Bronx GPO sold, no details yet

August 29, 2014

The Bronx General Post Office has been sold.  There’s no word yet on who the buyer is or what the plans for the building are, but the post office was definitely sold two weeks ago.  On the USPS-CBRE website, the listing says simply, "Sold."

The Postal Service has not made an official announcement about the sale, and it is apparently not ready to release any information.  When an attorney working on behalf of the Bronx GPO asked for basic details, the Postal Service’s lawyer suggested filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act.  That usually takes weeks, even months.

The fate of the Bronx GPO is obviously a matter of public concern in the Bronx, and it’s not clear why the Postal Service is so reluctant to share information about who bought the building, how much it sold for, what the plans are, where the postal retail operation is relocating, and so on.  Hopefully, the Postal Service will be more forthcoming about providing answers to these questions soon.

The listing for the Bronx GPO on the CBRE-USPS Properties for Sale website includes several documents related to the property.  One of them is a lease agreement saying that the Postal Service “will require a temporary lease-back period of up to 12 months while its replacement facility is prepared.  During this temporary lease-back period the USPS will pay rent of $1.00.”  Presumably, then, the Postal Service has been looking for a new space in the neighborhood, or it’s going to start looking for one now that the building has been sold. 

As for the Bronx GPO itself, the Postal Service has not seemed very interested in sharing information about prospective buyers or consulting with the community about what its needs and preferences might be, but perhaps there have been behind-the-scene discussions with elected officials in the Bronx.

The Postal Service has also not been very influenced by criticisms of how it has been handling the disposal of its historic properties.  In April, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that the Postal Service refrain from selling historic post offices until it improved its program and procedures. 

Mr. Tom Samra, Vice President of Facilities at the Postal Service, responded with a detailed letter dismissing the ACHP report as “very one-sided and distorted.”  Now, despite the ACHP’s recommendations, Mr. Samra has approved the sale of the Bronx GPO.

The Postal Service’s decision to close and relocate the Bronx GPO was controversial from the moment the plan was announced back in January 2013.  Last year Bronx activist Julio Pabon and yours truly, Steve Hutkins, challenged the decision in an appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission, but the PRC dismissed the case as a “relocation” decision and outside its jurisdiction.  That ruling is currently being contested in the D.C. Circuit Court by attorney Elaine Mittleman on behalf of Pabon and Hutkins.  Even with the Bronx GPO sold, this appeal may go forward in order to address several important issues raised by the case.

Many organizations and elected officials have come out in opposition to the sale.  Letters were submitted by the Bronx River Art Center, the East Bronx History Forum, the National Post Office Collaborate, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Office of the Bronx Borough President.  In addition, nine New York City Council members, ten New York State Assembly members, six New York State Senate members, and three members of the U.S. House of Representatives all signed a letter opposing the sale.  

In April of this year, a coalition of elected officials that included New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Charles Schumer urged that the sale be put on hold.  Congressman José Serrano also introduced legislation halting the sales until the Postal Service implements the ACHP recommendations, just as he had worked to get the Postal Service to stop the sales while the USPS OIG wrote its own report on the matter.

In spite of all the public opposition, legislative efforts, the OIG report, and the ACHP recommendations, the Postal Service went ahead and sold the Bronx General Post Office.  We’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn what’s going to happen to the building and to the priceless Ben Shahn murals on its walls.

(Image credit: Lobby of Bronx GPO)

For more on the Bronx GPO:

“Sale of historic Bronx Post Office moves forward; bids due Jan. 15 (Save the Post Office, Jan. 12, 2014)
“Postal Service Considers Sale of Bronx General Post Office” (New York Times, Feb. 1, 2013)
 “A Bronx Cheer for the Postal Service: The Fire Sale of Historic Post Offices Continues” (Save the Post Office, Feb. 3, 2013)
“Sale of Bronx GPO draws anger from pols/union” (Bronx Times, Feb. 7, 2013)
“Bronxites React to Post Office Sale” (The Bronx Journal, March 1, 2013)
“Post Office Buildings With Character, and Maybe a Sale Price” (New York Times, March 7, 2013)
“As sale of Bronx General Post Office seems inevitable, there’s a push to safeguard its 13 iconic murals” (Daily News, March 31, 2013)
“Bronx officials rally to save General Post Office” (Bronx Times, April 9, 2013)
“Binding the nation together: Berkeley and the Bronx join forces to save the post office” (Save the Post Office, April 13, 2013)
“Democracy rests finally upon us: Saving the Bronx General Post Office” (Save the Post Office, Sept. 19, 2013)
 “USPS to Bronx: Drop dead — the GPO must go” (Save the Post Office, June 13, 2012)
“Hurdles in sale of Bx GPO” (Bronx Times, July 26, 2013)
"High on Landmark Panel's List: A Post Office Lobby" (New York Times, Aug. 21, 2013)
“Shahn Murals in Bronx Post Office to be Saved” (New York Landmarks Conservancy, Dec. 2013)
“City Agency Preserves Artwork Inside Bronx Post Office” (TWC News, Dec. 18, 2013)

Postal Service releases schedule of plant consolidations set for 2015

August 19, 2014

The Postal Service has released a schedule showing when the phase-two mail processing plants will be consolidated next year. The spreadsheet shows the date on which each type of mail will be relocated from a closing facility to a gaining facility.  As the schedule shows, the process would begin in January 2015 and continue until October, with much of the activity taking place next summer.  

You can see the list uploaded to Google docs here.  You can also download it directly from the USPS RIBBS website (or just click here).  Note that the first page has an explanation; the schedule itself appears on the second sheet (the tab is at the bottom).

As it explains in a letter to its business customers, “The United States Postal Service is planning to resume the rationalization of our network of mail processing facilities which began in 2012. To provide adequate time for planning and preparation, the Postal Service is providing this six-month advance notice of consolidations, for up to 82 facilities, which will begin early January 2015 and be completed by the fall mailing season.”

Senator Bernie Sanders is leading a push against these consolidations.  He and Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin have written a letter to the two top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to request a one-year moratorium on consolidations.  The letter was signed by fifty senators, nearly all of them Democrats.  The six Republicans who signed were Roy Blunt (MO), John Hoeven (ND), John Thune (SD), Susan Collins (ME), James Inhofe (OK), Orrin Hatch (UT).

POStPlan postponed: 3,200 postmasters get a reprieve

May 22, 2014

The Postal Service has announced that the timeline for implementing POStPlan is going to be extended.  Initially, all 13,000 post offices included in the plan were to have their hours reduced by the end of September 2014, and any full-time postmasters still working at those offices would have lost their full-time jobs on October 1 as part of a Reduction in Force (RIF).

According to a notice posted on the websites of NAPUS and the League of Postmasters, there are approximately 3,200 postmasters facing a RIF.  Now these postmasters are getting a reprieve — at least for a few months.  The new effective RIF date for impacted postmasters is now January 10, 2015.

It's not clear why the Postal Service is extending the RIF date.  Maybe headquarters wants to give postmasters more time to find new positions, maybe it has to do with the APWU's pending grievance regarding who should staff impacted offices (PRMs or PSEs), or maybe there are other obstacles to completing the implementation. 

The notice from NAPUS and the League does not state explicitly that these 3,200 post offices will remain at their full hours until January, but that’s certainly the implication.  It would make no sense to reduce the hours in October, but continue paying postmasters their full-time salaries until January.

No official list of these post offices has been released, but we’ve put together a list of 3,650 post offices where no public meeting has been held or scheduled as of June 12.  The list is here; a map is here.  (For more about POStPlan implementation, see this previous post.)

Presumably about 450 of these post offices currently have a postmaster vacancy, and they will see their hours reduced over the summer and early fall.  At the other 3,200, there’s still a full-time postmaster.

Our list includes the new POStPlan levels that were set back in 2012, but these may not turn out to be the new hours after all.  All of these post offices will be evaluated using data from Fiscal Year 2013 to determine the new level and hours.

At offices converting to six hours a day, postmasters still on the job in January 2015 will be demoted by RIF, but they can stay on, albeit at a significantly reduced salary ($12.30 to $18.18).  The offices going to two or four hours a day will be staffed by a postmaster relief, so those postmasters won’t be able to remain in their positions.  

By extending the implementation deadline by over three months, the Postal Service will be giving postmasters some extra time to look for a new full-time position, if that’s what they want.  Some may be ready to retire, and there have apparently been discussions about another Voluntary Early Retirement offer (VER), presumably something like the one postmasters were offered back in 2011.  The League and NAPUS notice simply says, “This is still on the table and an important part of future meetings.”

It’s unclear how many positions are available to provide a “soft landing” for these 3,200 postmasters, but it’s apparently the hope of the Postal Service and postmaster organizations that anyone who wants a new position will be able to find one.  Of course, that may require a willingness to commute or relocate or take an undesirable position.  As the notice says, “Postmasters need to help themselves to become good candidates for available positions and be flexible about new opportunities.”

(Photo credit: Post office in Bangall, NY by J. Gallagher of the PMCC.  The Bengall Post Office is one of those on the list of 3,200.  In March 2014, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that it was being nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.)

We don’t care, we don’t have to, we’re the Postal Service

May 8, 2014


It looks like the folks in L’Enfant Plaza will be the last to acknowledge what everyone else in the country already knows — customer service at the Postal Service is going way down hill, and fast. 

The plant consolidations have resulted in delayed mail, late delivery, and countless other service problems.  Under POStPlan, service has declined due to reducing hours at post offices and replacing experienced postmasters with poorly trained and underpaid personnel.  The shift from door and curb delivery to cluster boxes has confused and angered thousands of customers.  When customers try calling to complain, they can’t even get hold of their local post office.

Everyday there are news reports about such problems.  Postal officials say they’re just trying to make the system more “efficient” and to act “like a business,” but what they’re doing is taking the “service” out of Postal Service.  When they’re done, we’re going to end up with a United State Postal Corporation, and customer service is not going to be high on the agenda. 


Inventive interpretations

Much of the problem has to do with the way policies and initiatives that come out of postal headquarters get interpreted in the field.  As much as the Postal Service is a top-down autocracy that tries to micromanage everything, many senior and mid-level managers at the district and local level can get quite creative about how they understand directives from above.  In their zeal to please their superiors, employees can end up interpreting policies and regulations in ways that make very little sense. 

For example, it’s well known that the folks at headquarters would like to see a shift from door delivery to cluster boxes, but it’s postal policy not to change a customer’s mode of delivery without permission.  Nonetheless, last year the managers in the North Florida District decided to negotiate with the government agency that oversees Jekyll Island, Georgia, and together they decided that the island could keep its post office only if residents gave up door delivery — without getting the residents’ approval for the change.

In Freistatt, Missouri, Rick Belcher, the POOM representing the Mid-Americas District, decided that cluster boxes were the only alternative form of delivery that would be made available to residents after their local post office was closed because of a lease issue. This was in spite of the fact that rural curb delivery was already available throughout the area.

Then there was the story about the book publisher in Virginia who was told by a local manager that he could no longer use Media Mail to send his books — even though he’d been mailing that way for 22 years.  His customers, by the way, are members of the military.

On Privatization

Good Reading on Postal Privatization

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

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