U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is asking the United States Postal Service to investigate an alleged act of discrimination inside a Pilsen post office. And community members are demanding that the post office hire more bilingual workers at the post office in the largely Mexican American neighborhood.
In a letter sent on Monday, Garcia wrote that “community members and local officials claim that the USPS employee refused to assist several customers because they could not speak English.” Garcia’s letter was addressed to Sandra Ferguson, a customer relations coordinator at the postal service’s Chicago district office.
The U.S. Postal Service is a federal agency. Garcia’s congressional district includes the Pilsen neighborhood.
Also on Monday, community leaders held a press conference in front of the Cesar E. Chavez Pilsen Post Office demanding that postal service officials respond to their questions about the alleged discrimination and their calls to hire bilingual workers there.
“We’re talking about a post office that’s named after a martyr, a hero of ours, a Mexican organizer of the farm workers, Cesar Chavez, and we don’t have a single person [working there] that can speak the Spanish language,” said Rev. Emma Lozano, a Pilsen community leader.
Lozano said the majority of the customers at that post office, located at the corner of Ashland Avenue and 19th Street, are Latinos and speak Spanish. She said there’s no reason not to have a Spanish-speaking staff member working in that office.
“This is just poor business practice,” Lozano said. “It’s insulting and it’s discriminating.”
Last week, Pilsen resident Evelyn Gonzalez posted on Facebook that a Pilsen post office employee threatened her with calling the police and banning her from the facility after she helped several Spanish-speaking customers. In her post, Gonzalez wrote that an employee told four customers, “I do not speak Spanish, I cannot help you.”
Gonzalez wrote that she helped three customers to translate but later things turned hostile.
“As I was leaving that’s when things just got worse,” she wrote. “There was an older lady speaking to her and she just started cutting her off again and telling her no … She proceeded to threaten me to call the cops to escort me out, have me banned from the facility.”
That post went viral.
Gonzalez said this was not the first time she’s seen that type of behavior.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, condemned the incident.
“This mistreatment of customers seeking a basic government service is far more than an ‘inconvenience,’ ” Sigcho-Lopez wrote in a letter to Garcia asking him to step in. “On behalf of my office and the community members who have been affected by discrimination at the Cesar Chavez post office, I urge that this matter not be taken lightly.”
Timothy Norman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, said the agency expects its employees to treat customers with dignity and respect. The agency declined to answer questions and provided a statement to address the incident.
“We want to sincerely apologize to any and all our valued customers who were affected by these actions and denied service,” the statement read. “This reported incident is being fully investigated, and the Postal Service will take all appropriate action necessary to improve service to our valued customers.”
Lozano said she sent multiple Spanish speakers to the Pilsen post office Monday to mail letters, and there were no bilingual staff present nor were there any tools or aids available to assist them.
Last July, WBEZ interviewed longtime postal service employee Alfredo Jacinto, who was retiring after working at the Pilsen post office for 37 years. For many customers, Jacinto, who speaks Spanish, had become a fixture there. “Sometimes, they’ll wait two or three [hours] for me,” Jacinto said. “They’re just happy to talk with me in our language.”
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.