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)

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.)

POStPlan implementation: 9,000 post offices downgraded, 4,000 to go, RIF's coming

March 23, 2014

The Postal Service is continuing to implement POStPlan, its initiative to reduce hours at 13,000 post offices and replace their postmasters with part-time workers.  At this point, POStPlan has been implemented, or will be implemented soon, at almost 9,000 post offices.  Hours at the remaining 4,000 will be reduced over the coming months.  By October, the institution of the small-town career postmaster will become a thing of the past at almost half the country's post offices.

As best as we can figure it using USPS lists, about 8,800 post offices have had their hours reduced over the past year and a half (including those where implementation is scheduled over the next few weeks).  For another 300 offices, a public meeting was held recently or it's scheduled soon, but no implementation date has been announced.  

That leaves around 3,900 post offices where no meeting has yet been scheduled and implementation has yet to occur.   At many of these offices, there's currently a postmaster vacancy; at others, a vacancy will open up over the coming months if the postmaster can find a new position.  If implementation continues at the current rate (about a hundred a month), some 600 of these post offices will have their hours reduced during the spring and summer.  

In the end, there will be something like 3,300 post offices where the postmaster will still be on the job as of September 30, 2014.  On that date, these postmasters will lose their full-time jobs as part of a Reduction in Force — i.e., they will be RIF’d.

Using some lists that the Postal Service has made available, we've put together the following lists of POStPlan post offices:

  • List and map of approximately 8,850 post offices where implementation has already occurred or been scheduled;
  • List and map of 290 meetings scheduled for February - April, 2014;
  • List and map of 3,920 offices where POStPlan has yet to be implemented or a meeting scheduled.

Note that these lists are based on USPS reports, but some errors inevitably occurred while processing the data.  The official lists of meetings are here; the implementation reports are here.

We're listening: The Postal Service holds 8,500 POStPlan meetings, but why?

October 24, 2013

Yesterday the Postal Service gave the Postal Regulatory Commission a copy of the Household Diary Study, the annual report on mail use and attitudes.  The study says this about how people are using their post office:

"In spite of a declining frequency of visits over the past five years, the use of post offices for mailing services continues to dominate the mail service industry.  Sixty percent of all U.S. households patronize a post office at least once a month, while just 11 percent visit a private mailing company.  Over 28 percent of all households in the U.S. visit the post office three or more times a month.  Even with the continued availability of mailrelated products and services through alternative modes (such as Internet orders), in-person visits to postal facilities remain strong."

One might think that with so many people patronizing their post office, the Postal Service would be more interested in preserving its legacy of brick-and-mortar post offices.  Instead, we have POStPlan, the initiative to eliminate postmasters and reduce hours at 13,000 small post offices.

The implementation of POStPlan is past halfway.  The Postal Service provides bi-monthly lists of where POStPlan has been implemented; the source page is here, the merged list is here, and an article about the implementation, here.  The Postal Service website also has a page where all the POStPlan meetings are listed on a week-by-week basis, which you can find here.  We’ve merged all the lists into one big list on Google docs, here, along with a map

The list of meetings indicates that as of today, the Postal Service has held over 8,400 meetings to talk over POStPlan options with each community; another hundred or so are scheduled for the coming weeks.

Of the total of around 8500 meetings, about 4,500 took place in a town hall, church, or similar location; the other 4,000 took place in the post office itself.  Most of the POStPlan offices are small, so in many cases the folks at the meeting had to stand in a crowded little lobby area.

The meetings have been scheduled in the afternoon and evening; very few were in the morning.  About 3,400 began sometime between noon and 4 p.m.; 3,000, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; and 2,000, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.  That means that in three out of four towns, people who work during the day were unable to attend.

There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of news reports about these meetings.  They tell the same story.  The Postal Service representative, usually the postmaster in the APO (administrative post office) or someone from the district headquarters, explains how falling mail volumes and revenues have made it necessary to look for cost-cutting moves. 

The small group gathered in the post office lobby or a town hall is told that they have four options.  Three involve closing the post office — have the mail delivered to your house, use another post office, or find a local business that wants to sell stamps and perhaps other postal products.  The fourth is to keep the post office open at reduced hours.  Naturally, in virtually every case, the community has chosen reduced hours.  The news reports often cheer this result, with headlines like “post office saved” and “post office not closing.”

That outcome was easy to predict, but the Postal Service nonetheless went through the process of sending out questionnaires and holding meetings in thousands and thousands of small towns across the country.  The goal was obviously not to give people an opportunity to decide something.  Reducing the hours was the only viable alternative.

One has to wonder, then, why the Postal Service has invested so much time and expense in holding all these meetings.  They weren't required by any laws or regulations.  Why bother when the outcome was a foregone conclusion?

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