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With people sending less mail in this current economic slump, the local post office is facing its own financial bind. And to respond, routes of mail carriers in Oak Park and River Forest are getting … re-routed.

The post office says the move will save money and, eventually, increase efficiency. But customers and some mail carriers are stamping their feet in protest.

“It doesn’t make sense, and I haven’t been able to get anybody from the post office to explain to me why this is more efficient,” said Jan Mar, 66, of the 1000 block of Hayes.

Mar has had the same carrier for more than a decade and has grown attached. He’s skeptical that shifting routes will save money and believes moving mailmen around will bog down service.

Oak Park Postmaster Phil Crawford could not be reached for comment. But in a mailer sent to local customers, he said a struggling business industry means lower volume of letters.

“You may notice that your mail may be delivered at a different time of day and by a different carrier,” Crawford said in the mailer. “This is a result of recent adjustments to our delivery routes due to major declines in mail volume.”

Joe Thurman, associate supervisor for the Oak Park Post Office, said they’re readjusting routes using a computer program so mail carriers will have to travel less, saving time and fuel and allegedly lowering the occurrence of accidents. It’s a change, he says, that is taking place at post offices nationwide.

Carriers started new routes in River Forest and south Oak Park on Saturday. For north Oak Park, the route shakeup will likely happen by Aug. 1.

Thurman was uncertain how much the post office will save with routes squared off to reduce travel time. Service will slow as carriers adjust, then, it is hoped, gradually improve.

“I’m not comparing a mailman to a new pair of shoes, but the fit is something you’re used to, and now you have to do something new,” Thurman said. “But the carriers have the same assignments and same job duties, and that’s basically to provide a service to a customer.”

But delivery of that message has been hard to hear for people on both sides of the mailbox.

Allison Houha has worked for the post office for 30 years, 23 on the same route in central Oak Park. She understands the post office’s financial difficulties but wishes they had taken an approach affecting fewer mail routes, rather than every one. She had hoped to retire from her route.

“It’s a real loss,” she said referring to the relationships she’s built over the years. “It’s not something we chose, and that’s what makes it more painful.”

Of the 600 delivery spots on Houha’s route, only 69 will remain the same. The post office isn’t laying anyone off, according to Thurman, but Houha said it is eliminating about seven routes in Oak Park and River Forest through retirement, attrition and reassignment. Houha believes it will take a few years before the post office sees the benefit of the shakeup.

Another carrier, on the same route for decades, claims the post office told him he would keep his route. The carrier declined to be named for fear of retaliation.

“We’re mad because they didn’t need to do this major upheaval,” the carrier said. “A block added on to each route would have been an easy solution, but they tried to redo the whole thing from scratch. They’re just shifting the carriers all over the place, and that’s going to create horrible service.”

The carrier says he is familiar with customers and also wanted to retire from his route. A veteran carrier knows all the quirks of the route, like maiden names and when some customers take annual vacations, and that will disappear with the change, he said.

“They ripped my heart out,” the carrier said. “It’s not just a business. Everybody thinks you’re a glorified paperboy. … There’s more to it. If you want to do a good job, you have to develop a relationship, and they took that away from me. It’s not right.”

A third veteran carrier, who also declined to be named for fear of retaliation, said the move is the “most ridiculous” change he’s seen while working years at the post office.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” he said. “I’ve never seen it so bad.”

Mar is upset the post office hasn’t better communicated with customers during the transition. He had difficulty trying to contact the postmaster. A 34-year Oak Park resident, Mar is retired and interacted with his mailman frequently.

“There is a certain bond between the mail carrier and his customers,” he said.

Mark Kolodziej, 58, has had the same Oak Park mailman for at least 12 years on the 600 block of North Cuyler and has lived here since 1987. When his carrier, Irving Taylor, is off sick, he notices a drop in service.

“If they keep changing things, that’s when you’re going to get the problems,” Kolodziej said. “So I hope whoever it is hangs on for a while. My view is, usually you’re going to get better service from somebody who has a real stake in the position.”

“They’re not just workers; they mean something to us, and I care about their well-being and happiness,” added Kolodziej’s wife, Mari Mortensen.

Houha appreciates having a job when so many don’t, but the post office is more than just a source of income for her.

“In this economy, many of us have family members who have been laid off,” she said. “So we’re all grateful to have a job, and we understand that. It’s just unfortunate that it has to have this drastic outcome.”

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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