The U.S. Postal Service apparently is taking complaints of postal workers and customers seriously, after five days of

Daily News

stories about lost and missing mail and chaos at the processing plant in Southwest Philadelphia.

On Friday, Jim Gallagher was appointed the new Philadelphia regional manager, replacing Frank Neri, considered by many postal workers and the American Postal Workers Union to be the architect of the chaos at the plant since it opened in 2006.

Today, Gallagher is to meet with Gwen Ivey, president of APWU Local 89, which filed a complaint on Oct. 24 about senior managers allegedly ordering clerks to undercount the mail by millions of pieces each week and about chronic understaffing at the plant on Lindbergh Boulevard near Island Avenue.

APWU attorney Nancy B. Lassen said she was contacted by the top investigator for the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General regarding the union investigation that led to the complaint.

Lassen conducted interviews with numerous employees about the alleged falsification of the mail count, the rerouting of tractor-trailers containing uncounted mail and the bonuses managers received for carrying out what she called "potentially criminal actions."

Those actions include "destroying mail, leaving mail unworked in trailers, lowering mail count by millions of pieces every week," Ivey said.

Meantime, Philadelphia area mail customers continue to report mail problems to the Daily News, some of which have life-threatening repercussions when mail-order drugs, X-rays, lab specimens and other medical-related mail is delayed.

When customer Eleanore Kruc tried to call the mail hot line to complain, she called it the "10th circle of hell."

"There was no way to leave a complaint," she said.

Ivey and others believe that the alleged undercounting of the mail and the year-long ban on overtime contributed to chronic understaffing at the processing plant.

In addition, supervisors and mail carriers also blamed the lack of staff and overtime to deliver all the mail received each day at stations in the ZIP codes beginning with 190 and 191.

"We do not have less mail than we had at 30th Street, but we have 600 fewer people processing it," Ivey said, referring to the former main post office at 30th and Market streets.

"Initially, mail piled up, and management's solution was to work tons of overtime," she said. When overtime was banned in the past year, the mail backed up again.

A Postal Service spokesman said Friday that he didn't know why Neri was replaced, but that postal managers are routinely assigned to other positions.

In 2006, Neri supervised the relocation of the processing operation from 30th Street Post Office, which had five floors on which to sort the mail, to the Southwest Philadelphia plant, which had two floors.

During the move, some 600-plus jobs were eliminated and the workers were transferred within 500 miles of Philadelphia, Ivey said. Later, some employees were recalled to Philadelphia, at their own expense, due to understaffing, she added. *