USPS Plays the Perception Game

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(This article appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Greg Bell, Executive Vice President

On May 17, the Postal Service announced that it would begin implementing a “new” network consolidation plan. Unfortunately, the new plan is the same as the old plan.

In February, the USPS announced that it had approved 223 mail processing facilities for consolidation, with six more still under study. On May 17, we learned that the Postal Service intends to consolidate 48 plants before Aug. 31, take a break during the fall mailing season, and then consolidate another 92 plants beginning in January 2013. Management intends to consolidate 89 additional plants by the end of 2014 — for a total of 229 mail processing facilities. The bottom line is the same as it ever was: Cut the current mail processing network of 461 plants in half.

Management is playing a perception game, creating the illusion that all post offices and most mail processing facilities will remain open — to give employees, customers and elected officials a false sense of security.

And the false sense of security is designed to undermine efforts to pass legislation that would prevent the USPS from slashing service and cutting workers’ benefits.

Senate Acts

On April 25, the Senate passed a bi-partisan postal reform bill, S.1789. But several additional steps must be taken before a postal reform bill can become law: The House of Representatives must approve a bill; a conference committee must resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill; both chambers must pass the conference version, and the president must sign it into law.

Although S.1789 is not perfect, it is far better than the original Senate bill and H.R. 2309, the bill that was approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), would destroy the Postal Service as we know it.

Among other things, the Senate bill would add some protection from closures for post offices and mail processing facilities, and allow for greater community input in decisions. It also would give the Postal Regulatory Commission authority to reverse improper USPS decisions on these issues. This means that individual AMP studies would be subject to appeal. This is of major importance.

In addition, the bill would provide limited protection for service standards for three years. This is an improvement over the original bill, which did nothing to preserve service standards. However, we are still seeking stronger service protections in the House. Maintaining existing service standards is essential to preserving the Postal Service and postal jobs.

As of the writing as this article, the APWU continues to urge the House of Representatives to address postal reform immediately, and to use the Senate bill as a starting point.

However, this is the last thing the Postal Service wants.

A Sea of Doubt

We previously reported that in testimony before the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) in March, the USPS was forced to admit that initial research on the network consolidation plan indicated the plan could result in revenue losses of $5.3 billion, with net revenue losses as high as $1.9 billion. Revenue losses of that magnitude would virtually wipe out any cost savings derived from the plan, which the USPS initially projected to be $2.1 billion. In addition, recently completed Area Mail Processing (AMP) feasibility studies indicate far smaller savings.

How did postal officials respond? Simple: They came up with a “new” plan.

We also reported that the PRC issued an advisory opinion in December 2011 that challenged the methodology the Postal Service used in developing the plan to close more than 3,600 retail facilities by 2015. The PRC concluded that the USPS lacked sufficient data for determining which closures would reduce costs the most and lacked sufficient data and analysis to make the best decisions. The PRC review of community challenges to post office closings reveals “a pattern of inaccurate and overly optimistic economic savings calculations and of careless disregard of community concerns.”

Did the Postal Service return to the PRC with sufficient data or change its methodology to justify closing the retail facilities? No. With stiff opposition to closing processing facilities and post offices and the adoption of a bill in the Senate, the USPS came up with a “new” plan for rural post offices — one designed to give the impression that they will remain open.

New Strategy for Rural Post Offices

On May 9, 2012, USPS announced a “new” strategy that allegedly would preserve rural post offices by reducing retail hours (by 2 to 6 hours) to match customer use. The new strategy is intended to give elected officials representing areas with rural post offices a false sense of security. Lobby and P.O. Box access would remain unchanged, and the zip code and community identity would be retained. Unfortunately, this new strategy includes providing delivery service in affected communities either by rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local business to create a Village Post Office; offering service at a nearby Post Office, or cutting hours so drastically that service will be destroyed.

As many as 13,000 post offices are being evaluated, including the 3,600 that were targeted for closure in July 2011. The USPS intends to seek an advisory opinion on the plan from the PRC. Community meetings would then be conducted to review options in greater detail. Nothing so far indicates anything contrary to their end game to close post offices.

Political heat from members of Congress and outrage from impacted communities seems to have prompted the Postal Service to create an illusion. The illusion that management’s goal is to keep post offices open is intended to cool down opponents to USPS plans to dismantle the postal network and avoid permanent restrictions in law.

The Postal Service has offered so many “new,” “revised” and “modified” strategies in the last year that one thing is clear: Management will change its plans at will. To protect our interests and the interests of postal customers, we must demand protections in the law.

We must persuade Congress to act now. No one can predict what the outcome will be. But our struggle to Save America’s Postal Service is far from over. We must keep up the fight. 

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