More than 150 extra postal workers were called in to participate today in one of several moves by Baltimore's postal supervisors to deliver mail more quickly within the city.
Richard W. Rudez, Baltimore's district manager, said yesterday that he and Eugene Carter III, manager of the Fayette Street main post office, have begun "aggressive" efforts to ensure that letters mailed within Baltimore to other city locations make the trip in one day.
The changes were prompted by a national survey of postal service conducted by the Price Waterhouse accounting firm for the U.S. Postal Service that showed Baltimore has the seventh worst record in the nation, with mail delivered on time only 68.6 percent of the time.
"It's an aggressive effort to try and get the stigma that Baltimore is the seventh worst in the country reversed," Mr. Rudez said. "We're trying to do some things that aren't traditional."
The goal is to transform Baltimore's postal service to one of the top 10 in the next 60 days, he said.
Today's overtime effort is a one-day experiment to reduce the volume of packages and third-class business mail that stacks up during lightly staffed weekends.
With that work finished, postal workers can concentrate on processing first-class and second-class mail during the week.
Mr. Carter and Mr. Rudez will evaluate the experiment and, depending on the results, may decide to permanently augment weekend crews.
Mr. Rudez said the overtime experiment will be concentrated within the city in ZIP codes between 21201 and 21299.
Many of those ZIP codes include businesses with individual codes.
The extra Sunday workers are experienced people who can move mail more quickly than the weekend crews normally do, especially during the summer vacation season, Mr. Rudez said.
The idea is to see how much the extra, experienced labor can reduce the typical Monday morning crunch at the city's 30 neighborhood post offices.
Mr. Rudez emphasized that the step is being taken to improve service, but that the problem in Baltimore is not that mail is being delayed, as it has been in Washington D.C.
"It's because [this is] the high vacation time of the year," Mr. Rudez said. "[Mr. Carter] looked at some service issues, and he really feels that the service on Monday isn't as good as it is the rest of the week."
Mr. Rudez said the workers will make the standard overtime rate of 1 1/2 times their regular pay, but he declined to estimate the cost.
"Cost on this one day would not be an issue," he said. "If we were going to do this on an ongoing basis, then we would have to cost it out."
If the increased staffing were to be instituted permanently, a decision would have to be made whether to use workers on overtime or to bring in another work force on Sundays permanently.
Baltimore postal authorities also have placed mailboxes in front of each city post office to collect only mail intended for delivery within city limits.
The boxes are topped with a sign alerting patrons to their purpose.
Mr. Rudez said the plan is to keep city mail separate, sort it in neighborhood stations instead of sending it downtown and make sure it's delivered more quickly.
In addition, Mr. Rudez said, the post office is nearly finished converting to an automated, electronic system for sorting handwritten mail that affects the entire Baltimore metropolitan area.
Currently, mail that automated postal sorting machines cannot read -- handwritten addresses -- is read and sorted by postal workers in Baltimore.
The new system sends an electronic picture of the address to an office in Greensboro, N.C., where mostly contract workers read it, then type the address into a computer and send it back to Baltimore for proper routing.
That system, which began May 16, should be completely operative in several weeks, Mr. Rudez said.
Today's effort is in response to a challenge issued by Henry Pankey, the Postal Service's new vice president for the mid-Atlantic region.
"He's aware of the stigma of the way we're ranked in the country and the stigma the customers have, and he wants that reputation this area has of being one of the worst service areas changed," Mr. Rudez said. "So he's challenged all of us to do our part to make that happen."
Washington, D.C., had the worst record nationally, with mail delivered on time only 60.6 percent of the time.
In the district, periodic backlogs of undelivered mail spurred postal supervisors to call hundreds of extra mail sorters in to work mandatory overtime yesterday and today.
In May, Washington postal investigators found millions of undelivered letters stuffed into storage trailers and at post offices in the capital, in northern Virginia and in Washington's Maryland suburbs.
Those stacks of mail have been delivered, according to postal officials, but the backlog may have grown again.