Mail delivery could drop to 5 days per week

U.S. Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress on Wednesday to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail 6 days a week.

Faced with dwindling mail volume and rising costs, the post office was $2.8 billion in the red last year. “If current trends continue, we could experience a net loss of $6 billion or more this fiscal year,” Postmaster General John E. Potter said in testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.

“It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable,” Potter said. “I reluctantly request that Congress remove the annual appropriation bill rider, first added in 1983, that requires the Postal Service to deliver mail six days each week.”

Potter pointed out that a reduction of the delivery schedule would not be expected to occur immediately if it occurs at all.  It just gives the USPS the freedom to explore this as an option.

Mr Zip (Zippy)

Mr Zip (Zippy)

 

“The ability to suspend delivery on the lightest delivery days, for example, could save dollars in both our delivery and our processing and distribution networks. I do not make this request lightly, but I am forced to consider every option given the severity of our challenge,” Potter said.

According to studies, we may have to get used to not checking our mailboxes on Tuesday which traditionally is a slow mail flow day. 

Just how much would this save the USPS? 

A study done by George Mason University last year for the independent Postal Regulatory Commission estimated that going from six-day to five-day delivery would save the post office more than $1.9 billion annually, while a Postal Service study estimated the saving at $3.5 billion.

Of course, Potter shared only the factors out of the Postal Service’s control:  ‘the series of tubes’ known as ‘the internets’ and the economic meltdown.

The post office’s problem is twofold, Potter explained.

“A revolution in the way people communicate has structurally changed the way America uses the mail,” with a shift from first-class letters to the Internet for personal communications, billings, payments, statements and business correspondence.

To some extent that was made up for my growth in standard mail — largely advertising — but the economic meltdown has resulted in a drop there also.

I’ll delve into my thoughts on this later in this post.

What else did Potter refer to in his plea to Congress?  Based on the formula in determining the increase in postage rates (based on last year’s consumer price index), the USPS could see a 2-cent increase.  Potter believes that a larger increase would turn more people towards electronic correspondence.

The popular target these days (look at the Big 3 automakers focus on retirement spending) is of course paying health benefits for retirees.

Potter also asked that Congress ease the requirement that it make advance payments into a fund to cover future health benefits for retirees. Last year the post office was required to put $5.6 billion into the fund.

He proposed easing the retirement pre-funding for eight years, while promising that the agency will cover the premiums for retirement health insurance.

Potter noted that the agency has cut costs by $1 billion per year since 2002, reduced its work force by 120,000, halted construction of new facilities except in emergencies, frozen executive salaries and is in the process of reducing its headquarters work force by 15 percent.

Let me point out that I only symbolically care about 6 day delivery.  I’ve been known to forget that it is Sunday and I’ll absent-mindedly check the box.  I also have to make a mental note on the many federal holidays when there is no delivery. 

That said, the majority of my mail includes bills, garbage, ads, credit card offers, realtors.  Occasionally I’ll get something I can use like a magazine or . . . well, a magazine.  So if they choose to deliver mail to me once a week, I’d probably be fine with that. 

*  *  *  *  *  *

As a former postal employee (I left over 17 years ago) this issue is still near and dear to me.  Employee morale, motivation and emotional stability were definitely a problem when I worked there.

       Someone threatened my life because I talked to a woman with whom he had a crush.  A co-worker had her life threatened by someone who had definite emotional problems as well as an incredible weapons collection.  She ended up transferring to another city.

       I’ve seen people perform slow-downs because they were in bad moods and when it was pointed out to them, they threatened to call a shop steward.

       Partly because of these deadwood employees as well as poor management decisions, there seemed to be more overtime called than was required.  Based on my experience, many managers held that title for reasons other than qualifications.  Training also seemed to be lacking so when the mail volume changed, the supervisors were ill-equipped to handle the required snap decision. 

Here are a couple of thoughts I have as to the reduction of delivery days (though I would be against the change):

       If carriers work 5 days a week but delivery is scheduled for 6 days that means that there is a floating carrier in the mix.  A reduction of delivery days to 5 would theoretically eliminate 1 person for every 6 routes.

       Of course if the trucks are only on the road 5 days instead of 6, there would be a 16% reduction in gasoline and wear-and-tear on the vehicles.   

       If the postal service institutes a rotating day reduction – in other words, some areas lose Monday delivery and others Tuesday and so on – they could even reduce the number of vehicles they own.

       As I eluded to, mismanagement and employee deadwood does not play a factor – at least not publicly.  Something must be done in order to improve the production from low effort employees.  It was a tough thing back when I worked there and I’m sure it is still difficult today. 

If you find yourself in New York City around 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, you can see the General Mail Facility and the words etched into the building:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat of day nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

 If you look closely, it doesn’t say anything about economic downturn.

nyc-post-office-1

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