A postal carrier in Depew has been threatened with suspension because he failed to walk across snow-covered lawns while delivering mail one day last month, his union said.
The carrier, whom the union did not name, was issued a "warning letter" Tuesday, telling him he could be suspended from duty if he continues using sidewalks rather than walking across lawns.
Many local carriers have had disputes this winter with supervisors who insist they walk across lawns, even on days when snowdrifts are deep, according to officials of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
"This has been a growing issue all this winter, but this is the first time one of our carriers has been disciplined in writing for it," said Robert J. McLennan, president of the Buffalo branch of the union.
"This carrier is threatened with suspension because he used the sidewalks instead of walking across lawns that had big snowbanks on them."
Karen L. Mazurkiewicz, Western New York spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said she could not comment in specifics about the incident because it is a personnel matter.
Speaking more generally, Mazurkiewicz said that policy calls for Postal Service managers to urge letter carriers to use shortcuts, including crossing lawns, to save time and increase efficiency.
But if weather conditions make walking across someone's lawn "unsafe," carriers can use sidewalks, Mazurkiewicz said.
According to McLennan, the Depew carrier was disciplined because a supervisor followed and observed him Jan. 21 as he delivered mail on Barnabas Drive.
"[You] failed to take obvious shortcuts by not crossing the lawns on 54, 70, 74, 66, 58, 50, 42 and 38 Barnabas," the supervisor wrote in the warning letter. "You were previously instructed to take all obvious shortcuts."
Three longtime Barnabas Drive residents -- Grace Tomasello, 73, of 38 Barnabas; Mary Schirrmacher, 60, of 50 Barnabas; and Karen Dobmeier, 49, of 70 Barnabas -- told The Buffalo News they sympathize with the letter carrier and do not blame him for using sidewalks last month.
"I understand why they would want them to cross the lawns in summertime, but this winter, there's no way you could do that," Tomasello said. "You would be walking through snowbanks that are hip-deep in some places. I think it would take you more time to do your mail route."
"Walking on the lawn should be at the carrier's discretion," Schirrmacher said.
"I think it's ludicrous that they would threaten to suspend him," Dobmeier said. "It's hard enough to deliver mail in the winter. . . . There are some people who don't want the mailman on their lawns, especially when it's soggy or mushy. My husband is pretty fussy about our lawn."
According to the National Weather Service, the Jan. 21 snow depth in the Buffalo area was 9 inches. The high temperature that day was 21 degrees, and the low was 3 below zero.
McLennan said postal carriers walk across lawns to save time when weather permits, but he said "it makes no sense" in heavy snowfall.
"Our carriers are not against the idea of crossing the lawns in good weather," McLennan said.
The Postal Service, which lost $2.8 billion last year, has been searching for ways to increase efficiency.
The Postal Service announced Tuesday that it is raising the price of a first-class stamp from 42 cents to 44 cents, effective May 11.