Holler for help: There's no stopping emergency suspensions

November 12, 2012

According to a USPS service disruption report issued on November 10, over 330 post offices were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  About 120 were completely shut down, and another 30 had the retail operations suspended.  Many of these offices remain closed, but it’s likely they will all eventually reopen once power is restored.

The same cannot be said for several other post offices that have been suspended over the past few weeks for reasons other than Sandy.  Since September, when the Postal Service began its implementation of POStPlan, numerous post offices on the list have been closed by emergency suspension, and there’s little chance they’ll ever reopen.

Rather than maintaining these offices at reduced hours as promised, the Postal Service has decided simply to close them.  The explanations being offered for these suspensions aren't very convincing, the circumstances don’t sound like emergencies, and there’s no indication that the closures are only temporary. 

In previous articles on this website, we’ve noted a few cases where the Postal Service suspended offices on the POStPlan list.  For example, the offices in Helen, Maryland and Brownsville, Maryland, were closed by emergency suspension just days after the postmaster retired.  The people in these towns were never given an opportunity to comment on the four POStPlan options (a Village Post Office, rural delivery, a post office in another town, or reduced hours).  They simply received a notice in the mail and found a sign on the door of the post office saying it was suspended due to a lease termination.  

While POStPlan is being advertised as a plan to keep small post offices open, the Postal Service continues to use emergency suspensions to close offices on the list.  Here’s a roundup of a few more examples of the practice.

 

A VPO replaces the PO in Climax

The post office in Climax, Georgia, was on the POStPlan list, with its hours set to be reduced to six a day.  Its postmaster took the retirement incentive back in July, and since there was a postmaster vacancy, Climax was among the first group of post offices to be reviewed under POStPlan.

On September 28, Climax residents and city officials received the survey about the four POStPlan options, as well as a letter informing them that there would be a public meeting with a representative from the Postal Service on November 8th. 

In mid October, everyone got a second letter from the Postal Service.  This one said that the post office would be closed at the end of the month.  People were obviously confused about what was going on and how the Postal Service could have decided to close the office before the meeting even took place.

The post office closed on October 31, and the meeting was held, as scheduled, on November 8, in the parking lot of the (closed) post office.  Angela Collier, the Postal Service operations manager, explained that the office was being suspended because the lease expired and could not be renewed. 

As reported in the local news, Collier said that while she did not have first-hand knowledge of the negotiations — they'd had been handled by the USPS’s Facilities Department — her understanding was that the landlord said, “this is what I want, period,” and the Postal Service said, “this is what we can do, period.”  Since “those two would never match,” said Collier, the negotiations ended, and the post office was closed for an emergency suspension.

The landlord of the Climax post office building, Morgan Wolaver, has a different version of what happened.  Mr. Wolaver, by the way, is not your typical post office lessor, someone who usually owns one or two post offices and doesn’t have much experience negotiating leases with the Postal Service.  Mr. Wolaver’s family has been in the business of owning and leasing post office buildings for over fifty years, and they own dozens of them.  Mr. Wolaver also happens to be the President of the AUSPL, the country’s largest association of postal lessors.  There aren't many people who know more about negotiating leases with the Postal Service than Mr. Wolaver.

In a conversation this morning, Mr. Wolaver told me the Climax story as he saw it.  In mid-July, a couple of weeks after the postmaster decided to retire, the Postal Service’s real estate agent, CBRE, finally contacted him about renewing the lease.  Negotiations on lease renewals traditionally begin six months to a year before the end of the lease, so Mr. Wolaver was concerned that CBRE had waited until there were just three and a half months left on the lease. 

POStPlan Implementation: 5,600 offices under review, hours to be reduced at 500 on November 17

November 7, 2012

The Postal Service has provided NAPUS with a list of post offices impacted by the first phase of the implementation of POStPlan.  Some 13,000 post offices will be reviewed under POStPlan for reduced hours or discontinuance.  The list provided to NAPUS contains the first group of 5,742 post offices.  The NAPUS list is here; a Google table version is here; and a Google spreadsheet is here.  [Update: The Postal Service has released a newer version of the list, dated Nov. 8, 2012, with 5,873 post offices under review.  That list is here; a Google table version is here; and a Google spreadsheet is here.]

At nearly all of the phase-1 offices (5,568 of them), a meeting date has already been scheduled.  As of November 7, about 3,271 meetings have already taken place, with the remaining 2,400 or so scheduled for between November 8 and April 17.

The first post offices will see their hours reduced on November 17.  Here’s how the list breaks down so far by implementation date:

Implementation date
Number of Offices
11/17/12
495
1/12/13
643
1/26/13
316
2/9/13
185
2/23/13
98
3/9/13
36
3/23/13
10
4/6/13
14
4/20/13
2

The list of 5,700 offices includes about 1,500 post offices that had a postmaster vacancy when POStPlan was first announced back in May.  As best as we’ve been able to determine from previous lists made public by the Postal Service, there were something like 2,200 offices with a vacancy.  That would mean there are about 700 offices that didn’t have a postmaster as of May that are yet to be scheduled for review.

The list of 5,700 looks as though it includes about 4,000 post offices where a postmaster vacancy developed after POStPlan was announced.  Something like half of these are probably offices where the postmaster took the retirement incentive during the summer; the other half are offices where the postmaster left to take another position within the Postal Service (like a position that opened up after a postmaster retired).  Those are just estimates since the Postal Service announced that about 4,000 postmasters took the buyout, but it didn't say how many worked at POStPlan offices and how many worked at offices not impacted by POStPlan.

The Postal Service has made a decision to reduce the hours for 2,417 offices, leaving about 3,300 where a decision has not been made.  In nearly every case, the decision was to reduce the hours. 

There are eight post offices, however, where the decision was to study the post office for discontinuance.  Those offices are: Knoxboro, New York; Hayesville, Iowa; Seville, Georgia; Paoli, Colorado; Lees Creek, Ohio; Perks, Illinois; Fowlerton, Indiana; and New Trenton, Indiana.  There’s no word yet on why these eight communities will be studied for closure rather than having the hours reduced.  [Update: The new list released Nov. 8 contains one additional office being studied for discontinuance: Collins, Wisconsin.] 

In the meantime, in Great Cacapon, West Virginia, where a decision had been made to reduce the hours at the post office, a nonprofit organization named AdvoCare has filed a complaint with the Postal Regulatory Commission.  The complaint alleges that the POStPlan violates Title 39 because it discriminates among users of the mail, because the decision to reduce the hours was “arbitrary and capricious” (the Great Cacapon post office actually brings in a considerable amount of revenue), and because the Postal Service was intentionally deceptive in its survey and nonresponsive in other ways.

The PRC has already given its blessings to POStPlan in an advisory opinion, so it’s not likely that the Commission will determine that anything in the plan violates Title 39.  But the complaint is very thorough and makes some good points, so it will be interesting to see how the Postal Service and the PRC respond.

The PRC website has a message from Chairman Ruth Goldway inviting comments from the public about how the implementation of POStPlan is going.  If you’d like to share your experiences, you’re encouraged to contact the PRC’s office of Public Affairs and Government Relations at:

Phone:  202-789-6800
 Fax: 202-789-6891.

(Image credit: Great Capacon, WV post office)

How the Postal Service foundered: Parceling out the responsibility

November 1, 2012

BY MARK JAMISON

Over the last several months the situation surrounding the fate of the Postal Service has become increasingly clear.

How can that possibly be the case, when Congress has utterly failed in its efforts to pass postal reform legislation, when mail volumes continue to drop, when troubling news about financial losses continue to appear, and when the agency has now reached its borrowing limit with the Treasury?  How can such an unsettled and unsettling situation seem so clear?

The situation is clear because no matter what Congress eventually does, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the Board of Governors have already won.  Their views of what the Postal Service should be, whom it should serve, and how it should serve them have prevailed.  The reality is that as the Postal Service has moved forward with initiatives like POST Plan and the “rationalization” of the mail processing system, the PMG and the BOG have degraded the network and its potential in such a way as to make a change in course not just expensive but impossible.

The initiatives to degrade and dismantle the network have worked in conjunction with a business plan focused almost entirely on advertising mail.  The leaders of the Postal Service have set the course in a direction that cannot be easily changed. The Postal Service has always been an example of inertia; like a massive oil tanker, it changes direction neither quickly nor easily.  The PMG and the BOG have displayed outright disregard for the advice of their regulator and total contempt for providing service to the American public.  They have put the postal ship on a course that will inevitably result in fewer jobs, decreased service, and ultimately privatization.

 

Ignoring the public interest

The politicians both in Congress and in the Administration have essentially abandoned the American people in their handling of the Postal Service.  They have allowed the stilted vision of the BOG — a vision born of the same views that have fostered the growth of inequality throughout our economy — to take precedence over the needs and welfare of the American public.  They have sanctioned a continued attack on American labor through policies that destroy good middle-class jobs and replace them with temporary and part-time jobs with no benefits.  They have set the stage for millions of Americans to lose essential services and an essential infrastructure, while creating the potential for abuse by a predatory financial services industry.

It should come as no surprise that most of those in Congress are willing to sacrifice the Postal Service to limited business interests.  These are the same folks that have almost universally perpetuated the myth that “entitlements” — a term that insidiously demeans what ought to be basic social responsibilities of a civilized nation — are the source of our economic policies.  These are the folks that insult and assault public workers as if a job in the public sector — one that provides useful and necessary public goods — is somehow less valuable or less important than a job in the private sector.

Politicians of both parties have embraced macroeconomic policies that result in the decline of incomes for the vast majority of Americans while ensuring that the benefits of society are unequally reserved for the few at the top.  They degrade the quality of life and economic opportunities for the vast majority of Americans with policies designed primarily to satisfy the financiers.

Ignorance, incompetence, favoritism, bullying, and obsession: Just another day at the Post Office

October 6, 2012

BY MARK JAMISON

On September 30, 2001, the management of the Postal Service published a document entitled Outline for Discussion: Concepts for Postal Transformation.  As the title suggests, this document described the terms of future discussions about what the Postal Service was and what it should become.  In April of 2002, the Postal Service issued another document, this one entitled simply Transformation Plan 2002.

In light of the current problems facing the service and particularly the problems raised by the recent advisory opinion issued by the PRC regarding Mail Processing Network Rationalization (MPNR), looking back at these two reports is instructive.  Both documents question the very basis of universal service, and they are laser focused on a future model of the United States Postal Service as a privatized entity.

What becomes apparent from the 2002 plan, as well as subsequent documents that address the progress of implementing the plan, is that the senior management of the Postal Service saw the future in terms of a greatly reduced network.  From the standpoint of retail, Postmaster Jack Potter and then Patrick Donahoe called for the closure of as many as 15,000 post offices.  For the mail processing network, the vision suggested that the future was in outsourcing much of the mail processing network through worksharing and similar initiatives.

 

Finding love in all the wrong places

March 25, 1984 — my second night working for the Postal Service.  I’m sent to the basement of the old WPA-era post office for scheme training, the exercise of memorizing the local office’s delivery network so I can sort mail to routes.  The basement of the building is a confusing labyrinth of offices, locker rooms, mechanical rooms and the like.  Having only been down there once, the night before, I get turned around on my way to the designated room.

I turn a corner and walk into what appears to be a break room off of a boiler room, and before me I see the Superintendent of Delivery Operations having sex with one of the female clerks.  I back out of the room quickly before anyone sees me and find the room where I’m supposed to be.  Needless to say, my hour-long memorization session isn’t very fruitful.  My concentration is somewhat distracted.

During my nine years at that office, the events of that second night come to seem less and less extraordinary.  I see a number of fellow employees fired for theft of either mail or postage stock.  I see supervisors who appear to be drunk on the job, and more than a few employees have chronic substance abuse and attendance problems.  There isn’t much discipline and there isn’t much organization.  Those who work, whether they be carriers or clerks, are rewarded with more work, while those who slough off seem to escape much if any scrutiny.  Often it seems that promotions to supervisory positions are based on getting the most unproductive employees off the floor.

 

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On Privatization

Good Reading on Postal Privatization

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


 

Privatization in the UK

save your p.o.

Organizing to Save Rural Post Offices


A Community Organizing Toolkit

Revised November 2012

[pdf doc] [word doc]

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