The S&DC plan rolls on, the excessing begins

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service began implementing its plan to relocate letter carriers from post offices to Sorting & Delivery Centers back in November. At first it seemed — at least for the time being — that only the carriers would be impacted, but that’s not the case. The Postal Service has already begun the process of excessing clerks at what it calls the “spoke” post offices losing their carriers. (“Excessing” is the postal euphemism for getting the axe.)

According to the impact statements the Postal Service is required to provide the APWU when it excesses employees, at least 40 clerk positions are being excessed at about 30 post offices, some of which aren’t scheduled to lose their carriers until September. [Update, 4/2/2023: The Postal Service has dialed back the S&DC plan yet again. The number of spoke offices sending carriers to the Mid Hudson S&DC is now 7 instead of 16, and the total number of excessed positions is now 8 instead of 23.]

Here’s a list of the S&DCs and the excessed positions for their spoke offices (reflecting the latest update):

Revised 4/2/2023

This list represents only the excessed clerk positions that we’ve been able to confirm based on the impact statements posted on the APWU website and by talking with union officials. Many more excess notifications may have already gone out and more will be coming soon. Hopefully they will all be posted on the APWU website so that union members have full access to the national picture.

So far, on average, one clerk position is being excessed for every seven routes relocated to an S&DC. At this point, over 1,100 routes have already relocated or will relocate in June and September (a list is here). At the rate of one clerk position for every seven routes, about 160 clerk positions will be excessed in this phase of the implementation. If the S&DC plan were to reach its advertised goal of 100,000 routes, something like 15,000 clerks would be excessed.

The current rate is about 1.5 excessed positions per post office, but this average will increase as more larger post offices are incorporated into the scheme. If 5,000 post offices are ultimately “spoked,” they’ll average about three excessed clerks per office.

The Postal Service is wasting no time reducing the staffing at post offices losing their carriers. Both events will happen on virtually the same day. According to comments attached to the December 7, 2022, impact statement for Richland, WA, the target date for the excessing of seven clerks is June 3 — the same date the carriers are scheduled to relocate to the Pasco S&DC. (This impact statement seems to combine Richland and West Richland Station, but only West Richland is listed on any of the S&DC notifications. This impact statement, by the way, has a useful summary of what happens when excessing occurs; more details are in the National Agreement.)

Morrison, CO Post Office

The impact statements make it clear that the excessing is due to the S&DCs. For example, the statement for the post offices in Evergreen, CO, and Morrison, CO (both sending carriers to the Golden S&DC in June), says, “Attached are the workhour impact statements from the Colorado-Wyoming District that reflect the clerk staffing impacts at the above named Post Offices due to the establishment of the Sorting and Distribution Center in Golden, CO.”

The impact statements indicate that, as per the National Agreement, the excessed employees may be placed in other offices within 50 miles of their post office. The notifications helpfully include maps showing the 50-mile radius. (Note that for Imperial Beach, CA, half the area available for reassignment is in the Pacific Ocean and a quarter in Mexico.)

The impact reports describe the impact type as “Reduction other than by attrition.” This would seem to contradict the Postmaster General’s claim that the workforce reductions — which may include 50,000 employees — will be achieved entirely by attrition.

Grievances are already being filed over various issues. One cause for grievance involves cleaning service contracts at small post offices. According to the union agreement, when a clerk position is excessed, the clerk can take on some of these cleaning tasks to maintain full-time status. In some cases, that’s apparently not been happening.

Because numerous employees in the same area are being excessed at the same time, there aren’t always enough landing positions to go around. For five of the excessed positions in a post office in the Utica area, clerks were given only three landing positions, located 40 minutes to an hour away.

The hardships imposed on excessed employees often lead to voluntary separations, even though there’s not much voluntary about quitting when you need to commute 50 miles each day or when the new position is just part-time. Many of the excessed employees have been with the Postal Service a long time. They probably never thought this could happen.

Reducing the staff at post offices has always been an inevitable component of the S&DC plan. Having carriers work out of S&DCs instead of post offices adds about 16 miles and 20 minutes to each route, each way, which means more costs for overtime or new routes (as discussed in this previous post).

These additional costs — which could reach $2 billion if 100,000 routes are relocated — need to be offset somehow. Reducing dependence on Highway Contract Routes (which transport the mail from processing centers to post offices) will not save enough to cover the new costs. The only way to do that is by reducing the staffing at post offices.

West Richland WA Post Office

The Postal Service has been claiming that customers won’t be impacted by the S&DC plan because the post office will remain as it is. But that’s not going to happen. Once the carriers are gone and two or more clerks have been excessed, many post offices will be left with a skeleton crew of postmaster and a couple of clerks, in some cases part-timers. The West Richland Station post office has over 16,000 square feet. When the carriers and seven clerks are gone, there will just be four clerks remaining. There’s no way this post office will not be on the market sometime soon.

Reducing the number of clerks in post offices will have an immediate impact on customer service. The lines and wait times at some offices will inevitably grow longer, and customers with PO boxes may need to wait until later in the day to get their mail. If there’s not enough staffing to keep the post office open for its current hours, some offices may need to close for lunch or run shorter hours on Saturday.

The Postal Service and the APWU signed the current contract in February 2022, and it runs until September 2024. Negotiations will probably begin sometime in the summer of 2023. That’s when the Postal Service will need to show its hand about the long-term plans for the “spoke” post offices.

The Postal Service may be planning, for example, to reduce the EAS levels of post offices in order to downgrade or eliminate postmaster positions and reduce window hours, as it did with POStPlan in 2012-2014. That shouldn’t come as a shock: The 10-year plan specifically calls for “aligning hours of operation to customer demands at low traffic Post Offices.”

Evergreen, CO Post Office

Reducing hours on a nationwide basis should require the Postal Service to request an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission, as it did with POStPlan, but it may say the POStPlan advisory opinion applies to more downgrades and another opinion is not required.

Sometime over the next year, the Postal Service may also decide to move forward on another component of the 10-year plan — closing post offices, or, as Delivering for America puts it, “Rationalize stations and branches.”  Any plan to close hundreds or thousands of post offices will require an advisory opinion, but the PRC’s opinion won’t mean much if, by then, most of those post offices are more-than-half empty because carriers and clerks have been removed.

Longer lines at the post office will be just the beginning of the problems for postal customers. Next comes shorter window hours, changes in the customer service staff, relocations to smaller spaces, emergency suspensions over lease issues, the sale of historic buildings, and hundreds if not thousands of post office closures.

While customers are waiting in line, they should look at the writing on the wall. It’s right there, if anyone cares to read it.

— Steve Hutkins

(Read more about delivery network transformation on the S&DC dashboard.)

(Featured photo: Frankfort, NY post office; carriers relocated to the Utica S&DC in February 2023. Photo by E Kalish, Dec. 2014.)