USPS reviews 5,000 more post offices for reduced hours

August 20, 2015

The Postal Service is working on phase two of POStPlan, its initiative to reduce hours and staffing at half the country's post offices.  From September 2012 through February 2015, the Postal Service implemented phase one — 13,000 small post offices had their hours reduced from eight a day to six, four, or even just two, and thousands of career postmasters lost their positions. 

Now the Postal Service is reviewing 5,000 more post offices for a downgrade and reduced hours.  These are the offices that were upgraded to Level 18 in 2012.  A list of the original 4,600 Level 18s, along with a map, is here.

There have been rumors lately that many Level 18 offices could be downgraded and their postmasters might find themselves out of a job.  These rumors seem to be confirmed by an August 12th filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

In the filing, the Postal Service tells the PRC that it wants to change the accounting methodology used for small post offices when preparing cost and revenue reports.  As the Postal Service observes, the changes caused by POStPlan and the ruling on the APWU arbitration last year have complicated the costing analysis, and the proposed changes would simplify things.  In the course of presenting the rationale for these accounting changes, the Postal Service says this:

“Over 5,000 other post offices have been designated as Level 18 and are having their work hours reviewed to determine whether they should have their hours reduced as well, just like the 13,000 post offices in the original POStPlan.”

The Postal Service had previously indicated that it would eventually review Level 18 post offices, and many POStPlan postmasters were worried about transferring to a Level 18 for precisely this reason.  It now appears that they may have been right to worry.


Valuing the post office

It's too bad that the Postal Service is contemplating further reductions in hours and more cuts to service.  As two recent surveys have found, people really do value their post offices.

After doing an in-depth quantitative survey of customers, a recent OIG report concluded this:

Both consumers and businesses place value on human interaction with a Postal Service employee at a post office rather than alternative access options such as postal counters in non-postal retail stores and self-service kiosks.

The OIG used a "willingness to pay" (WTP) factor to measure just how much people valued the post office, and the survey found that customers were very willing to pay for a post office operating a full 8 hours a day as compared to a postal counter in a private retailer (like Staples) or shortened hours at the post office.

The 2014 Household Diary Study, which came earlier this week, surveyed customers and came to a similar conclusion:

In spite of a declining frequency of visits over the past several years, the use of post offices for mailing services continues to dominate the mail service industry….  Even with the continued availability of mail-related products and services through alternative modes (such as Internet orders), in-person visits to postal facilities remain strong.

The Household Diary Study showed that 53 percent of all U.S. households patronize a post office at least once a month, and over 24 percent visit the post office three or more times a month.  That's far more than go to a private shipping company.  And these numbers only represent people who conducted business at the service counter.  It doesn't include the millions of people who go to the post office almost every day to pick up mail from their PO box or to drop something off at the blue box outside the post office.


Reviewing the Level 18s

The reviews of Level 18 post offices is taking place in addition to the annual review of all POStPlan offices, which can lead to an upgrade to more hours or a downgrade to fewer.  

Judging by the USPS response to a FOIA request submitted by postal watchdog Steve Bahnsen, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a lot of changes for the Level 2, 4, and 6 offices as a result of these reviews.

The FOIA request encompassed about 1,500 Level 2, 4, and 6 POStPlan offices in six midwestern districts.  As of FY 2013, the Postal Service had upgraded 135 and downgraded only 14.  At that rate, only 120 of the 13,000 original POStPlan offices would be downgraded.

The Level 18s could be another story.

Back in December 2013, the Postal Service said that Level 18 downgrades would not occur until September 2016.  It’s not clear at this point if the APWU arbitration ruling has pushed things up to an earlier date or if the Postal Service is just getting ready for next year.  But whenever the downgrades happen, it's possible that a lot of offices could be impacted.

The arbitration ruling requires the Postal Service to create a minimum of 3,000 new full-time career jobs for clerks in Level 6 and 18 offices.  The Postal Service has already begun implementing the ruling, and there are now many Level 18 offices where there’s both a postmaster and a clerk, whereas before there was just a postmaster.  In many cases, there may not be enough work to justify two full-time postal employees. 

If a Level 18 office is downgraded, it’s not clear what will happen.  In some cases, the postmaster’s position might be eliminated, and the clerk would staff the office alone, under the supervision of a postmaster at an Administrative Post Office (APO).  That could be another Level 18, or it might be a Level 20.  In other cases, perhaps a full-time clerk would be replaced by a part-timer.

No information has been made public about how many Level 18 offices might be downgraded and have their hours reduced or how many employees might be impacted.  The Postal Service has not indicated how it is conducting the reviews, and it hasn’t shared any recent lists about which offices are being reviewed. 

Back in 2012, however, the Postal Service did give the PRC a list of the offices being upgraded to Level 18.  It had about 4,600 offices.  (If over 5,000 Level 18 offices are currently under review, another 500 or so Level 18s must have been added since then.)

We’ve taken the 2012 list of Level 18s and combined it with several other USPS lists so it shows not only the names of the 4,600 post offices but also other data about these facilities: which of them are serving as APOs, which have been subject to Delivery Unit Optimization (DUO), whether the facility is owned or leased, when the lease ends, the CAG designation (Cost Ascertainment Group), as well as some of the workload numbers from 2011.  As noted above, the list, along with a map, is here.

Here’s what one can learn from the data.

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.

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