POStPlan becomes a reality: Hours cut at hundreds of offices today, thousands more after the holidays


November 17, 2012

After nearly two years of planning — going back to early 2011, when the Postal Service first proposed changing the rules about staffing post offices without postmasters and redefining "consolidation" — today POStPlan became a reality.  November 17 is the official implementation date for the first group of 500 post offices on the list.  Starting Monday, they'll be open six, four, or just two hours a day.  Over the next few months, thousands more will see their hours cut.  For 13,000 small towns across America, having the post office open a full eight hours a day will soon become a thing of the past.  

The Postal Service has been issuing weekly updates on the progress of POStPlan Implementation.  You can download a spreadsheet with the most recent data from the USPS website here.  An online Google doc spreadsheet is here; a Fusion table, here; and a map, here.  As of November 15, here’s where things stand.

Of the 13,000 post offices set to be reviewed under POStPlan, 5,932 are currently being studied, and a decision has been made to reduce the hours at 2,784 of them.  In only eleven cases has the Postal Service decided to proceed with a discontinuance study: Knoxboro, New York; Hayesville, Iowa; Seville, Georgia; Paoli, Colorado; Lees Creek, Ohio; Perks, Illinois; Fowlerton, Indiana; New Trenton, Indiana; Collins, Wisconsin; Gracey, Kentucky, and Cerulean, Kentucky.  There's no explanation yet on why these were selected for closure rather than reduced hours.

Over four thousand meetings have already taken place, and another thousand will take place over the next three weeks.  The following table breaks things down in more detail.

Month
Meetings Held/Scheduled
Implementation Date Set
October
2797
490
November
1699
0
December
435
0
January
646
1219
Feb
188
437
March
50
134
April
13
24
Total
5828
2304

To avoid causing problems during the busy holiday mailing season, the Postal Service has declared a moratorium on implementing POStPlan for the period November 18 to January 12.  The public meetings, however, will continue through much of this period, except for December 8 through January 6.

The Postal Service has said it will not implement POStPlan at an office so long as a full-time postmaster is in place, so it has begun with offices where there is a vacancy.  

About 2,200 POStPlan offices had a postmaster vacancy when POStPlan was announced last May.  Around 2,000 POStPlan postmasters probably took the retirement incentive in July.  (A total of 4,000 postmasters retired, but the Postal Service hasn't provided a breakdown, so that's just a guess.)  Some 1,600 POStPlan postmasters probably transferred to a new position a few months ago (the first list of openings came out on May 25).  Another couple of thousand, maybe more, transferred to a position that opened up thanks to the retirements (the second list came out at the end of August).

That adds up to something like 8,000 offices with a postmaster vacancy.  Some 6,000 are currently under review, so another two thousand or more will be added to the implementation list sometime soon.

The Postal Service has repeatedly said that it would take two years to implement POStPlan, and that the process would be "gradual."   But not too gradual, it seems.  By next June, it would appear that over 8,000 post offices will have had their hours reduced — over 60 percent of the 13,000 offices on the list.  

Implementation may slow down at that point, since there won't be many postmaster vacancies opening up — until September 2014, when all those POStPlan postmasters who haven't moved to a new position will lose their jobs and the last of the offices will see their hours cut.  

The Postal Service just posted a loss of nearly $16 billion for the fiscal year.  Over $11 billion of it was due to the health care prefunding mandate; the remaining $5 billion was due to declining mail volumes.  The Postal Service says POStPlan will save about $500 million a year – about 3 percent of this deficit.  Considering how the Postal Service ballparked its numbers and didn't include anything for lost revenue due to shorter hours, even that estimate of annual savings is probably optimistic.  The actual savings will more likely be around $300 million — less than 2 percent of the deficit.  

So there you have it.  Some 13,000 communities suffer the loss of their postmaster and see the hours at their post office cut to a few hours a day, and for what?  So the Postal Service can make a virtually unnoticeable dent in its deficit.  

One can't help but wonder, could the travesty of POStPlan have been avoided if Congress had simply eliminated the unnecessary health care prefunding mandate and returned the FERS overpayments?  Looks like we'll never know the answer to that one.

(Photo credit: Post offices in New Trenton, Indiana, and Fowlerton, Indiana, both among the 11 post offices that will be studied for discontinuance.)

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