Communities and Postal Workers United: Fall 2021 Newsletter

Steve HutkinsBlog, Slideshow

The Fall 2021 newsletter from Communities and Postal Workers United has articles calling on the 21 Attorneys General who oppose slowing down the mail to file for an injunction; the APWU rally to “Dump DeJoy, Bounce Bloom” on Sept. 23; Chicago letter carriers stand against late start times and delivery in the dark; and an event in Seattle on Oct. 1 to protest the nationwide planned slowdown of First-class mail. Read the newsletter here.

A tour of the new USPS package sorting machine

Steve HutkinsBlog, Slideshow

BY TIM BOND

As part of its Delivering for America plan, the Postal Service has promised to “procure and deploy more than 185 new package sorters.” This statement has remained somewhat vague in the messaging materials, but the Postal Service recently invited the media to the Seattle Processing & Distribution Center for a first-hand look at one of the new sorting machines in operation.

The Seattle P&DC lies in South Seattle and is a major sorting facility in the northwest U.S. Comprising almost a million square feet, the facility sorts all mail destined for zip codes 98001-98297. It is also the sort facility for most mail originating in the area (a nearby annex sited closer to the airport handles outgoing Priority Mail).

The new package sorter at the Seattle P&DC, which is currently set up to sort only outgoing packages, is capable of sorting packages to 100 different destinations. The operation can handle packages up to approximately 24 by 18 by 12 inches in size. Larger packages are sorted elsewhere in the facility.

Conveyor dropping parcels into bins

Employees unload packages on to a conveyor, ensuring the barcode is face up for the scanner. The packages then pass through a scanner that can read the barcode in any orientation. From there, packages travel down the conveyor belt and are automatically dropped into the appropriate bin or sack for the destination sort facility. Read More

The 2020 USPS Household Diary Study is out

SteveBlog

The new Household Diary Study is out. From the Executive Summary: “The Household Diary Study survey, fielded continuously since 1987, aims to collect information on household use of the mail and how that use changes over time. The survey collects household information on demographics, lifestyle, attitudes toward mail and advertising, bill payment behavior, and use of the Internet and other information technologies. The FY 2020 report covers Government Fiscal Year 2020, with comparisons to 2018, 2019, and other years, as appropriate.

“In 2020, U.S. households received 99.9 billion pieces of mail, and sent 7.0 billion, as seen in Table E.1. Mail sent and received by households constituted 81% of total mail in FY 2020. Fifty-five percent of the mail households received was sent via Marketing Mail. Only 2% (2.5 billion pieces) of household mail was sent between households; the rest was sent between households and non-households.”

Read the report here.

Reply to the USPS: How the new service standards will cause geographic discrimination

SteveBlog, Slideshow

By Steve Hutkins

The Postal Service’s plan to reduce service standards is now being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission for an Advisory Opinion. On Friday, June 25, the Postal Service and several of the intervenors in the case submitted their Reply Briefs. (You can find the briefs and replies here.)

Below is my Reply Brief. (At several points it refers to the Postal Service’s Initial Brief, my Initial Brief and my Testimony.)

(The map above is from a Washington Post article on June 24, which appeared on the front page of the print edition on June 27: “DeJoy’s USPS slowdown plan will delay the mail. What’s it mean for your Zip code?” by Jacob Bogage and Kevin Schaul. Like my testimony and two briefs, it’s about the geographic disparities the proposed changes would cause.)

      I.     INTRODUCTION

On June 21, 2021, seven initial briefs were filed in Docket No. 2021-1. Four of them discuss the issue of geographic disparities that will be caused by the proposed changes in service standards.[1] The issue is also discussed in the Statement of Position submitted by the Association for Postal Commerce and the Statement of Position by twenty-one attorneys general and two cities.[2] The topic is clearly of some significance as well as a matter of public interest.[3] Aside from the Postal Service’s brief, all of the briefs and statements cited here agree that the proposed service standards will cause geographic disparities of a problematic nature. My reply brief will therefore focus on what the Postal Service has to say about the issue.

The Postal Service offers a defense against the allegation that its plan will unduly discriminate against some users of the mail by applying the three-prong test used in GameFly.[4] I used the same test in my Initial Brief. Not surprisingly, the test results were different. The Postal Service believes the claim of discrimination does not pass any of the three prongs. I believe it passes all three.[5]

    II.     DISCUSSION

The Postal Service states that “whatever disparate effects may flow from the proposed service standards, those effects are not inconsistent with Section 403(c) for four reasons.” I will address these reasons one by one.

A.    Any disparities depend highly on circumstances; they do not map neatly onto a discrete class such as “senders and recipients living in western states and other geographic regions of the United States.” USPS Initial Brief at 46-47

The Postal Service states that “differences in impact do not map neatly according to geography.” This claim is something of a red herring and mischaracterization of the Commission’s precedents. The undue discrimination test does not require that discrimination be “neatly mapped” onto “discrete classes.”  It only requires that similarly situated users of the mail be treated unfairly without a legitimate basis.

The Postal Service then mischaracterizes the evidence as well. It states: “The absolute number or percentage of ZIP Code pairs with changed service standards, see Tr. 1/220, is not meaningful, because different ZIP Code pairs carry differing volumes.” USPS Initial Brief at 46-47. This is the only evidence the Postal Service cites concerning geographic discrimination, thus suggesting that the testimony presented in this docket focused only on numbers or percentages of ZIP code pairs. My testimony and brief included data for the percentages of origin-destination pairs because the Postal Service uses this as a metric in its Request and testimonies, but it was not the only factor I used in identifying discriminatory patterns.[6] Rather, my testimony also considered daily volumes, average delivery times, and average increases in delivery times — the very same metrics that its witnesses used. These other metrics are more valuable than simply counting pairs or percentages of pairs, and they demonstrate persuasively that the proposed plan would have much greater impacts on certain regions of the country than on others. The maps that Anita Morrison and I presented in our testimonies show that the disparate impacts do “map neatly according to geography” and clearly show the greatest impacts will be on a discreet class of people, a class determined by where one lives.  Read More

Why the USPS proposal to reduce service standards will cause “undue discrimination”

SteveBlog, Slideshow

By Steve Hutkins

The Postal Service’s plan to reduce service standards is now being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission for an Advisory Opinion. On Monday, June 21, the Postal Service and several of the intervenors in the case submitted their briefs and statements of position. You can find the briefs here, and the statements of position here.

Here’s my brief. (At several points it refers to numbers and maps in my testimony, which is here.)

I. Statement of the Case

On April 21, 2021, the Postal Service filed a request for an Advisory Opinion under 39 U.S.C. §3661 regarding planned changes to the service standards for First-Class Mail and end-to-end Periodicals.[1] The Postal Service’s plan is to add an extra day of delivery to a percentage of mail currently under a two-day standard and one or two extra days to a percentage of mail currently under a three-day standard. The Postal Service contends that such a relaxation of service standards would allow it to decrease dependance on air transportation and improve the overall reliability of delivery.

II. Statement of Position

I am opposed to the Postal Service’s plan because the proposed service standards will cause undue discrimination of users of the mail who happen to live in places distant from the country’s centers of population. The proposed standards will impact some areas of the country — particularly the Pacific states but also the Western states and portions of Florida, Texas and Maine — more than it will impact other areas. These highly impacted areas will see more of their origin-destination pairs and more of their volumes downgraded, as well as larger increases in average delivery time, than other parts of the country will experience. Consequently, the proposed changes in service standards will result in unreasonable and undue discrimination among users of the mail, in violation of 39 U.S. Code § 403(c).

III. Discussion

As stated in 39 U.S.C. 403(c), “In providing services and in establishing classifications, rates, and fees under this title, the Postal Service shall not, except as specifically authorized in this title, make any undue or unreasonable discrimination among users of the mails, nor shall it grant any undue or unreasonable preferences to any such user.”

Discrimination lawsuits typically involve a framework in which plaintiffs first demonstrate that they have been treated unfairly compared to others who are in a similar situation and then the defendants must show that there was a legitimate reason for their actions. In Order 718 on the GameFly Complaint, the Commission thus used a three-pronged test to evaluate whether undue discrimination had taken place.[2] First, it must be established that a mailer or group of mailers “has been offered less favorable rates or terms and conditions than one or more other mailers.” Second, the mailer “must demonstrate that it similarly situated to the other mailer or mailers who have been offered more favorable rates or terms and conditions of service.” And third, “it must demonstrate that there is no rational or legitimate basis for the Postal Service to deny it the more favorable rates or terms and conditions offered to others.” The following discussion will show that the undue discrimination at issue in Docket N2021-1 passes all three of these tests.  Read More

Postal historian asks the PRC to return the Postal Service to a mission of service

Steve HutkinsBlog, Lihue Post Office

Editor’s note: Philip F. Rubio is Professor of History, at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the author of two books about the Postal Service, There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality and Undelivered: From the Great Postal Strike of 1970 to the Manufactured Crisis of the U.S. Postal Service.

Below is the Statement of Position that Mr. Rubio submitted today to the Postal Regulatory Commission concerning the Postal Service’s plan to reduce service standards on First Class mail and Periodicals. 

If you would like to submit comments yourself, the deadline in June 18 and some instructions are here

Icarried the mail for twenty years in Colorado and North Carolina from 1980-2000 before going back to graduate school—and now have taught college history for the same number of years. I have also published two historical books, several academic articles, written op-eds, and given dozens of interviews dealing with the post office, postal workers, and postal service. For me, the USPS is personal, political, and practical.

I look for the mail every day and imagine my neighbors, friends, and family members all doing the same. My typical mail route was over 500 stops, so I could feel hundreds of pairs of eyes watching for my daily arrival with the mail they trusted was going to be delivered in a timely fashion. By that time, they had become used to mail moving faster than ever before thanks to improvements in mail processing technology.

It was certainly being delivered faster than it moved, say, on August 12, 1970. That was the day of the Postal Reorganization Act signing ceremony, where President Richard Nixon joked that his most recent letter to his postmaster general was still in the mail somewhere in the nation’s capital. (But he said he had high hopes for future improved service, which would include millions of dollars in capital equipment—much of that now scrapped by current postmaster general Louis DeJoy.)

One of the many “intangibles” embedded in postal service is carrier and retail clerk attentiveness to complaints by patrons (as carriers we never called them “customers”). “Where’s my check? It was supposed to have been delivered today—they said it was mailed Monday!” “Will this card get to the West Coast by Saturday?” “Can you put a tracer on my package that didn’t arrive yet?”

This was before scanning technology, but carrier attentiveness has merely changed formats. As the internet became normative, mail was popularly derided as “snail mail” as there was no keeping up with email, websites, or text messaging in terms of speed. Nonetheless, surveys have consistently noted the public’s appreciation of the USPS’s steady speed and reliability delivering hard copy communications.

Yet widespread reports of growing consumer distrust of the USPS are troubling. That trust can only further erode, and will likely be hard to win back. (On a personal note: my university’s parking department declined to put my parking pass in the mail this year because of the ongoing USPS issues, and asked me to come pick it up instead.)

I have argued in my books, articles and interviews, that the decline of postal service in twenty-first century America preceded DeJoy. But under DeJoy, the decline has been the most precipitous. Increasing the time it takes to deliver first-class mail, moving to surface transportation and scrapping air transportation, all while raising postage rates, takes us backward, not forward.

Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock, a Republican who served in that office from 1909-1913, authorized the first airmail service in 1911. DeJoy now intends to shrink the use of air to transport First Class mail.

Hitchcock also presided over the inauguration of parcel post and postal banking—seen as modern reforms for American consumers. It is only the hybrid format of today’s USPS that creates the illusion that it is a corporate entity that needs to “operate like a business” and “show a profit.” It is still fundamentally a government agency, as Title 39 reminds us.

Rejection of DeJoy’s proposed service standard cutbacks by the Postal Regulatory Commission could be the beginning of changing the direction of the USPS back into one whose mission is service. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Philip F. Rubio
Professor of History, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

(Photo credit: Natalie M. Anderson)

Postal advocate testifies against reducing USPS service standards

SteveBlog, Slideshow

By Douglas Carlson

Editor’s note: The Postal Service’s plan to reduce service standards is now being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission for an Advisory Opinion. The Postal Service presented five witnesses to make its case. Last week, four witnesses submitted rebuttal testimony. Below is the rebuttal testimony of long-time postal advocate Douglas Carlson, the registrar and assistant vice chancellor for student information at the University of California, San Francisco.

On Wednesday, June 9, at 10 a.m., Mr. Carlson will conduct cross-examination of three of the USPS witnesses. You can watch a livestream of the hearing on You-Tube at https://youtu.be/RZl6CzkutRg.

You can find all the testimonies as well as the rest of the PRC’s docket here and on our N2021-1 dashboard.

Biographical Sketch

I have been employed as the registrar and assistant vice chancellor for student information at the University of California, San Francisco since 2004.  Previously, I was employed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of California, Berkeley.  I received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1990 and a law degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law in 1994.  I live in San Francisco, California.

I provided testimony to the Postal Regulatory Commission on post office box service in Docket No. MC96-3.  In Docket No. R97-1, I provided testimony on the rate and fee for stamped cards, problems with return receipt service, and problems with post office box service.  In Docket No. C2001-1, I provided testi-mony on problems with collection services on holidays and eves of holidays.  Finally, in Docket No. C2001-3, I provided testimony concerning changes in First-Class Mail service standards that the Postal Service implemented in 2000 and 2001.

I am providing this testimony in my role in this proceeding as an individual citizen.  Although I may refer at times to my work at UC San Francisco, my testimony reflects my own personal views only, whether concerning my work or otherwise.  My testimony may or may not reflect the views of my employer, and my testimony should not be understood to represent the views of my employer.

Purpose of Testimony

According to 39 U.S.C. § 403(a), “The Postal Service shall plan, develop, promote, and provide adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reason­able rates and fees.”  Throughout my life, I, along with most other American citizens and businesses, have depended on the Postal Service to fulfill this statutory mission.  When service problems exist, mailers expect the Postal Service to fix them, not to reduce service levels and declare that the diminished service is better than the previous service.  In submitting the proposal in this docket, contrary to the statute, the Postal Service is affirmatively planning and developing postal services that are not adequate to meet the needs of modern-day customers.

My testimony will demonstrate that the Postal Service’s proposal in this docket would not meet the needs of customers.  My testimony also questions whether the Postal Service is properly calculating the effect on volume of the changes in service standards that its proposal would cause.  And my testimony questions whether the Postal Service is properly repre­senting the preferences of customers.

Overview

As background, since late 2012, I have been placing Intelligent Mail bar codes on nearly all my outgoing single-piece First-Class Mail, both personal and business, and have used the Postal Service’s free Informed Visibility service (and the predecessor Mail Tracking and Reporting service) to monitor mail processing and likely delivery times of this mail.  Letters comprise the vast majority of my outgoing mail, but I do send some postcards and flats as well.  Although for many decades I have known the service standards for First-Class Mail, Informed Visibility has allowed me to understand and analyze actual service performance.  My observations of my Informed Visibility data have largely tracked trends in the performance data that the Postal Service reports to the public, including the decline in on-time delivery of three-day mail after the Postal Service eliminated overnight delivery for single-piece First-Class Mail in January 2015 and the poor service performance since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Since I began my Informed Visibility monitoring project, I have observed service performance for over 42,000 pieces of mail.

In 2019, a typical year, I oversaw the mailing of approximately 4,500 pieces of First-Class Mail.  While this number may seem small in the context of the mailing industry, my insights represent a perspective that the Postal Service has not adequately considered in developing the proposal in this docket.  Nearly every piece of mail provides a service to the sender and the recipient.  The service changes that the Postal Service proposes will affect nearly the entire population of the United States.  I send and personally monitor delivery times for far more mail than most individuals in the United States do.  Moreover, much of the business mail that I send is at least somewhat important, if not very impor­tant, to senders and recipients.  My annual mailings represent approxi­mately 9,000 customer experiences — small to the mailing industry, perhaps, but more than the Postal Service has represented in this docket.  Read More

Is ending air mail unfair? Testimony for the PRC’s Advisory Opinion on Changing Service Standards

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Steve Hutkins

The Postal Service ended Airmail as a separate class of U.S. mail on May 1, 1977, almost sixty years after it had been established. By 1974 the Postal Service was using airplanes to transport nearly 30 percent of First Class mail— over 15 billion pieces — and there wasn’t much difference between the two classes except that Airmail cost three cents more.

Today the Postal Service contracts with air carriers, primarily FedEx, to help deliver approximately 21 percent of First Class mail — over 10 billion pieces. This mail is essentially air mail, but without the special stamp and extra fee.

The Postal Service is now proposing to cut air transportation for the continental U.S. to about 12 percent of First Class volumes, and perhaps eventually to end it altogether.  The agency says shifting from air to surface modes of transport would improve net income by $175 million a year and avoid dependence on air carriers, which can sometimes be unpredictable in meeting USPS time frames.

The Postal Service needs air transportation in order to meet the service standard of three days for nonlocal mail, which applies to the entire contiguous 48 states.  Using trucks instead of planes means it will take one or two extra days to deliver the mail, so the Postal Service has proposed downgrading service standards. Instead of two or three days, the new standard will be two-to-five days. The Postal Service says that it will be able to meet these lower standards more consistently, so mail delivery, while slower, will be more “reliable” and “predictable.”

The plan to reduce service standards is now being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission for an Advisory Opinion. The Postal Service presented five witnesses to make its case. You can see these testimonies as well as the rest of the PRC’s docket here and on our N2021-1 dashboard.

Yesterday four witnesses submitted rebuttal testimony, two of them on behalf of the APWU, plus long-time postal watchdog Douglas Carlson and me.

Carlson is the registrar and assistant vice chancellor for student information at the University of California, San Francisco; his testimony focuses on how the university could be impacted by slower mail.  Stephen DeMatteo is Executive Assistant to the President of the APWU; his testimony reviews more than 77,000 comments filed on the service standard changes published in the Federal Register.  Anita Morrison is Founding Principal of Partners for Economic Solutions; her testimony examines the impacts of the proposed changes in geographic terms, and it contains several maps similar to those in my testimony.

Here is my testimony as it was submitted yesterday (sans the autobiographical sketch). The testimony also includes an Excel document that can be found on the PRC website and, for easy access, Google Drive.

PURPOSE OF THE TESTIMONY

The purpose of my testimony is to provide the Commission with visual representations of what the proposed service standards would look like at the level of individual SCFs and at an aggregated national level. The Postal Service provides maps of service standards for SCFs on its PostalPro website, and these are very useful not only for mailers but also for the public. I have often referred journalists to these maps to help explain what service standards look like in actual practice.

When I was reviewing the Postal Service’s technical description of the proposed service standards, with all the details about drive-times, distances and postal operations, it became apparent that maps would help visualize the proposal. As I began making maps of the standards for specific SCFs, I saw that there was a considerable degree of variation. For example, for SCFs located near the middle of the country the area that would fall under a 5-day service standard tended be much smaller than was the case for SCFs located along the coasts.

This raised a question that had not occurred to me before: Would the service standards be unfair to some people just because of where they lived? With that question in mind, I made a few additional maps that I believe shed some light on the issue.  Read More

How the postal reform bill may help the Postal Service slow down the mail

SteveBlog, Slideshow

Steve Hutkins

In August 1970, Title 39, aka the Postal Reorganization Act, created the Postal Service. The first section, 39 U.S. Code § 101, is entitled “Postal Policy.” It’s just over 400 words long, but it is probably the most frequently quoted passage in the history of postal legislation. It’s often cited in litigation, academic articles, and the dockets of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

In some respects, Section 101 is like the Preamble to the Constitution. It sets forth the basic principles on which the Postal Service is established:

(a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.

Section 101 also protects small rural post offices by including this oft-cited passage:

(b) The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities.

In 2008 Congress amended Section 101 on “Postal Policy” to remove part of a sentence in subpart (f) that required the Postal Service to “make a fair and equitable distribution of mail business to carriers providing similar modes of transportation services to the Postal Service.” The passage was deleted under Pub. L. 110–405, the Air Carriage of International Mail Act, which modified how the Postal Service made air transportation contracts, apparently rendering the line unnecessary.

Aside from this minor change, there have been no other revisions of section 101. It reads today as it did in 1970.

Yet for some reason, buried deep in the postal reform bill gaining traction in Congress right now — H.R. 3076, “Postal Service Reform Act of 2021” — is a section that would amend 39 USC 101. (The text of the Senate version of postal reform, S.1720, isn’t available yet, but NALC says it includes a similar passage.)

The proposed modifications in the wording of the text may seem small, but they have huge implications. Here’s how part (f) reads now:  Read More