Arceneaux retires from Letter Carrier union post, Kemper takes over

NEDERLAND — A lot has happened in the world of letter carriers in the past 60 years, some good and some not so good — Paul Arceneaux can attest to this.

Arceneaux, who traveled to Austin in the 1950’s to request a charter to organize the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 1179, has stepped down from the post after six decades of leadership. His successor and longtime friend Jerome Kemper was recently elected to the position both hold dearly.

The two men sat down together at Arceneaux’s Nederland home where they spoke of the formation of the local union branch as well as the current needs.

Branch 1179 includes a large portion of the Golden Triangle; Port Arthur, Groves, Port Neches, Nederland, Vidor, Bridge City and Vidor. Beaumont has its own branch, they said.

“Back then Blacks couldn’t join. They could work for the postal service,” Arceneaux said. “We thought, why can’t they have the same opportunity? Also back then we made 62 cents an hour to start off. That’s another of the reasons we formed the union.”

Arceneaux, Kemper said, was on the front line and part of the 1970 Postal Strike.

“President Nixon sent in the National Guard to deliver mail and they couldn’t do it,” Kemper said. “Wall Street began to fall, they relied on the mail. They had to give the workers what they wanted.”

On March 23, 1970, Nixon informed the American public via television he had sent various military organizations to New York City to restore essential mail services, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum Blog. One of the major complaints was the recent Congressional action that gave a 41 percent pay raise to members of Congress while postal employees received a 4 percent raise. Letter carriers were on the low end of the pay scale and “some carriers in New York City were eligible for welfare programs.”

Collective bargaining didn’t exist at that time.

Like Arceneaux, Kemper is also a retired letter carrier. He retired in 2012 with 32 years of service and continued to stay active in the union. He spoke of his concerns.

“I want to make sure employees are treated with dignity and respect so they can better serve the public,” Kemper said.

Both men share concerns about the need for better training, shortage of staff and shortage of vehicles.

“I’m sure people are concerned about not getting their mail delivered the way they should,” Kemper said.

The Port Arthur office, located in downtown Port Arthur, has been short 12 people for the past two years and letter carriers are working 10 to 12 hour days six days a week. The Groves office is also understaffed, he said.

“Port Arthur used to have 52 routes, now they have 32. They (postal service) eliminated routes and made other routes larger,” Kemper said.

The Groves station is the one of the busiest and makes the most revenue of all the branches in the local union area. The extra business came about when Port Arthur’s Ninth Avenue substation shut its doors after Hurricane Rita.

Through the years smaller substations have closed and the Ninth Avenue one was already on the list prior to Rita. The Bridge City location, which is a new facility, only sells stamps and does other business while its letter carriers work out of the Orange office and drive into town.

Kemper harkened back to when there was talk of eliminating Saturday delivery. He gave three reasons the union was against this idea.” Number one, you wouldn’t need as many people for five day a week delivery. Number two, some other company could decide to pick up the Saturday delivery and number three, it’s not good for the public and some businesses rely on Saturday mail,” Kemper said. “The union was against eliminating Saturday delivery all the way through.”

Lack of training especially for those in supervisory positions is another issue both men feel needs to be addressed.

“One thing we want is quality people in supervisory positions,” Kemper said. “Right now, they don’t know the job.”

There have been many changes in the postal service as technology progressed. Equipment and computer programs that are supposed to speed things up and help with efficiency seem great but in reality take away the human element.

“They are losing money left and right,” Arceneaux said. “None of that stuff is working. If they (postal service) just talked to the people who work there they’d know.”

Kemper explained there is a computer program that shows how long it should take to do a route.

“The program doesn’t discern a traffic light or a stop sign or if you have to wait for someone to answer the door,” he said of the program designed to count mail.

Kemper also worries about part time employees such as city carrier assistants. These employees can hire in at 360 days and do have an opportunity to become a permanent employee but Kemper believes a position that attracts full time employees would bring in better, more dedicated people to the spot.

Micromanagement is also a problem within the postal service,” the men said.

“I think they need to revamp the table. Every office is different, Port Arthur, Beaumont,” Arceneaux said adding that each office knows its needs.

A major issue with the postal service, Kemper said, is prefunding of retiree benefits. USPS overpaid, he said making for a financial problem, as it required funding its future employees. Monies were overpaid to the government that have not been refunded. USPS does not receive tax money but operates of the money it brings in, he added.

A shortage of vehicles for letter carriers and a Postal Reform Bill are also on Kemper’s radar as president of the local union.

Even though there a number of issues the union feels needs to be addressed, both men are proud of their service and of being retired letter carriers.

“You have to be dedicated for this job,” Kemper said. “And those who do it enjoy it. Letter carriers do a lot nationwide to help the community.”

Arceneaux is adamant about protecting the rights of letter carriers.

“We’re not going to give up,” Arceneaux said. “This is something I believe in and if you believe in something you fight with all you got.”

E-mail: mary.meaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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