Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Dissertation shows other side of Postal Service

I like to tell people that this year I am celebrating 20 years of being alive, as opposed to being an employee of the U.S. Postal Service.

In June 1994, against the advice of my family and many others who were not working for the Postal Service, I worked my last wasted night in the shithole called the West Palm Beach General Mail Facility.

It was funny because after my shift was over, I went into one of the offices to turn in my time badge and ID card, and there was a young Oriental woman there who was just starting. I advised her to quit now before her life was destroyed. For a woman in the Postal Service, then and now, going to work there involved being sexually harassed by bosses, having your reporting of sexual harassment ignored and enduring endless reprisals.

If you blew the whistle on the stuff that went on, and which I’ll detail later, you could also expect reprisals, though the official line was that reprisals were not allowed.

The truth is that if you are or were a postal manager, you probably were complicit in a number of things that should have gotten you fired, but didn’t.

It’s fascinating that there actually is a dissertation written by a man named Dale Ferguson. Though I guess spelling, grammar and punctuation are not considered in evaluating a doctoral dissertation, the fact is that Ferguson describes in detail the methods the Postal Service’s managers used to terrorize the workforce and cheat the Postal Service out of revenue.

He started as a letter-sorting machine clerk but eventually advanced to acting supervisor and then into the higher levels of postal management, where the “scumbags” (postal workers, as West Palm Beach supervisor Gary Miller called them) were nowhere to be found. Oddly, Ferguson was actually qualified for the management jobs he got. In West Palm Beach, the main criterion was to be dumb and a fundamentalist Christian, but that is the South. Ferguson appeared to have started in big postal facility in Pennsylvania.

In his dissertation, he describes a number of things that weren’t supposed to happen, but did:

  • Mail was run through machines over and over to “get the numbers up.”
  • Presorted mail often was broken up to be keyed on the LSM, again to get the numbers up.
  • The system of weighing mail into an operation was compromised. The tickets attached to the equipment carrying mail were available on the floor, and supervisors would boost their numbers by making up bogus tickets. Ferguson noted that it was impossible for the postal facility to process that much mail in the timeframe allowed, but headquarters never questioned the numbers that facilities generated.

Ferguson also noted that the most popular scam run by postal facilities involved third-class mail. When mail arrived on the loading dock, it received a color code indicating the day of the week (two days later) that was the deadline for the mail to be worked. Since many postal facilities’ day shifts did little to no work, it had to be worked on overtime and on the weekends by the night shifts, and mail might sit for days or weeks before being worked. To avoid getting caught with overage mail, facilities’ management would send out employees or supervisors to “correct” the color codes on the mail equipment.

This of course was not supposed to happen, and the theory was that if the postal inspectors caught you, you were in a lot of trouble. Later, when the Postal Office of the Inspector General was created, they would often find out about color code changing and come in to watch what happened. Workers who were caught would say that they were following orders, and beg not to be named because if there was one thing that got you reprisals, it was talking to the OIG people.

The OIG would act like it was shocked, shocked to hear that color codes were being changed, and would write a report. Management would agree, and talk about how it would conduct training on the proper use of color codes, but the training never happened. Then the cycle would repeat.

Postal facilities today still change color codes on third-class mail, and the OIG still comes in, catches them and writes reports, and postal management still promises to conduct training but doesn’t.

One thing Ferguson did not notice, though he apparently quit the Postal Service in the mid-2000s and his dissertation was accepted in 2008, was that many postal facilities, including West Palm Beach, had managed to compromise the PriceWaterhouse testing system.

It took me almost 15 years to realize that West Palm Beach had been cheating, but I had read a story about a postal facility in West Virginia where the managers had discovered who the “reporters” were who told PriceWaterhouse when mail arrived. An employee was supposed to drop letters in mailboxes in the facility’s service area, and it would go through the system like any other letter.

Well, some of the people who did the mailing got lazy, and brought the whole bag of mail to the window clerk, who would hand it off to a supervisor, who would open it and record the names and addresses of all the reporters. Then the individual pieces would have their postage stamps canceled, then their mail would be sent via Express Mail to the post office that served the address. It would be delivered so rapidly that the test scores would go up.

The facility in West Virginia did all these steps, then because it knew when the test mail would appear would hire temporary workers to manually go through every piece of outgoing first-class mail before it went through the OCR/BCS machines to find the mail addressed to the “reporters.” Again, those envelopes would be sent by Express Mail to the post offices and then delivered as if they were regular mail.

I was attending Palm Beach Community College in the late 1980s when the PriceWaterhouse system was started, and noticed that every month a whole group of people would come in and sit near the OCR/BCS machines at long tables, and flip through all the mail before it went through the machines. I mentioned to a woman I had seen at the West Palm Beach GMF and at PBCC that it was payday, and she said she didn’t work for the Postal Service but for a labor company.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“It’s some kind of a mail test,” she said.

I realized after reading about the West Virginia situation that in West Palm Beach, they either never got caught or paid off the OIG not to do an inspection of what was going on.

Ferguson may have missed that because of his high-level jobs, but he saw the way things worked in ways that would have given the average postal manager a coronary. They don’t want anyone to know about all the cheating and lies that go on in the Postal Service, and are terrified to hire someone of average or above average intelligence who might write about their experiences later.

I know that the top brass of the Postal Service didn’t care about the customers or the mail when I was there, and they don’t care now. It’s just a paycheck, and an easy one, for sitting around and faking mail volume. I’m just glad I’m out doing real work that I can be proud of.

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December 10, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. I need your help, I have endured everything you just so eloquently highlighted on this blog. Am now on a suspension for standing up for myself. I need guidance because am about to return to word after 2 months w/out any back pay.

    Comment by Tlv | December 24, 2014 | Reply

  2. Sorry, can’t help,

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | December 24, 2014 | Reply


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