Postal Service: More than 7,000 postmasters, mail handlers could take buyouts (but clerks are still waiting)
The early numbers are in and it appears that as many as 7,400 postmasters and full-time mail handlers could be headed for the exits under separate buyout/early retirement offers from the U.S. Postal Service.
For both groups, the sign-up deadline was Monday. Although applicants can still back out, the Postal Service anticipates that between 3,800 to 4,200 postmasters could resign or retire in response to the $20,000 buyout incentive, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said today. The Postal Service is offering full-time mail handlers $15,000 to take the money and run; between 2,800 and 3,200 may go, Saunders said.
One thing is clear: Proportionately, the early-out option has been a much better sell among the nation’s 21,000 postmasters than its roughly full-time 43,000 mail handlers.
FedLine can only speculate on the reasons, but a couple of factors may be in play. This is the first buyout offer for postmasters since 1992, while mail handlers went through a similar drill just three years ago. The postmaster incentive package is obviously a better deal, besides which many postmasters risk losing their jobs by late 2014 under the Postal Service’s plan to cut customer service hours at thousands of post offices.
Officials at the National League of Postmasters and the National Association of Postmasters of the United States did not respond to requests for comment.
Keep in mind, too, that the potential takers represent less than two percent of the Postal Service’s career workforce, currently around 541,000 employees.
While any kind of buyout is better than what employees in many troubled industries receive, there’s nonetheless a human toll here. Retirement is retirement, and that usually means a big drop in income. One postmaster opting not to take the buyout is Tony Sampson, who runs a P.O. in a struggling corner of southern Ohio. As Sampson told Federal Times last month, good-paying jobs there are scarce and his pension–if he chose to retire at age 53–would barely cover his house payment.
“I’ve got to hang on,” Sampson said in a phone interview today. “I don’t have any choice but try to last two years and try to find a job somewhere.”
Still no word from either the the Postal Service or the American Postal Workers Union on when (or if) a buyout offer is coming for clerks. The APWU has confirmed informal talks on the subject, but the word is that a formal offer has become entangled in a dispute over whether the Postal Service is abiding by provisions in last year’s contract to bring some work now done by contractors back in house.
Brace for a brouhaha: The U.S. Postal Service is seeking more freedom to close post offices with a package of sure-to-be-controversial proposals coming out in Thursday’s Federal Register.
The half-dozen proposed rules changes will help the struggling mail carrier “responsibly address issues pertaining to declining mail volume, customer demand and revenue shortfalls,” USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We look forward to the 30-day comment period,” she added.
The proposals are already available online and postal officials have scheduled a Thursday media briefing to further explain the new approach. One can presume, however, that their overarching goal is to make it easier to prune a vast retail network that isn’t shrinking nearly as fast as as mail volume.
At present, for example, the Postal Service is barred from closing post offices solely to save money. Although the new proposal doesn’t appear to explicitly end that prohibition, it would allow postal officials to look at shuttering facilities suffering from “insufficient customer demand” or where communities have other ways of reasonably getting postal services.
Even before the proposed changes are officially public, however, resistance is already afoot. Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters, said Tuesday that his organization will be strongly opposed. Also upset is the Association of United States Postal Lessors, which represents landlords who rent space to the Postal Service.
If “this change is adopted, we can anticipate that nearly all of rural post offices will disappear in no time and a significant number of postal stations located in lower- income areas of cities and towns will also disappear rapidly,” Mario Principe, the association’s director of lessor affairs, said in a statement.
Particularly interesting to parse will be the reaction from Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are perhaps the biggest single roadblock to closing post offices, which are often cherished–albeit money-losing–community institutions. But prominent House Republicans are now insisting that the Postal Service get its finances in order, in part by clamping down on employee pay and benefits. Will lawmakers be similarly hard-nosed when it comes to politically valuable postal real estate?