Complaints about service piling up - like mail that isn't being delivered

Delayed and missing mail is a major headache and a drain in the pocket for many Center City banks, law firms and other businesses - even the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this year, office manager John Barnett noticed an unusual drop in replies to some of the 150 events that the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce holds over the course of a year.

The chamber regularly sends invitations, brochures and calendars of events to 5,000 members at a time, often enclosing prepaid "business reply" envelopes so recipients can easily RSVP.

"We send out a ton of mail," said Mary Flannery, spokeswoman for the chamber. "We noticed [prepaid business reply envelopes] weren't being returned on a regular basis, as they had in the past."

When Barnett complained to postal officials, they asked him to sit on a business-customer council to help solve the problem, said Flannery. The chamber's mailings number about 750,000 a year.

At last Tuesday's council meeting, postal official Robert Bethune listened to complaints of a Center City bank, two law firms and the chamber.

Barnett "expressed our concern," said Flannery. "We believe we're being heard."

Not so with a Center City bank, whose representative complained about "losing customers" due to delayed and missing mail, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Usually first-class mail takes two or three days, but some customers' payments on loans and mortgages were arriving "seven to 10 days" later, triggering late fees, according to the source.

The unhappy customers were ready to take their business elsewhere.

Businesses complained to the Daily News after its Monday story describing the postal workers union's complaint about late, missing and destroyed mail and falsified government records.

The union's complaint described how senior officials of the U.S. Postal Service processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia allegedly ordered clerks to drastically reduce the daily mail count by undercounting hundreds of thousands of pieces.

The allegedly phony records, coupled with a year-long ban on overtime, has resulted in a chronically understaffed plant unable to process unsorted mail which sits in overflowing bins for days and weeks.

Yesterday, USPS District manager Frank Neri issued a staff memo saying that the Daily News story was "an embarrassment" to dedicated employees.

In fiscal year 2008, mail volume was down by 9.5 billion pieces, said Neri. "This is the largest drop in mail volume ever."

"As a result, we have a fiduciary responsibility to adjust our staffing and scheduling of work hours to match the workload," citing 162 employees who would be transferred, he added.

The staff reduction is no consolation to Allen Turner and Willie Pollins, attorneys who specialize in commercial litigation at the Turner & McDonald law firm on Spruce Street near 17th.

The firm hasn't had a regular mail-carrier all year. Mail arrives anytime between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Last week, Turner said, they received a court order that was a week old. A rent check took 13 days to come from East Falls to Center city.

"I could have walked it faster," he added.

"Our complaint is not with the letter carriers assigned to us," said Turner.

But he offered a suggestion for taking care of the USPS managers who allegedly ordered the phony mail counts in order to get performance bonuses:

"They ought to string 'em up." *