Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Postal Service races from crisis to crisis

I still remember the dire pronouncements when I worked for the Postal Service.

Mail volume is down, way down, because of the recession. Costs are up, way up, because of the price of gas and salaries and benefits (for workers, not management and administration). People are finding alternatives to the mail and it looks like this is the beginning of the end.

Yes, times were pretty tough for the Postal Service – in January 1983. Postmaster General William F. Bulger welcomed us new-hires with the news that the Postal Service needed to cut more than 100,000 jobs in the coming year to stay afloat. I wondered if I might have a short postal career.

I still remember the dire pronouncements when I worked for the Postal Service.

Mail volume is down, way down, because of the recession. Costs are up, way up, because of the price of gas and salaries and benefits (for workers, not management and administration). People are finding alternatives to the mail and it looks like this is the beginning of the end.

Yes, times were pretty tough for the Postal Service – in January 1994. Postmaster General Anthony Frank warned that there might have to be more job cuts. There had been an early-out just before Christmas 1993, and there was talk that people “who didn’t touch the mail” could find themselves sent back to regular work or RIF’d out if they wouldn’t take a demotion.

Some of the 204Bs (acting supervisors) looked nervous. Sure, there had been talk before of cutting management, but no one had the cojones to actually follow through. I knew one woman, one of the only postal managers I ever knew who was capable of independent thought and was open about her discontent. She worked in Quality Control, which she admitted was mostly a joke since no one in management cared if the work was done right. If mail was sent to the wrong destination, it was just brought back and counted again as if it had just arrived.

She mentioned to me on her rounds that they were talking about making the office types work on the workroom floor. I thought it would be a cold day in August in Florida before the “non-prods” did anything but do clipboard-lifts on the floor. I was right.

Not only were there no cuts in postal management and administration in that mid-90s crisis, more people were promoted into management and administration. I went to a career awareness conference in 1993 where there were hundreds of people, all allegedly “injured” on the job, and working in the EEO offices of various postal installations. Few if any of them had touched the mail in some time, but they still pulled down a hefty paycheck plus benefits.

Now, it’s 2009. I hear the dire pronouncements about the Postal Service.

Mail volume is down, way down, because of the recession. Costs are up, way up, because of the price of gas and salaries and benefits (for workers, not management and administration). People are finding alternatives to the mail and it looks like this is the beginning of the end.

Yes, times are pretty tough for the Postal Service – in August 2009. The Postmaster General has warned that there might have to be more job cuts. There’s talk of closing postal installations of all shapes and sizes, and the ultimate blasphemy has been spoken: end Saturday delivery.

It’s interesting, though, that the union people in the facilities where postal workers are going to be transferred to have had little to say. That’s because more workers means more union dues for their locals. But those union officials who are in facilities that are closing or moving operations are being a bit dramatic.

Look, does anyone really care what the postmark is or where it’s applied? To be honest, I don’t. I’ve heard it from the office of a congressional representative and read it in newspapers that people are worried that they will lose the sense of community they supposedly have if the postmark goes away. Really, do AT&T Mobility, Bright House Networks, Wells Fargo and the other companies whose bills I pay through the mail even care if the postmark on my stamps reads “Sarasota-Bradenton P&DC, FL” or “Tampa P&DC, FL”?

Postal customers who raise the issue of the loss of postmark are being coached, I think, by the unions to say that. In any case, in the case of the Sarasota facility, the outgoing cancellation operation (called the 010 in my day) is moving, but the rest is staying. Sure, it sucks to have to drive to Tampa every day, but consider the alternative: unemployment.

Unlike the 1983 and 1994 crises, I think this one is the real thing for the Postal Service. Things have changed, and technology has driven that change. The downturn has hit pretty hard everywhere. Look at me. I went from one dying industry – postal operations – to another dying industry – journalism – in about 15 years.

I have no regrets, and believe me I’m glad I left the Postal Service. The West Palm Beach GMF was a mismanaged zoo back then and a nest of corruption, and the top brass weren’t much better. Going to college and seeking a new way was the best thing I ever did.

The real postal tragedy is that a lot of good workers will probably suffer. Even worse, when the economy recovers the Postal Service will probably go on a promotion and administration binge again, creating more supervisors and administrative types to sit around and photocopy papers. And the cycle begins again …

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August 8, 2009 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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