Beaverton Postmaster John Lee told the letter carrier's union in January that he was hiring a contractor for delivery in a Beaverton-area suburb because he thought it could save $33,878 a year ("You've Got Mail," WW, March 14, 2007).

But that's hard to believe given that records show the contractor, Christopher Onuliak, is getting $12,279 for a four-month "emergency contract." That means Onuliak is netting $118 for each day of delivery to 20 mailboxes in the Arbor Parc suburb.

"That doesn't sound cheaper than having a city carrier deliver those, which would take them about 15 minutes," says Linda Smith, secretary treasurer for Branch 82 of the National Association of Letter Carriers. "There's a letter carrier that drives right by there that should be making those deliveries."

Kerry Jeffrey, Portland spokesman for the

U.S. Postal Service, isn't sure of the current numbers of Arbor Parc deliveries but expects that number will expand and that the postal service will save money. He would not provide specifics of those savings.

"It's kind of tough to do an apple-and-orange with a contract route and regular street delivery," Jeffrey says. "It might be a good deal [for the contractor] right at the beginning."

The deal is also a family affair. Onuliak is the son of Mike Onuliak, a manager at the Beaverton post office. That's allowed as long as Christopher Onuliak is over 21 and not living at home, according to USPS internal purchasing guidelines. Records show Onuliak is 22 and with a different address than Michael Onuliak.

"It really shocks me that a relative of that supervisor has that contract,'' says Paul Price, national business agent for the letter carriers union.

Jeffrey says there's no conflict with the post office's nepotism rules. Contract negotiations were done in the USPS's Seattle office and Christopher Onuliak is a contractor who answers to different managers, not working directly beneath his father.

"We all have relatives that work in different facets of the post office," Jeffrey says. "There's an old joke about providing full-family employment."

Union officials are steamed over the contracted delivery in Arbor Parc because they see it as the first local occurrence of a nationwide push by the USPS to broaden outsourced mail delivery beyond its traditional use in remote locations.

The union-management fight has escalated since the recent decision to outsource 10 routes in Reno, Nev., previously delivered by full-time carriers. Those routes were outsourced after management failed to receive bids from full-time employees.

"What normally happens when a route does not get bid is they promote a part-time employee and make them a full-time employee," Smith says, "so for them to take routes that do not get bid and to contract them out is a major development."

Smith says the union's Postal Operation Manual previously allowed outsourcing delivery only in "sparsely populated" areas. But the union says USPS took out that language, a decision that became apparent when more routes began being contracted out in late 2006.

USPS's Jeffrey says the post office is trying to maintain its current service level by saving money when there are 1.2 million new delivery points each year.

Jeffrey says the post office expects the contract in Arbor Parc to eventually include 370 addresses, and that postal officials are looking at new developments in Orenco as possible sites for more contract routes.

"It depends on how much development goes on and the economy," Jeffrey says. "Ultimately it could be a few thousand deliveries."