U.S. postal workers are denied time off for the High Holy Days

NEW YORK — A battle over freedom of religion is brewing in southern Florida, where at least four Jewish post office employees have been denied time off for the High Holy Days.

Now the employees of the U.S. Postal Service in Coral Springs, Fla., are struggling to figure out how they will observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

It's like "something out of history books you read about," said Sid Gradman, a postal carrier and 10-year employee of the office.

There is "no compassion for Jewish holidays," he said.

The problem stems from a postal regulation stating that no more than six people can take a day off at the same time.

Of the nearly 100 people in the office, at least eight are Jewish.

According to Karen Schultz, spokeswoman for the South Florida District Postal Service, six people have already asked — and been granted — those days off.

Yom Kippur is even more of a problem than Rosh Hashanah, since most of those who were granted a day off Oct. 11 are non-Jews who want to extend their Columbus Day weekend.

According to Schultz, the Jewish employees waited too long to request the time off. She said that in order to ensure time off, a request must be made 60 days in advance.

But employees said that in the past, requests for time off for the holidays had always been granted no matter when they were requested.

They said the problem has arisen only since the arrival of new management last year.

The time off "was always a given," said Dan Rosner, a 12-year veteran of the Coral Springs office.

Joan Peppard, the Anti-Defamation League's Southern states' counsel, said that if the rule regarding 60 days' notification had not been practiced in the past, then the "post office had a duty to inform people" that the rule was now being enforced.

The ADL, which was contacted by Rosner, has begun an investigation into the allegations.

But even if every Jewish employee had requested the time off in August, there would still be Jewish employees who would be refused the time off, because there are more Jewish employees than vacation slots.

"They want us to fight each other for time off," Gradman said.

According to Gradman, he was told that if he took the time off, "you'll be AWOL," and he would have to face the repercussions.

For his part, Michael Winograd, associate director of the ADL regional office, said there are "lots of creative ways to ensure that employees observe religious holidays."

Gradman said he hopes his bosses will come around and give them the time off. If not, he said, "I will call in sick."

His co-worker Rosner said, "I am taking off, and in doing so I will face suspension or dismissal.

"I am ashamed I have to go through this horrible, miserable experience," he added.