End of Saturday mail

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Two views of the post office.  One writer says unreasonable union demands have contributed to the decline of the post office, manifested this week in the announcement that Saturday mail delivery will end. In our second piece, a local resident (not related to the other columnist, also named Berman) laments the disappearance of the written word encased in that wrinkled envelope that may have traveled halfway around the world.

Commenting is open below Sean Berman’s column.

Unions to blame for post office cuts

By Richard Berman

Come rain, snow, sleet or hail, the postal service will deliver the mail — unless it’s Saturday.

The United States Postal Service’s announcement that it will no longer deliver mail on Saturdays is no surprise to those familiar with the organization’s decades-long tumultuous relationship with its unions.

Those unions are furious over the ailing organization’s decision. The president of the American Postal Workers Union, Cliff Guffey, says that his union “condemns” the decision and claims that the Postal Service’s decision “will only deepen the agency’s congressionally manufactured financial crisis.”

Strong words — and false ones, too. Instead, Guffey should recognize that his union’s years of demands have contributed to driving the postal service off its own fiscal cliff.

In short: Though the Postal Service has a congressionally mandated monopoly on delivering First Class mail, its unwieldy union contracts keep the USPS from properly adapting to the marketplace.

All told, employee compensation and benefits account for roughly 80 percent of USPS’ costs. A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes that this “percentage … has remained similar over the years despite major advances in technology and the automation of postal operations.”

In terms of salary and benefits, union officials have been able to milk the USPS dry. The Cato Institute says that the average employee receives $83,000 in total compensation per year. Elsewhere, the GAO report states that the USPS pays a higher percentage of health care costs than other federal agencies — agencies that are already renowned for being much more generous than the private sector.

These contracts also limit what percentage of the workforce can be part-time or contracted. Postal unions have ensured that if the USPS is going to hire someone, they’re almost assuredly going to be a full-time, permanent, and union dues-paying employee.

But the Postal Service doesn’t necessarily need so many full-time workers. In 2009, the Federal Times reported that the USPS averages 45,000 hours of “standby time” every week, when employees sit idle, costing the USPS more than $50 million a year.

Some of this idleness can be chalked up to the collective bargaining agreements that limit employee reassignments. This leaves the Postal Service grossly inefficient — and often leaves you waiting in a long line while employees, following union rules, sit idle.

At the end of the day, there’s surprisingly little that the post office can do to change this ailing and failing system. In the rare instances when the USPS and unions seek a neutral third-party to help renegotiate union contracts, the arbitration negotiator is not legally obligated to consider the postal service’s financial situation. The result? New union contracts, same old financial problems.

The American people generally understand the rules of the business world: If you lose money, something needs to change, or you’ll go bankrupt. That’s probably why a recent New York Times poll found that 70 percent of Americans support the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to end Saturday delivery.

If the postal union leadership ever gets that message, it will probably have been delivered overnight by FedEx.

Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit whose website states it is “dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today’s union leadership.”

By Sean Berman

I am a 28-year-old Generation Y’er who grew up during the digital age. I had my first computer when I was 13. I had my first email address in 1999. I have had AOL, NetZero, Juno, Comcast and Gmail. I am a regular user of my desktop, laptop and tablet, and I am completely reliant on my Blackberry. Through all this, my favorite form of communication is the written word. I write and receive letters on a regular basis, and when I am out of town, I get immense joy from sending a post card.

There is something to be said about the feeling I get when I drop a letter in the mail. There is a rush that goes along with opening the mailbox after a long day of work and seeing there is a hand-written envelope addressed to me, and it doesn’t include something with a due date. Sitting at my kitchen table reading a letter, holding it in my hand, is a way to escape my electronic dependence for a short period and experience the purist form of communication.

The sensation I get when I write a letter and then anticipate its delivery across the country is one I cannot get from anywhere else. The instant gratification which I am used to is gone, and I am transported to a place where part of the reward is awaiting the response. It may take three to four weeks to receive one, but every time I look in my mailbox, I know there is the possibility of it being there, and that short bit of excitement is worth the wait.

It costs 46 cents to send a first-class letter anywhere in the United States. It is not surprising the post office does not make any money. That is remarkably cheap. The USPS Inspector General reported in 2011, the Postal Service delivered more than 6 billion pieces of standard flat mail. — and recouped only 79.5 percent of the cost of standard mail. That is a losing equation. It is an unsustainable and an unacceptable practice. Something has to be done.

I do not know the answers. Stopping Saturday delivery is a start. The price of a stamp certainly needs to increase by more than a penny a year. Greater steps need to be taken to ensure the Postal Service is around for future generations. It has connected distant lovers, close friends and family when other options were not available. It has allowed soldiers to receive packages from loved ones who wait for and miss them. From the Civil War to the War in Afghanistan, it has been there to connect people in good times and in bad.

I would like future Americans to know the joy of looking in the mailbox after a long day of work and being able to experience the excitement of seeing a hand-written envelope addressed to them.

Sean Berman lives in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood.


8 comments Add your comment

James Link

February 8th, 2013
3:40 pm

The so-called guest column in today’s AJC by Richard Berman is a good storng dose of snake oil. First, he generalizes about how the union is destroying the postal sevice and then the only facts he projects are those pulled from the Cato Institue, a notorious right wing, libertarian think tank. So how can anything he writes be believed or in any way considered legitimate argument? The column smells of sophistry and therefore must be dismissed.

Don

February 8th, 2013
3:25 pm

They didn’t go far enough. Three days a week would be fine. A carrier could cover two routes. One on MWF and the other on TuTHSa.

There is nothing I need that comes in the mail that can’t wait a day. 90% of what’s in the box is “opportunity mail” anyway.

Curious George

February 8th, 2013
11:03 am

As touched on in the Kevin Costner “The Postman,” is 0bamaJiveTalker & Company gradually using this as an excuse take away our paper mail correspondence so his government can more easily spy on our forced electronic correspondence?

meno

February 8th, 2013
10:16 am

But Deborah, it is just so much easier and enjoyable to think that it is all because the unions are messing everything up. I would’ve appreciated the first writer at least referring to the points you brought up.

DeborahinAthens

February 8th, 2013
6:50 am

The major problem is that the USPS is a company whose policies are not dictated by the company, but by Congress, which, as we know is made up of a lot of politicians that don’t know their “A” from their elbow. No private sector company that I know of funds their benefits–pensions, healthcare, etc. etc. ten years into the future. I could be wrong, but one thing the CEO of the USPS has begged Congress to let the company do is treat their benefits the way private companies do. Because of this insane ruling, the USPS has to set aside billions to fund future benefits. What they should do is what most corporations are doing. Stop the pension. Go to a 401(k). The employees get the value of their pension in a lump sum, which will be there when they retire. But there will be no future money set aside. They can give a matching to the 401(k) if their cash permits, if not, it’s up to the employee to save for their retirement. we are killing ourselves will these public pension for postal workers, policemen, firemen, teachers. now, will unions like this? of course not, but so what? They can get a job in the private sector. I love the postal service. I am amazed at how quickly a letter can get from
my office to a client–thousands of miles away– for 45 cents or 46 cents or whatever.

An observer

February 7th, 2013
9:17 pm

I believe the USPS is trying to do the right thing so it can continue to provide service. Stopping Saturday service and closing little used post offices are necessary steps. Paper mail will eventally succumb to electronic mail.

Shamehia

February 7th, 2013
5:53 pm

I’ve seen news reports in the past 48 hours that said Congressional approval is required before the Postal Service can stop Saturday mail service. Someone needs to clarify that.

We’re not in the 1950s when businesses were open Monday through Friday and everything pretty much shut down on the weekend. Now Saturday and Sunday are work days and many businesses depend on six day a week mail delivery. It just seems like the Post Office is moving in the wrong direction.

SAWB

February 7th, 2013
5:51 pm

So, how will stopping Saturday deliveries save any money unless they eliminate jobs? If they do not eliminate any jobs what will those extra employees do?

I was given a tour of the Boggs Road Postal Facility and I can tell you it was one sad site. There were a number of employees simply standing around doing nothing, but because of Union rules they cannot find them “something to do” like most companies would. Also, on the flip side the management makes an art out of spying on employees and assuring they follow those same rules. It does appear that the Union has ruined the culture at the USPS and is preventing any significant reform or cost reductions.