was really all talk," Feagen said, of the news about the Postal Service's budget woes, following a loss last year of $16 billion. "Is it going to happen?"

According to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, it is, and it will save the USPS about $2 billion annually. Some legislators, including Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, the top Democrat of the House committee that oversees the postal service, feel such a decision should be determined through legislation, not unilaterally by USPS officials.

The American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association all oppose the plan.

Many residents along Feagen's route said they are fine with the cut, but some oppose it out of concern that people like Feagen will be out of work.

"I'm just concerned about the mail carriers," said Odessa Lyles, 72, a resident of the neighborhood for 40 years.

Her neighbor, 67-year-old Oscar Thornton, agreed.

"Monday through Friday is fine in terms of getting mail, because things now mostly come online," he said. But jobs are the top issue, he said, and he wants Feagen around.

"She's on time with her mail. When she's off, I can tell," Thornton said, shortly after greeting Feagen by her first name. "She doesn't get the mail mixed up. Some other carriers will give my mail to my neighbors. She doesn't do that. She knows the customers."

Feagen said it's not clear what cutting Saturday deliveries will mean for carriers' routes, but she believes she will begin working on Thursdays, one of her days off now. That may actually add some consistency to her service, given how well she knows the route.

Feagen knows where the hard-to-find letter boxes are, where the foot holes are in the yards and which residents don't want her walking in the grass. She knows the best way to structure her "relays" — the rounds of walking she does between moving her truck through the neighborhood — and where the dogs to watch out for live.

Her route involves serious exercise. It's mostly hills. But she climbs the hilly blocks rapidly.

"I try to keep an even pace, because I don't want to tire myself out. I have six hours of this," she said.

Feagen, a Gwynn Oak resident herself, has been a mail carrier since 1990, after she left her 10-year military career as a flutist with the U.S. Army Band. The discipline learned in the military has served her well throughout her life, she said.

"You're here to do a job, and you try to do your best," she said. "It's like the Army says, 'Be all that you can be.' I live my life like that. I take pride in what I do."