Monday, August 29, 2011

A short note on the United States Postal Service 

My oft-repeated view that we need a long-term plan to wind down the United States Postal Service is unpopular even on this blog. Still, I can't resist this link:

The U.S. Postal Service, expecting $7 billion in losses this year amid slumping mail volume, is still paying thousands of its workers millions of dollars each year to do nothing.

But it’s paying tens of millions of dollars less for “standby time” than it did just two years ago, according to a new report.

Long-standing labor agreements with two major postal unions prohibit the Postal Service from laying off or reassigning workers because of broken equipment or periods of low mail volume. Instead, idled employees show up for work, sit in a break room or cafeteria and do nothing.

It's as though the Sopranos negotiated that contract, only better.

Time was, people would blush wanting to be paid to do nothing.

An idea: The next time the union contracts come up for negotiation the USPS should play hardball on such crazy work rules and eat the strike. Then we will see how much people miss getting the mail. I am fairly sure I will not miss it at all.


By Anonymous Ralph Gizzip, at Mon Aug 29, 12:07:00 PM:

The USPS management playing hardball?!? Surely you can't be serious. We've seen time and again how "effective" negotiations have been with public sector unions.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Mon Aug 29, 02:22:00 PM:

Having idle workers get paid for "doing nothing" isn't necessarily a sin against capitalism and morality. Someone has to bear the risk of "broken equipment or periods of low mail volume." That sounds like it's better "managed" by management than the post office worker. I'm not defending "money for nothing". The post office workers here have to show up and be on call. This should be managed "down", and it looks like the Post Office is in fact managing it "down".

It's very different when you had General Motors paying idled plant workers for years to do nothing, often at higher hourly wages than its new hires who were actually producing. Or suspended New York City teachers getting full pay to show up at the "rubber room".

In part you're picking on the USPO because it's one of the few parts of the federal government with private-sector-like performance metrics. But the mission of the USPO is larger than a private sector equivalent.

A lot of folks in the private sector are in jobs where their efforts can't be measured well by performance metrics. They tend to have lots of idle downtime. They get paid in part just for being there.

Once again, could the USPO be managed better? Yes! Are they the worst offending part of government? Far from it!

So why the hate? Once upon a time, did you not get your secret Ovaltine decoder ring in the mail?  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Mon Aug 29, 05:04:00 PM:

I'm not sure I see the hate for wanting to see an unnecessary organization go the way of the dodo. Sounds to me like more of the same: Progressive ad hominem attack, while carefully avoiding the issue actually at hand.

Lose the USPS, and let competitive private enterprise handle the mail delivery. It already does for everything other than first class mail, does it better, and without taxpayer subsidy.

I stand with TH in his minority. (Where's the affermative action love, by the way?)

Eric Hines  

By Blogger gaultfalcon, at Mon Aug 29, 06:15:00 PM:

Make it private. Let UPS and FedEx buy the portions of the business that can be made viable. Leave the caucus for the vultures.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 29, 06:48:00 PM:

Having worked for a short time at the USPS, I am perplexed as to how they could tell the difference from a union member working and one who's on "standby time". I was non-union and the only time I was ever repremended was when I worked too fast.

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Mon Aug 29, 07:30:00 PM:

I always enjoy the Post Office posts. (Can I say that? I guess I just did.)

I will point out that USPS management can only do things until Congress overrides them. PO closings and Sat deliveries both being cases in point. Congressmen don't like hearing from constituents about PO closings and an end to Sat deliveries.

In light of the flack they receive from their voters over putative changes to the system, one wonders if Congress feels drastic changes to the USPS are simply not worth the political hassle?  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Mon Aug 29, 11:16:00 PM:

OK, I'll get even more nerdish:

1) A few years ago my day job got me into monitoring the laws that Congress actually enacted. Before O&Co got total control, I was actually surprised by what I saw: Congress enacted the budget, and usually "not much else" of consequence. Better than half the permanent laws enacted by Congress were actually the naming of post offices after local famous personages. e.g. the Ava Gardner Memorial Post Office in Smithfield, North Carolina, a town she couldn't have gotten out of fast enough.

The "not much else" enacted by Congress could sometimes have profound and far-reaching consequences -- usually not foreseen when adopted -- e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002. But besides passing the budget, in a typical year Congress would actually enact few laws of consequence.

On reflection, I saw this to be a good thing. In particular, naming post offices kept our Congresscritters busy, and gave some of them something to go home with. We still have a lot of post offices we can name. Anything to keep our Congresscritters away from playing with matches.

[This insight also informs my fear of the ultimate outcome of all the legislation that O&Co got enacted. It's decades worth by comparison to prior years. But they never managed to pass a budget, which used to be routine.]

2) We need a a reason to touch and be touched by our federal government that doesn't involve the TSA or the IRS. I'm a little "l" libertarian, not an anarchist.

3) Biddeford Pool, Maine 04007. It doesn't even have 300 year-round residents, but it deserves its own zip code and little post office. I have spoken.  

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