Contribute to USPS Woes
(This article first appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
We are struck by the sorry condition of the country in general, and the condition of the Postal Service in particular, and we wonder how we ended up in this position.
It is apparent to us that the country got in this predicament because of deregulation of the financial markets, which led to a breakdown of the lines between investment banks and commercial banks, and the issuance of too many loans, which many people are unable to repay due to a decrease in property values or unemployment.
Some of our country’s Fortune 500 companies are implementing massive layoffs, and the collapse of financial markets leaves us unsure whether the $700-billion government bailout will bring us back. Hopefully, it will free up the movement of capital and ease the pressures on stock prices, which have affected everyone. Even if you do not invest in the market, virtually all pension plans are tied to the stock market. This has a severely adverse effect on our economy.
Close to Home
When we look at the USPS and its treatment of Postal Vehicle Service, we see the same sort of phenomena that led to the economic collapse: unregulated practices. In the case of the Motor Vehicle Craft, the unregulated practices involve subcontracting.
The Postal Service is eager to contract out our work whether it will be cost effective or not. As a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found, USPS managers cannot demonstrate that they save money through subcontracting.
PS Forms 5505, which are used to make cost-comparisons between PVS and private contractors, do not give an accurate account; they consistently elevate MVS costs. The Postal Service has put the burden of costs that should be placed on the Highway Contract Route ledger on us, which drives up our costs per mile and the cost of MVS Craft work in general. The result is a PVS operation that appears to be very inefficient.
It is amazing that while the USPS has employees who are fairly young and who will be on the rolls for quite some time, management gives away work that these drivers need to remain gainfully employed. Anyone who has had a trucking company or has worked for one realizes that an enterprise can make money only while the trucks “roll.” To park trucks while subcontracting work ultimately renders the operation inefficient and unprofitable. We see it from coast to coast: MVS employees sitting in the swing room and performing no useful function while our trucks are sitting idle in the yard. It’s a waste of money and time.
The amount of work that typically is subcontracted out of a Vehicle Maintenance Facility is outrageous. If it did not have such serious implications, it would be laughable. For instance, the Postal Service will pay $300 to $500 to have a contractor tow a large truck, when they have a tow truck on hand and employees on duty to perform this work. (This is true even when relatively short distances are involved.)
But when you are paying that kind of money, it doesn’t matter whether the trucks are far away or nearby, it would still be more cost-effective to have the work done by postal employees. When work is contracted out for $80 to $100 an hour and even higher, it just does not make sense. There are competent MVS employees on site, with trucks available that do not need to be transported.
The problem is not limited to MVS, of course. Mail volume is down, yet the Postal Service continues to push more mail out of the postal system and into private mailing houses. As a result, virtually none of the mail processing facilities are operating anywhere close to full processing capacity. You would think the Postal Service would be trying to make use of its own space, equipment, and personnel instead of shifting the work elsewhere.
You have to wonder what the Postal Service is planning in terms of a long-term strategy: It’s almost like it has a program to make the system so inefficient that Congress will step in, break up the USPS, sell off key parts, and shut down some portions.
Despite the odds, we are actually hopeful about the future, in part because we now have more friends in Congress and, of course, in the White House.
Winds of Disaster
We have passed through another hurricane season and are very fortunate that we only had one major hurricane hit the continental United States in 2008.
The reason we bring this up is that once again we went through the season without the Postal Service officially stating at what point during a high-wind storm it is too dangerous to operate a commercial vehicle.
How hard must the wind be blowing? How high must wind speeds be before it is too dangerous for our drivers to pull an empty 11-ton truck or an empty trailer? Empty trucks and trailers can be flipped over by high winds. It is not a common occurrence, but it is also not a rare occurrence. It is a dangerous situation not just for the driver, but for the public in general.
The Postal Service always claims that safety is its first concern, yet it has not been willing to discuss this issue with the APWU. We plan to press them on this, however, and maybe by next year’s hurricane season we will have some results. Since it is a danger for everybody, we are asking that local MVS employees ask their managers for a standard operating- procedure document on the policies covering postal-vehicle operation in wind storms.
It is imperative that we receive credit for all the mail and equipment that we transport, so “scanning” remains a critical issue for the MVS Division. Most of the audits are done electronically, off-site, so it really can be a problem for us when there is no verification on site of our actual loads.
Quite simply, we need to make sure that what we move gets entered into the system. The Postal Service has not responded to our inquiries regarding whether everything is actually being scanned.
This is a serious issue that impacts the fight to keep our work. So we ask again that you please keep pressing your local management on this issue: Make consistent contact with whoever is doing the scanning, and make sure they are doing it with actual site verification, and not from a book, where bar codes represent each truck. Scanning from a book could mean that individual loads would never be verified.
When loads are documented only by the bar codes, it is a type of falsification of postal forms and is a very serious offense as far as the union is concerned. Please be vigilant and assure that everything we pull is scanned into the system so we can receive proper credit.