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Caught in a ‘mailstrom’

By Matt King

Gilroy - July 18, 2005 - For the second time in as many months, Postmaster Penny Yates appears to have issued an order that pushes the limits of established U.S. Postal Service policy. This time, it may cost a letter carrier her job.

Yates is attempting to fire Patricia Finley, the letter carrier caught in the crossfire of a delivery dispute that led Yates to rescind a do-not-deliver order that contravened national postal policy. Earlier this week, Finley received a “notice of removal” letter that states she will be terminated for leaning too far out of her vehicle and using her truck to push plastic garbage bins out of her path.

In the letter, which was obtained by The Dispatch, Yates says that Finley’s actions could have resulted in injury to herself or to a small child or dog hidden behind the trash bins. She accuses Finley of disloyalty to the U.S. government and conduct unbecoming a carrier of “good character and reputation.”

The discipline comes seven weeks after Finley was photographed by The Dispatch for a story detailing the lengths carriers will go to to deliver mail without leaving their vehicles, as ordered by Yates.

That order caused a furor among residents on Finley’s route in the northwest quad, who complained about missing deliveries because there was a car or trash bin blocking their mailboxes. Yates’ order was in violation of USPS policy and she repealed it after the article was published. She called the story a “negative attack,” but also contacted The Dispatch to ask for unpublished photographs of Finley.

Friday, Finley’s colleagues came to her defense, calling her an exemplary carrier who is being aggressively punished because of the negative publicity the article brought to the post office.

“I don’t know of any reason to do this other than to make an example out of her,” Gilroy carrier Arthur Barron said. “It’s silly, I think. What they showed her doing caused no harm to anyone. [Yates] probably has pressure on her do to something.”

Finley, who could not be reached for comment, does have one black mark on her record - a warning letter she received late last year for “bulldozing” trash bins with her truck. But Tony Cortese, president of the local branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said that the removal notice exceeds the bounds of what’s known within the post office as progressive discipline. Typically, a carrier is not fired until she has received a letter of warning and at least one paper suspension, in which a carrier doesn’t actually miss time or lose pay.

“We don’t like to discuss individual cases, but in general, for an unsafe act, management will issue a paper suspension. We file a grievance and get that reduced,” Cortese said. “There was some negative publicity, but that would not justify her being terminated. We are going to help her and I don’t think she will lose her job.”

Yates was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment. Julie Thompson, a supervisor at the Gilroy post office, called the letter “a rumor” and declined to comment.

Finley’s customers, including those who complained about missed mail, were outraged to learn that their carrier was facing dismissal. They said they believe Finley was simply doing the best she could to deliver the mail and comply with the local postal rules.

“I think the fault lies in the person within the post office who allowed that policy to be adopted,” Lone Deer Way resident Keith Penrod said. “I think she does a fantastic job. It seems unjust at the least.”

And Dennis Chatham, an Arapaho Drive resident who was so incensed about missed deliveries that he complained to Congressman Mike Honda, D-San Jose, offered to start a collection drive in case Finley is suspended or loses her job.

“She’s been a good mail lady,” Chatham said. I never had a problem with her. It was a management decision. She was probably just trying to please her boss. She didn’t think it would hurt [the garbage cans]. It wouldn’t do any damage.”

Pending the grievance, Finley could be dismissed as soon as Aug. 12. If she is fired and then reinstated, she will be eligible for back pay only if she seeks alternate employment while she is out of work.


Matt King
Matt King covers Santa Clara County for The Dispatch. He can be reached at 847-7240 or


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