WASHINGTON -- The Teamsters union is appealing directly to bank presidents to help improve conditions for couriers who carry canceled checks as part of the Federal Reserve's check-clearing process.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters earlier this month sent a letter to banks that contract with Pony Express Courier Corp., a Charlotte, N.C.-based company, asking them to "use your influence as an important customer to ask Pony management to reform."

"These are time-sensitive pieces of paper these guys are carrying," said union spokesman Bart Naylor.

"We think the banks should know that there are deficiencies," he added. "We are hoping the banks will call up Pony Express and say, I'd like to think that the courier I use has some experience.'"

The biggest problem for banks is Pony Express' lack of security when checks and other bank documents are transported, Mr. Naylor charged.

In a letter written last week to the Teamsters union, Robert Danelski, executive vice president of Alliance Mortgage Corp. in Appleton, Wis., wrote that he had "a very bad experience" with Pony Express.

"They started losing our deliveries, which ... were entire loan packages with original documents that could not easily be replaced," Mr. Danelski wrote.

"A number of loans that should have closed did not as a result of their service, and customers lost interest rates because of it," he added.

According to the Teamsters union, Pony EXpress does not carry out adequate background checks when hiring drivers. The courier company hired a parolee, a fact discovered only after he had been arrested on charges of robbing a bank.

The Pony EXpress has also been accused of carrying inadequately protected hazardous and radioactive chemical deliveries next to bank documents. The Teamsters said that some Pony Express couriers left vehicles' unlocked while making deliveries.

House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez sent a letter to the Fed in June in which he expressed concern over "poor oversight" of courier service contracts by Fed officials.

The Texas Democrat requested that the central bank investigate both security problems and unfair labor practices at Pony EXpress.

Fed Inspector General Brent Bowen, who is heading the investigation into the security problems with the courier, could not be reached for comment.

According to Mr. Naylor, poor working conditions, low wages, and a lack of adequate health coverage are to blame for a high employee turnover rate, which reached 69% between January and June.

Pony Express' problems are due to a lack of willingness to invest resources by Merrill Lynch, which acquired the courier's parent company, BorgWarner Corp., in 1987, Mr. Naylor said.

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