Prez throws PRC Chair under the bus, WaPo misses the bus completely

December 6, 2014

Josh Hicks has a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post about the announcement that Ruth Goldway has stepped down as Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, to be replaced by Commissioner Robert Taub as Acting Chairman.  It's entitled “Jet-setting postal regulator replaced amid scrutiny of travel habits.”  

Hicks begin his article like this: “President Obama replaced the globetrotting chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission this week after years of criticism over frequent trips she charged to U.S. taxpayers.”

Hicks provides no evidence that Goldway was replaced because of the controversy over her "travel habits."  Instead, the WaPo just attacks her as “jet-setting” and a “globetrotter,” as if that explains everything.  As for actual facts, Hicks mostly recycles some quotes and statistics from a hatchet job the WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe did on Goldway back in 2012. 

Hicks also draws some details from a November 4 article in the Washington Free Beacon, another attack on Goldway's travels that recycles from O'Keefe's piece.  The Beacon is a project of the Center for American Freedom, a conservative advocacy group, and it's not shy about promoting a right-wing ideology.  On postal matters, it's probably not too far from the Washington Post, which has a track record of ill-informed op-eds endorsing the dismantling of the Postal Service.

The bogus travel issue was examined in a previous post back in February 2012.  It was clear then, as it is now, that attacking Goldway for her travel expenses had nothing to do with the cost of her travels or whether or not her trips are appropriate or necessary.  The attacks are about getting Goldway out of the way.  Now they’ve finally succeeded.

Since Hicks' article is short on facts, here are some numbers to consider.

Sale of air rights over Old Chelsea post office causes controversy

December 4, 2014

As predicted in an article on this website back in September, the proposed sale of the air rights for the Old Chelsea Station office in Manhattan is causing controversy.  At this point, the main issue is how the the Postal Service went about notifying — or failing to notify — community groups and elected officials.  

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said that the lack of notification was “outrageous” and spoke to a larger “disturbing pattern,” as the community also wasn’t told about last year’s possible sale of Old Chelsea Station.  “This is a federal agency that seems to have disregard and even contempt, I would suggest, for the local community because they have kept it in the dark about the disposition of this property,” said Hoylman. “The post office is trying to do this without any consultation from the community and we’re, as a result, going to be pushing back hard.”  Read more at "Postal Service Air Rights Outreach a Dead Letter Effort" in Chelsea Now.

 

Buyer opts out of purchase of historic Berkeley Post Office

December 4, 2014

The US Attorneys' office has notified the City of Berkeley that the prospective buyer of the Berkeley main post office has exercised an option to cancel the sale, which was set to close on December 22.

News that the development firm of Hudson McDonald was the buyer of the post office was reported by Berkeleyside in early November, after weeks of silence from both sides in the deal.  Citing “good business practices," the Postal Service has been reluctant to keep elected officials and other interested parties informed about the deal. 

The sale is being challenged in lawsuits filed by the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (as discussed in this previous post). 

On November 5, U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a temporary restraining order against the Postal Service, halting the sale until a hearing on December 11 (as reported by Berkeley Daily Planet).  The motion for the preliminary injunction was filed by attorney Antonio Rossmann on behalf of the City of Berkeley.

The fact that the sale has been canceled will probably not stop the lawsuit, however, since there’s still a dispute about whether or not the Postal Service has followed proper procedures regarding historical preservation laws and the disposal of federal property.  It’s also possible the Postal Service will find another buyer to replace Hudson McDonald.

There’s no word yet about why the sale was canceled or if the injunction and the lawsuit had anything to do with it. 

UPDATE: According to a report in Berkeleyside on Dec. 4.: "Chris Hudson, principal at Hudson MacDonald, said his company had been unable to reach agreement with the Post Office by the time when the contract reached its expiry date. Hudson said they asked the Post Office for an extension, but the Post Office declined, saying they had 'things to figure out.' Asked if he was disappointed, Hudson said he was hopeful they might be able to get back at the negotiating table. 'Maybe it’s not over,' he said."

A report in Inside Bay Area News has additional information: "Local developer Hudson-McDonald is not buying the historic downtown post office.  The deadline to enter into a formal contract for its purchase was Thursday.  'We were unable to extend the contract,' Chris Hudson said in a brief phone interview, explaining that more information about the building was needed before his company could enter into a purchase agreement.  'We just ran out of time,' Hudson said."

(Photo credit: Dec. 4 protest. Harvey Smith, Berkeleyside)

POStPlan Implementation: Just 1,600 post offices to go, but far from done

December 2, 2014

The Postal Service has implemented POStPlan at about 11,400 post offices so far.  That leaves approximately 1,630 offices where the window hours have yet to be reduced and the original postmaster is probably still on the job.  You can see a list of these remaining offices here.  (Note that while this list was made using USPS lists, it is not official and contains some errors.)

Many if not most of the postmasters working at these remaining offices will be subject to a Reduction in Force (RIF) on January 9th.  We've heard that about half of them are eligible for retirement.  Many have been hoping that something would happen to prevent the RIF  — like the Postal Service initiating a phased retirement program — but at this point it looks inevitable.

For many postmasters, it will be a very sad day in January when they are forced to leave the Postal Service after years, perhaps decades, of loyal service.  Saying goodbye to the communities they have been serving won't be easy.

There are also thousands of Postmaster Reliefs who have working in POStPlan post offices, and they too may be out of luck and a job as a result of the recent APWU arbitration victory.

As for what will happen to each particular post office and its employees, that’s difficult to say.  Implementing the arbitration decision — with all the agreements about the pecking order and everything else — will probably make the first two years of POStPlan implementation look relatively simple.

This statement on the NAPUS website reviews the situation.  There’s a good Q-and-A on the many issues involved with the changes here, and another fact sheet here.  As these documents show, there are a lot of questions to address.  Things will probably get even more complicated by the fact that management responsibilities and access to information are being transferred from the postmasters' associations to the APWU.

Just to illustrate the kind of problems that will need to be managed, consider lunch breaks. At many POStPlan offices, the Postal Service has set up shifts with a long break in between.  For example, a Level 4 office might be open 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.  (Or as the Postal Service puts it, the office is "open 9 to 5" and "closed for lunch," 11 to 3.)

Sometimes these odd hours were set up to respond to community preferences.  Sometimes they’re the result of the Postal Service’s operational needs.  The problem now is that the long gap between shifts conflicts with the APWU contract, which limits lunch breaks to one hour for NTFT (Non-Traditional Full-Time) workers.  

According to the arbitration decision, Level 4 offices will be staffed by PSE's (Postal Support Employees), and Level 6 offices will be staffed by NTFT employees.  Several hundred of the Level 6 offices have lunch breaks longer than one hour.  (A list is here.) The union and the Postal Service will thus need to work out that issue on top of the many other personnel matters they’re dealing with.

Another question that ought to be explored is how much money POStPlan is going to end up saving.  When POStPlan was introduced back in 2012, it was supposed to save $500 million a year because full-time postmasters earning good salaries would be replaced by part-time workers earning about $11 an hour. 

For various reasons that savings estimate was suspect from the beginning, as discussed in this post, but it definitely needs to be revised now that many offices will soon to be staffed by union workers earning much more than $11/hour. 

At this point, one has to wonder if POStPlan was really worth the cost savings.  Thousands of communities have had their postal services diminished — the post office is only open part of the day, and the staffing has become inconsistent and often inexperienced.  Thousands of postmasters have had their careers ended and their lives upended.  The Postal Service may be saving some money, but is the country really any better off?

You can see a list of the 11,400 offices that have already had their hours reduced under POStPlan here.  It was put together using USPS implementation reports, which you can find here.  (Note that about 130 offices appear twice for various reasons, such as a change in the hours after initial implementation.)  The list of 1,630 offices yet to be implemented was made by comparing this list with the original POStPlan list of 13,000.  For more lists and articles on POStPlan, see this resource page.

(Photo credit: Sign on post office door in Craftsbury Commons, VT)

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