So where is the Christmas mail?

Where are the packages? Where are the letters? Where are the Christmas cards?

On what is normally one of the biggest mail days of the year, the mail wasn't moving during yesterday's day shift at the U.S. Postal Service's processing plant on Lindbergh Boulevard near Island Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.

"There was no mail in there," said a day-shift postal worker, who asked to remain anonymous. "The trucks are not coming in. We're supposed to be busy, and we're not running the machines.

"The floors are empty," the worker said.

Postal workers on the day shift were sent home without pay.

"All of a sudden, there's no mail?" asked Gwen Ivey, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 89. "It's unlikely that the plant wouldn't have mail in December."

The processing plant moves 6 million pieces of mail on an average day, and Ivey said yesterday's lack of it was unprecedented.

"This has never happened in December where there was no mail and they gave leave without pay," she said.

Ivey said union members believe the mail is being rerouted to other processing facilities.

Postal workers had processed mail on the evening shift yesterday, she said.

"No mail is being diverted. This is due to efficiencies," said Larry Ceisler, a political and public relations consultant who was hired on a one-month, $6,000 contract by USPS here to handle media calls about the delayed mail conditions. "Volumes are down 20 percent. No truck routes are being rerouted.

"If you run a story, it will be wrong," he added.

A union complaint, filed on Oct. 24, described how senior officials of the Postal Service processing plant allegedly ordered clerks to drastically reduce the daily mail count to save on staffing and other expenses by undercounting millions of pieces each week.

Until this week, the allegedly phony records, coupled with a yearlong ban on overtime, resulted in a chronically understaffed plant unable to process unsorted mail, which sat in overflowing bins for days and weeks.

The union also alleged that trucks were rerouted so the mail would go uncounted and that the daily color codes were changed to make it appear that one day's mail arrived on another day.

When the mail backlog disappeared earlier this week, union officials believed that newly appointed regional director Jim Gallagher had authorized overtime for postal workers to process mail.

Yesterday, supervisors released day-shift postal workers early under the "leave without pay" section of the contract between the USPS and the American Postal Workers Union, according to postal workers and a union official.

Meantime, 162 postal workers are still scheduled to be transferred from the processing facility in January, even though the plant does not have enough workers - on a normal day - to process mail, Ivey said.

In 2006, USPS transferred nearly 700 workers from the plant, which Ivey said she thought led to the mail backlog. *