Page One

Waiting in Line at the Adeline St. Post Office By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday January 10, 2006

Patrons Petition For Additional Postal Workers 


On the first working day that the new 39-cent first-class postage stamp went into effect, a patron walked into the Adeline Street Post Office in South Berkeley at 12:25 in the afternoon and stood in line. 

There were 12 people ahead of him. The line stretched across the entire lobby, past the door leading outside, and through the inner door into the adjoining space that houses the post office boxes. 

The Adeline Street Post Office is a block from the Ashby BART station. 

Most of the customers were not there to buy two-cent stamps—necessary to bring up to the new first-class rate any of their remaining 37-cent stamps—but to conduct the kind of mail business that can only be taken care of in person: mailing or picking up packages or purchasing postal money orders. 

The Adeline Street Post Office has two service windows, but only one window was being operated on Monday afternoon. 

“It’s always this crowded,” a man standing in line offered. “They only have one clerk.” 

Most of the patrons took the wait stoically, but one woman, after being served, stormed out saying, “This ain’t right. You know I ain’t got no patience for this.” 

During the next half-hour, the clerk answered the phone and coordinated work with post office delivery workers while serving customers in the line. 

At 10 minutes to 1 p.m., twenty-five minutes after the patron first got in line, with two people still ahead of him and seven or eight more now behind, the clerk called out to everyone in the lobby, “I’m going to have to make an announcement. I’m the only person working here. I have to close the window at 1 p.m. for lunch. I’ll be at lunch for an hour. I’ll try to get to everyone in line. I’m doing the best I can. I’m the only one here.” 

At one minute to 1 p.m., with seven people still in line, the clerk announced she would be closing in a moment. There were groans and heads thrown back in disbelief by several of the remaining patrons. One woman, who only minutes packages from her car and set them beside her on the floor, turned around to reverse the procedure, taking the packages in several trips back to her car. One man said he wished there had been a sign to alert him to the situation. 

There was. Placed at the service window, it read: “Dear Customers: Due to staffing, window services will close daily during the following hours for breaks & lunch. 1st Break 11-11:15 a.m. Lunch 1-2 p.m. 2nd Break 3-3:15 p.m.” 

Fifteen minutes after 1 p.m., the clerk had still not taken her lunch break, however. She remained at the window, patiently fielding questions from a final patron who had inadvertently had his post office box closed and was not getting his mail forwarded. 

What do customers do when the window closes? 

“Go home and come back when it opens again,” one man said. “Or go to another post office, if you can’t wait.” 

A woman wanted to emphasize that nobody was blaming the clerk. 

“She’s terrific,” the woman said. “She’s always pleasant and smiling and helpful. But she needs help herself.” 

At least one Adeline Street Post Office patron has taken it upon himself to change the situation. For several weeks, South Berkeley businessperson Jesse Palmer has been circulating a petition among the Adeline Street customers, calling for “adequate staffing levels” at the Adeline Post Office. 

Addressed simply to the Postmaster, the petition reads, “Because you have not provided adequate staffing for the post office, we often have to wait for an unreasonable period in line. In addition, the post office is closed for lunch and for breaks. We support the postal clerk at this post office and want to see her receive the support and additional staffing she needs so she can do her job.” 

So far, Palmer said he has gathered about 700 signatures. 

In a letter attached to the petitions and mailed to U.S. Postmaster General John Jack Potter and the Berkeley Postmaster at the main post office on Allston Way last month, Palmer wrote that “the Postal Service has adequately staffed the post offices in wealthier areas. For instance, there are always plenty of clerks at the Claremont Post Office on College Avenue. It certainly appears that the postal service doesn’t care about patrons in our lower-income neighborhood.” 

Palmer has yet to receive a response. 

The one-person window staffing “has been going on at Adeline Street for years,” Palmer said in an interview. “They used to have multiple staffing, but they cut it back to one person. People are hopping mad about it. It seems like a simple matter to get adequate staffing. That’s not rocket science. It’s a minor reform thing that gets on your nerves after a while. They’ve got all these posters up about customer service being their priority. That really rings hollow.” 

Palmer said that he has met with Berkeley U. S. Postal Service Customer Service Coordinator Mercer W. Jones about the Adeline Street problem, but said that Jones “wasn’t very helpful. He suggested I do things like use the computer to conduct my mail business.” 

Palmer said that his zine and book distribution business requires him to send large packages several times a week, packages which must be taken in person to a post office because of the new security regulations following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. 

Jones did not respond to telephone requests for comments concerning this story. 

The single clerk at the Adeline Street Post Office, identified only by her name tag as “Yolanda,” said that post office employee regulations did not allow her to answer any service or staffing-related questions by reporters. She referred all queries to the main post office on Adeline Street, and asked a Daily Planet reporter and photographer to leave after determining that they were in the post office only to develop a story. 

Originally a federal department, the  

U. S. Postal Office was reorganized in 1971 as a semi-independent federal agency with a Board of Governors appointed by the president and run by a Postmaster General hired by the board.»