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January 05, 2012

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How about the impact of cheap and plentiful bulk mail? I think that deserves some mention. We are not looking at absolutes about whether the postal service can survive, but we should ask whether it effectively serves a vital purpose in modern times.

One national shame piled upon another.

I actually agree here with ptb here. The Dems need to be the party of smart government not big government. I don't think the 3 lbs. of paper advertising that gets dumped on my property and I must sift through every day "knits the community together".

Comparing the USPS to transit and intercity train service is not a good strategy. To me, the latter is an immensely more important investment for the government.

If the government ("us") properly subsidized it, then our mailboxes wouldn't necessarily need to be stuffed with such massive corporate junk-mailings, which are, after all, helping pay for the Postal Service, in its current quasi-privatized manifestation.

Not that they wouldn't take the money anyway, but I'm just saying...

I understand the nostalgia of this Jon but given I am a tree hugger I am for whatever keeps are forests healthy and plentiful. I think the New York would look really great if it was like it was 500 years ago. So I think we should have been following the German lead. Kinda like they are doing away with nuclear and lead in solar production. If they just have learned not to start wars.

One of these days my on-topic comment will actually appear. The last two comments haven't -- I've had to get Mr. Talton to post them.

Meanwhile, if anyone is interested in seeing the "71 percent of illegal immigrants use welfare" stat that appeared in a letter in today's Arizona Republic, you can read my response at this link:

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2012/01/05/20120105-utah-compact-bad-idea-arizona.html

The right likes to contrast the success of UPS with the USPS, but it's interesting to note that UPS drivers are unionized (Teamsters) and make remarkably good wages. I know one driver who makes, including overtime, 100K a year.

Duing college, I worked at the PO, and it was a rude introduction to modern life. I would sit at a letter-sorting machine punching out zip codes for an eight-hour shift excluding OT. By the third or fourth hour, I'd start hallucinating. There's simply no way human beings are meant to do something so mind-numbing without going bonkers.

But I was paid handsomely. When I finally quit, I felt nearly rich. USPS had just been created and the union wages were good. The post office has been traditionally been seen as an employer of the last resort, but with jobs that paid at middle-class income levels, the work was coveted by more than dead-enders. As with so many other middle-class dreams, the loss of these jobs is just one more sign that right-wing ideology trumps virtually every human concern.

I'm of the mind that it's better to overpay middle-class drudgery than underpay it. Anything that keeps American society intact is a blessing we discount at our own peril. When we overpay "producers" like real-estate sharpies or Wall Street titans, we're not really helping society so much as cannibalizing its choicest cuts for a select few. At some point, we have to check out impulse to begrudge the wages of our neighbor. If we don't all have a stake in this system, we're damaging our ability to remain a coherent and trusting nation.

The right rules by dividing and conquering. They tell the middle class that the poor are stealing all their tax dollars. The visuals are usually quite convincing: young blacks in a Philly flash mob, for example. But the price we pay for this manipulation is a continual erosion of economic security for everyone below the 90th percentile. At some point, we have to decide who the greater threat is: a young black buck buying steaks with food stamps, or the rich venture capitalist buying a company in order to gut it and sell off its parts.

This is an excellent post by Mr. Talton.

Is the Post Office under attack because of the postal workers union? Mr. Talton has linked to articles that suggest that the Republicans hate the Post Office just because of the postal worker's union.

I think it is true. The Powers That Be (represented by the Republicans) want to destroy good jobs. They hate it when Americans earn high wages and get pensions. Therefore, as a result, the Post Office must be destroyed.

I have been told by Postal workers that the Post Office's "losses" are really bookkeeping tricks imposed by politicians. They also claim that the bulk mail sent out by businesses should cost more -- businesses are just not charged enough. If the charges for bulk mail more accurately corresponded with the cost of handling that mail, then the charges would be higher and businesses would likely use it less.

Let's end the socialism provided to business owners (cheap mailings subsidized by taxpayers.

It is stupid to eliminate hundreds of thousands of good jobs in a country that doesn't have enough jobs. The most significant problem facing the US is a huge lack of jobs. Cutting Post Office jobs makes this problem worse.

The Republicans always have the same approach to economic problems -- when the haystack is on fire, pour on more hay.

Contrariwise, if the US fired all the current postal employees, and replaced them with illegal immigrants who make $4 an hour, without benefits, the Republicans would love the US Post Office. If 3/4 the mail was lost or diverted, the Republicans wouldn't give a flip. The Republicans would probably like to provide bulk mail services for corporations at no charge, but forget about mailing a personal letter.

Thanks for this, Mr. Talton. The dominant media meme is one of declining mail volume (and thus declining revenues from stamped and metered mail).

While it's true that mail volume has declined, it's also true that it remains at levels that, in earlier decades, seemed to work just fine.
Total mail volume in 2011 was 168 million pieces, which is slightly more than was the case in 1992.

Note that total mail volume has really declined since the recession: the high point was 2006 with 213 million, and almost identical in 2007 (the recession began in December of that year) at 212 million.

Note also that every year from 2000 through 2006 shows the USPS with income larger than expenses. That isn't surprising, since it was the Postal Act of 2006 (the Bush-era law alluded to by Mr. Talton) that caused the accounting problems.

http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/pieces-of-mail-since-1789.pdf

In 2011 the USPS handled about 74 million pieces of First-class mail; you have to go all the way back to 1985 to get a similar number (note that 1982 was the last year that the post office received a public service subsidy), but nobody said the sky was falling then. For First-class mail, the high point was 2001 with 104,000 pieces of mail, and the last non-recession year, 2007, saw 96,000 pieces handled, which was comparable to 1995.

http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/first-class-mail-since-1926.pdf

So, it really doesn't appear to be about declining mail volume.

More general stats (including historical rates) can be reached from this page:

http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/rates-historical-statistics.htm

Those who just can't get enough detailed information about this can find a wealth of information here:

http://about.usps.com/studying-americans-mail-use/household-diary/usps-hds-fy08.htm

I'm very appreciative of the Post Office. When I'm at work - the mailman is a reliable set of eyes in my neighborhood each day, who will spot anything "funny" going on. I've used the mailman's help to deter my mail from being stolen. When daily delivery is gone, there will be one less person watching over my neighborhood. - Another example of the progressive atomization of our society!

From a friend.

As a part owner in a mailing company I am intimately aware of the problems with the USPS.

The most profitable part of the post office business is what is now called pre sort standard, used to be bulk and what you call junk mail.

To service this portion of their clientele the post office requires us to stand in the same line to deposit our postage for the day (which may be upwards of $10,000) as the person buying one stamp or mailing one package.

We then have to go around the building and clock into a receiving dock. If we are one minute late clocking in we are turned away until the following day.

We then have to wait at the dock until the postal employees call us to check in the mail. If we have other than post card or letter mail, i.e. flats or packages we then have to drive across town to another facility to off load there.

Mailing companies start early in the day and process mail until the last minute they can leave to make the check in deadline. The post office as it's budget has been reduced has shortened hours at the bulk facilities. How did they shorten hours? They close earlier. Since we are all working to make the deadline it would be much more customer friendly to open later and keep the dock open as late a possible. Not our post office.

Lastly the USPS owns the largest fleet of vehicles and is the largest owner of property in the US but their biggest expense is labor and that is the one thing they do not address. Some 11,000 postal employees are paid every day to be on call. This means they are at home and if they are not needed they are paid anyway.

If the post office were operated like for example UPS or FedEx they would treat the mailing companies as valued customers not as an unwanted additional cause for more work for the employees.

During the Christmas rush the post office hires thousands of contract workers that tend to treat the customers better and are more productive than the regular employees who are governed by the union contract and are restricted from producing more than the union approved output.

A few years ago a private group approached the USPS with an offer to buy the mail service with all the facilities and vehicles. The caveat however was they would not buy the union contracts. They would replace the employees with a more productive work force. The offer was refused.


Thank you.


Thom

"union approved output."

What is this, exactly? Is there such a thing? Anyone?

Honest question.

Maybe its like cops dont have ticket quotas????

"A few years ago a private group approached the USPS with an offer to buy the mail service with all the facilities and vehicles."

This sounds like a joke. What private company would offer to buy a branch of the United States Government?

No private company would offer to take over USPS services because free rural mail service is a profit breaker, as are other aspects of USPS operations which have vital social value but would not be attractive to shareholders in a private corporation.

"To service [bulk mail clients] the post office requires us to stand in the same line to deposit our postage for the day (which may be upwards of $10,000) as the person buying one stamp or mailing one package."

Deposit your postage? Bulk mail uses meters (leased) and permit imprints. Any business using meters to mail in bulk has their own metering equipment. Payment is arranged by setting up an account, paid in advance, not made in person at a post office with each mailing.

USPS: "The key to permit imprint is identical weight pieces. Generally, all of your mailpieces must weigh exactly the same. Why? Because you don’t have postage affixed, the Postal Service has to verify the number of pieces in your mailing. We do this by weighing individual pieces and your entire mailing to check the number of pieces and calculate the postage you owe. . . When you bring your mailing to the Post Office the total postage is deducted from your account. It’s like having a checking account at the Post Office."

http://pe.usps.com/businessmail101/postage/permitImprint.htm

Perhaps the writer means "mail our bulk mailings". Bulk mailers certainly do NOT stand "in the same line as" ordinary customers. When was the last time you saw a forklift behind you in line at the Post Office?

"During the Christmas rush the post office hires thousands of contract workers that tend to treat the customers better and are more productive than the regular employees who are governed by the union contract and are restricted from producing more than the union approved output."

Bulk mail is all pre-sorted and placed in containers by zip, with a manifest attached -- this is all done by the sender; and once delivered to the bulk mail center, the process is as automated as it gets. I don't see how contract employees could be any more efficient than union employees in such work.

Also, how does the writer know who is a contract worker and who is a regular employee and union member?

"If the post office were operated like for example UPS or FedEx they would treat the mailing companies as valued customers not as an unwanted additional cause for more work for the employees."

If the USPS were operated like UPS or FedEx they would charge the mailing companies a great deal more.

Who is "Thom" and why can't he post his own remarks?

Petro wrote:

" 'union approved output'

"What is this, exactly? Is there such a thing? Anyone?"

In the past (and today in non-unionized workplaces) employers -- who want to pay as few workers as possible as little as possible for a given level of production -- worked laborers beyond the limits of endurance, turning work into a daily hell for those required to meet quotas or be fired; often there was a great deal of turnover and new workers were worked until they too were "used up".

Some old manufacturing contracts had union negotiated clauses which limited output to sane and safe standards consistent with the level of pay motivating the workforce. I have no idea if the USPS unions have any such bargaining agreement with the US Government.

Muchas gracias, Emil.

I e mailed Jons blog to a number of "conservative" folks I know. Consequently I posted the above from Thom to see what your responses would be. I will forward your responses to him and see if he would like to participate.

As a follow-up to that, Emil - one would think that if an individual voluntarily exceeded the output ceiling there would not be a violation, or any complaints...?

On the other hand, I do recall a couple of temp gigs of mine as a programmer where I was called in and admonished to chill out on my productivity - once for generating some bristling on the part of the permanent staff, and another because I was "embarrassing" the supervisor who had estimated the length of time I was supposed to take to finish a project. Different reasons, of course, but still...

I would pay extra to have junk mail not delivered.

That kind of fee could be a budget balancer.

USPS get more $$$.

I get carbon credits to spend at Circle K for beer.

Wez! Wez!!!!

Don't know about holding up the German postal service (Deutsche Post AG) as an example. It was privatized in 1995 and it acquired DHL in the early 2000s.

I can attest from visiting Germany last year that the post office in my ancestral town (population 11,000) was closed by Deutsche Post AG some years ago, and that the German equivalent of our first-class mail is expensive.

In my travels I never actually encountered a post office in Germany. One seems to buy stamps through retail outlets such as pharmacies.

I have no doubt that the service is efficient -- it is Germany, after all -- but the German postal service is hardly a public good anymore. It is a private enterprise delivering a range of products and services.

The USPS, I suppose some would say, has been hamstrung because it is neither fish nor fowl, and because all the wrong things have been incentivized.

A commenter noted that a private group had expressed interest in buying the USPS. Perhaps they were casting a glance across the Atlantic at Deutsche Post AG and seeing a similar opportunity here.

The 2007 "Forever Stamp" was the death knell: the admission that the blood had ceased moving and rigor mortis had begun. Just as for romantic relationships, as soon as "forever" is whispered into the lover's ear, the once-infinite horizon rapidly constricts to squeeze and shrivel the heart.

Dulce Nada your writing is a sweet as your name.

Actually, the "forever" stamp was an attempt by the USPS to gratify the needs of its customers -- something they supposedly have no interest in (see "Thom" above). There had been a large number of rate increases and customers were tired of having to purchase make-up stamps.

I have a comment on the German "privatization" of postal services but the software here will not allow me to post it. Expect to see a version posted by Mr. Talton (probably with paragraphs improperly formatted).

Deutsche Post AG (a private corporation which superceded the government owned Deutsche Bundespost) isn't a true example of privatization anyway: a closer analogy would be the "exclusively licensed" public-private arrangements which dominated England during the monarchist period.

For example, the company was granted an official letter monopoly on items up to 50 or 100 grams (the limit was changed). This was in exchange for continuing "universal service". Also, special status was given to the company "because other EU nations refused to allow foreign enterprises the right to deliver mail."

The monopoly expired in 2008 but the new arrangements have in effect protected the monopoly anyway: the company is exempt from the value-added tax (unlike its competitors). The company does not have to pay accident insurance for its employees (unlike its competitors).

The company also used its special position and influence to "dictate high minimum wages for the private post office enterprises, which no longer allowed them to fairly compete."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_monopoly

Given all this, it is hardly surprising that German mail service is expensive and that post-offices (which are labor intensive) are few and far between (per Mr. Schallan above).

After all, a private company wants to maximize profits for shareholders and it wants to minimize labor costs.

That means higher prices and less service, especially for services where profit margins are low or non-existent and competition does not force companies to offer them anyway to attract or retain a customer base.

Only strong competition (insured by vigorous government anti-trust oversight) could prevent this: but a patchwork of hundreds of small mail delivery companies is exactly the opposite of a national mail service, so success in anti-trust means duplication of administrative overhead and the end of economies of scale and -- you guessed it -- inevitably higher prices and less service than the government was able to provide when it operated the (regular) mails exclusively. This on top of the fact that some services are universally unprofitable for private companies and so will not be met by a "free market" regardless of competition.

Emil Pulsifier belched, "Actually, the 'forever' stamp was [blah, blah, didacticisms, blah, blah, blah]"

They should have more honestly called it, "The End of Days Stamp".

And Don Quixote should have named his horse Dulcinea instead of Rocinante.

Es cuestión de despecho.

You go, Emil. Thanks for knocking the nonsense purveyed by "Thom"(??). I actually WORK for the PO. I have never heard such a bunch of crazy. I have both clerked at a small PO and I am presently an RCA (substitute rural carrier). Us rural carriers deliver the mail in our own cars (compensated by a mileage allowance). We are paid a set amount for delivering the day's mail, no matter how long it actually takes us. If your particular rural route has been evaluated by management at 8 hours, then that's what you are paid for, no matter how much mail there is today (and it varies wildly from one day to the next), or what you run into in the way of delays on the route. This is the same for subs or regulars. Overtime starts for a regular after 56 hours in a week, or 12 hours in a day.
I've never heard of a bulk mailer standing in line - the local church with 100 bulletins maybe, but the bulk mailers have an account that their postage is taken out of. They fund this account periodically by writing a check. I know - I had to do the bookkeeping.
As for being paid for being "on call",
I have no idea what he is talking about. I am the sub - I only get paid if I work.
We have 9 paid Federal Holidays off (the regulars get paid, I don't). That's it.
Thom couldn't be more misinformed if he tried.

"And Don Quixote should have named his horse Dulcinea instead of Rocinante."

Or, perhaps, Miguel should have employed the nom de guerre "Non Sequitur" after the swayback whose poor haunches carry the burden of your nescience.

I will try to answer some of the comments.

Approved union output may be somewhat of a misnomer. Basically employees are not encouraged to be more productive but to do what is required and no more.

You are correct the contract employees hired usually do not have direct contact with the public. However we had a shipment of pre sort standard that was dropped in Phoenix and to be delivered in the midwest. Normal time for that is 5 to 7 days. We timeed our drop so that the pices would deliver the first week of January. Insted they were delivered the week between Christmas and New Years. The post office anwser. We have a lot of contract labor during the holidays so things tend to go faster. Contract labor = better service.

The Post Office is not a US Government organization, it is a quasi government organization and could be spun off. The point was that everything was doable except the excessive cost of the union employees and their benifits.

Bulk mail does not stand in the same line to mail as the regular customers, but only to make their postage deposits. The miling companies get the postage from their customers at the time the mail drops at the USPS. They have to put the money into thir postage account before they can drop the mail at the dock. To deposit the postage they do have to stand in the same long line as every other customer. This must be done before pulling a ticket to drop at the dock. If that line makes you late to pull the ticket, then you are sent home and must wait to the next day. We often have to send one person to do the deposit and another to pull the ticket if we are close to the deadline.

The bottom line is that the post office is in trouble because they do not operate efficiently and the main reason is that they are beholden to the unions and their contracts.

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