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)

How's the exigent rate increase doing?

November 28, 2014

Earlier this week, the Postal Service released its preliminary financial report for fiscal year 2014.  Now may be a good time to evaluate the impacts of the exigent rate increase that went into effect on January 26, 2014.

Back in September 2013, when the Postal Service presented testimony to the Postal Regulatory Commission about the proposed increase, one of the main questions was how the increase would impact mail volumes and revenues.  The Postal Service knew that raising rates would drive away some business, but it figured that the higher rates would yield more revenue in the end.

The mailers and others argued that volumes would drop so much that even with higher rates, total revenues would decline.  For example, Rafe Morrissey, the vice president of postal affairs at the Greeting Card Association, called the PRC's decision to grant a temporary increase “disappointing."  Morrissey then said this:

“Raising rates above inflation is not a solution, but rather a pathway that will exacerbate the Postal Service’s current financial crisis by driving away much needed mail volume to other competitors."

Along the same lines, Senator Susan Collins, one of the lawmakers behind the 2006 postal legislation governing the price cap rules, had this to say upon hearing the PRC's decision:

“My concern is that a rate increase of this magnitude will worsen the Postal Service’s crisis by further driving down mail volume, eroding the Postal Service’s steadily declining customer base, and leading to a further decline in revenues.”

At this point in time, the Postal Service seems to have been right about its view of price elasticities.  In fact, the falloff in volumes turns out to be less than the Postal Service anticipated.

The following table compares two data sets.  The “Projected” columns (A-E) contain data provided by Stephen J. Nickerson, USPS Finance Manager, one of the Postal Service’s witnesses for the exigent increase before the PRC.  They're Attachments 15 and 16 at the end of his testimony.  The percentages were calculated using Nickerson's numbers.  

The “Actual” columns (F-H) come from the Postal Service’s financial report for FY 2014, which you can find on the PRC website.  (If the table isn't appearing, try refreshing your browser.  You can see the table on Google Docs here.)

National Trust joins Berkeley in suit against Postal Service

November 25, 2014

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has joined the City of Berkeley in a lawsuit against the Postal Service over the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office.  The suit complains that the Postal Service has failed to comply with federal historic preservation laws prior to entering into a contract for sale of the building. 

The National Trust’s complaint is here.  The press release from the National Trust reads as follows:

“Over the past several months, the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have been engaged in good-faith negotiations with the United States Postal Service, seeking a long-term preservation covenant for the Berkeley Main Post Office building to fulfill the agency’s obligations under federal preservation law. In October, however, the Postal Service abruptly ended the negotiations, closing off what had been a productive process and leaving the building’s potential sale shrouded in secrecy.

“We would have preferred to resolve this matter through continued negotiations, but the Postal Service’s unwillingness to communicate its plans for the building left us no choice but to join the City of Berkeley’s lawsuit.

 “The National Trust is concerned not only with this particular historic building, but more broadly with historic post office buildings in communities throughout the nation that are being disposed of by the Postal Service without adequate measures to ensure their long-term preservation. Despite repeated requests from elected officials, preservation groups, and local citizens, the Postal Service has not come forth with a clear and consistent process for protecting these important community assets. We hope that this litigation will cause the Postal Service to rethink its entire approach to transferring ownership of its stock of historic post office buildings.”

The City of Berkeley filed its case against the Postal Service on November 4. The following day U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup issued a temporary restraining order, preventing the Postal Service from taking action to sell the historic building to a third party pending the government's response.  A hearing is scheduled for December 11. 

Why Congress should not get out of the way of the Postal Service

November 23, 2014


News that Ron Johnson, the Tea Party favorite from Wisconsin, will be taking over as chair of the Senate committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs has caused an overwhelming sense of panic among progressives and postal workers.  Johnson will control oversight of the Postal Service in the Senate.

There may be good reason to think this has the makings of disaster.  Johnson is on the record stating that it would be a good idea if the Postal Service went into bankruptcy and got privatized.  His training is in accounting, but he has refused, with an aggressive ignorance, to acknowledge the basic tenets of accounting.  When witnesses come before his committee, he bullies them and waves his arm abrasively.  His dislike of unions is so intense he’s willing to set aside his worship of the business principles of a contract to concoct a bankruptcy scheme to abrogate postal labor agreements. 

But is the coming of Ron Johnson any reason to panic?

Tom Coburn, the current ranking member on the committee, has said virtually all of the same things as Johnson (in his quiet, deadly way).   Several of the other Republicans on the committee — Rand Paul, Mike Enzi, and Kelly Ayotte — have also said many of the same things Johnson has.  All of them have shown a disdain for the Postal Service as an institution.  All of them have questioned the Postal Service role as a national infrastructure.

Never mind too that Tom Carper, the Democrat from Delaware and current chair of the committee, has endorsed virtually every cut, every closure, every act of outsourcing that PMG Donahoe has engaged in or even imagined.  On postal matters, his views are not that far from Johnson’s. 


It could be the end

While Ron Johnson will probably just carry on like Carper, Coburn, and the other Republicans on the committee overseeing the Postal Service, the specter of Senator Johnson as chair is haunting progressives. 

The sky is falling at Think Progress, where Kira Lerner tells us that with Johnson “it could be the end of the Postal Service as we know it.”  Lerner therefore hopes that Congress passes legislation — any legislation at all, bad as it might be — before Johnson can pass something worse.

But how likely is that the any legislation to come out of a lame duck session will be any good?  Anything likely to come out of the Senate would carve in stone the current agenda of cuts to the workforce, reductions in service, and secret NSA agreements.  Plus, any bill passed by the Senate would have to go to conference with whatever Darrell Issa comes up with in the House.  The result will be further degradation of the postal network.  There’s little chance it will make those who care about postal services in this country very happy. 

Over at Daily Kos, Laura Clawson seems just as frightened of Johnson as Lerner is.  Faced with Johnson’s statement that the Postal Service should go through a bankruptcy process, Clawson says, “Another solution is for Congress to get out of the way of the Postal Service making money providing needed services like banking for tens of millions of people who don't have access to financial institutions.”

Postal banking might be useful for the millions of unbanked citizens, but it’s worth giving this notion of “getting Congress out of the way” a bit more thought.  The idea seems to be almost everyone’s answer for what ails the Postal Service.  Blaming Congress is apparently something that folks everywhere on the political spectrum can agree on. 

That should come as no surprise, considering that Congress has become less popular than a shady used car salesman.  But would all be right with the Postal Service if Congress just got out of the way?

The answer to that depends a lot on what you want the Postal Service to do with its newfound freedom.


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Also: Sarah Ryan's "Understanding Postal Privatization: Corporations, Unions, and the "Public Interest"

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