The U.S. Postal Service plans to halt Saturday mail delivery starting in August, raising questions over the effect on postal jobs.
Just hours after the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service announced it will halt Saturday mail delivery starting in August, local postal employees expressed concern over how it will impact jobs, safety and workload.
“They just made the announcement today,” said Canandaigua Postmaster Bob Propester. "Obviously we’re not going to know more until they roll out more specifics.”
One Victor Post Office employee said he learned of the change on his way to work and felt “just as much in the dark as everyone else is.” The worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said he expected his branch to lose staffing as a result.
According to Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe, the Saturday mail cutback is expected to begin the week of Aug. 5 and to save about $2 billion annually.
“Our financial condition is urgent,” Donahoe said at a press conference Wednesday.
Post offices will remain open on Saturdays, but paper mail will not be delivered to homes and businesses, according to Karen Mazurkiewicz, spokesperson for the USPS Western New York District. Patrons with post office boxes will still get service on Saturdays, she said.
“We can still deliver mail in five days and have the savings of not having to go to each household six days a week,” she said.
Package delivery, which has been profitable and has increased by 14 percent since 2010, will continue six days a week, agency representatives said. The delivery of letters and other mail, they said, has declined with the increasing use of email and other Internet services.
The impact on employees remains uncertain at this time, as USPS proceeds with labor negotiations with unions and labor organizations in the next six months. The agency has put the brakes on hiring new carriers in recent years, Mazurkiewicz explained.
“In the long run, we’ll need less carriers,” she said.
Effective Jan. 31, the USPS has offered a retirement incentive to post office clerks. At this time, there is no such incentive for mail carriers, although this may happen in the near future.
“The post office has always been pretty good about minimizing impact as far as jobs are concerned,” said Propester, the Canandaigua postmaster.
Problems on Monday
Retired Canandaigua postal worker Dan Brigham characterized the change as being “a disaster in many ways.”
Brigham, who was a postal employee between 1984 and 2008, said the heavy workload on Mondays has already caused excessive overtime for post offices.
“It’s going to impact every weekend because every Monday there will be more to do,” said Brigham. “That’s because the mail processing didn’t stop, just the delivery. People should take notice of the mail they get on Monday — it’s typically more than any other day of the week.”
Page 2 of 3 - Propester agreed.
“Typically Mondays are very heavy,” said Propester, “but now every Monday is going to be like the day after a holiday. It’s going to be tough. They’ll have to make adjustments with routes because you can't have people working 10-12 hours a day. It will be a work in progress.”
Propester said that with heavier workloads on Mondays come longer shifts — and increased safety concerns, as well.
“When it starts getting dark a little after four you get the cold and elements, and it becomes a safety issue for mail carriers,” said Propester. “That’s one of my primary concerns, is people being out there in the dark.”
The chances of slipping and falling or being hit by another vehicle are greater in the dark, he said, while navigating treacherous steps and avoiding hostile dogs are more difficult in the dark.
“You can handle the heat and the elements, but it gets really tough when it gets dark,” said Propester.
Regulating the workload
On busier days, Propester said carriers try to hold back third-class standard mail and give first-class mail priority in order to regulate the workload.
“What’s really challenging is that we’re picking up more and more delivery for different companies like UPS package business,” said Propester. But regardless of staffing, the mail has to go out.
“It’s all a timing issue — if you get trucks out late, you’re late getting back,” said Propester. “Our trucks are committed to leave at a certain time to make connections. We work on a 24-hour clock and the clock never stops ticking. We’re judged like everybody else on performance.”
A matter of control
Over the past several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and packages — and it repeatedly but unsuccessfully appealed to Congress to approve the move. As an independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day op0erations — but it is subject to congressional control.
Congress has included a ban on five-day delivery in its appropriations bill. But because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure, rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it’s the agency’s interpretation that it can make the change itself.
According to Postal Service market research and other research, nearly seven in ten Americans support the switch to five-day delivery as a way for the Postal Service to reduce costs.
“What’s encouraging is that most Americans are still OK with this,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Nobody likes change, but I think this one will be palatable to most.”
Page 3 of 3 - — Includes reporting by Bethany Young and the Associated Press