Just got my quarterly copy of the Postal Service Retiree Newsletter, introducing our new Postmaster, Louis DeJoy! What a go-getter! He was appointed by Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, the chair of the Board of Governors. Mikey was appointed by Donald J. Trump. Gosh, turns out he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2007 to 2009! Clearly this duo will know how to make the Postal Service soar.
DeJoy is quoted here saying the Postal Service is an integral part of the government, but needs to change their expensive, inflexible business model.
So, a mere month in, the talented DeJoy has already pinpointed the main problem: the dang workforce. And the unions won’t let him get rid of it. What a bunch of slackers, sucking up so much overtime. There would be no more overtime paid, by golly. If you can’t get all the mail out on time in a given day, you leave it behind.
But here’s the thing about postal work. People still have to work it. People have to stick their gummy hands on all those individual pieces of mail and jam them and their cooties into your mail slot. If we had enough drones to replace this force, the honeybees would perish of bafflement.
I will admit right here that I don’t know what a lot of people do. I do not know what a Market Research Consultant does, or an OJD Information Technology Specialist, or a Senior Technical Account Manager. I can’t tell if such a person is doing the thing or not. How do you slack in technology specializing? You could be sitting there doing the thing, or you could be just sitting there.
And I don’t know what the folks working from home actually do, either, although–it’s my nature–I do trust they are actually doing something. But postal employees who take their work home are sent to the slammer.
It’s a different kind of job. Old-fashioned. Here’s how it was in my day: every morning, before dawn, we show up at our sorting cases. There are hundreds of one-inch-wide slots representing one or two houses each, and we need to pick trays of letters up off the floor and find little one-inch homes for each letter. Typically, there are three thousand pieces of mail to find homes for. Then we walk out of the station to find their actual homes and stick them in there. It’s basic.
It’s dishwashing. Every day there is a big stack of dirty dishes and we have to clean them all up. The next day there’s a new stack. I didn’t mind. Sisyphus didn’t have a pension, but I do. And it’s satisfying to have a real, honest task to accomplish every day and go home knowing you’ve done it.
But every morning is not the same. Mondays are harder: nothing went out the previous day, and the trays of mail are stacked that much higher. The day after a holiday is a complete mess. If you’re little, like me, you might have to squeeze into your sorting case and sort eight hundred letters before anyone sees the top of your head. The day after Columbus day is the worst of all. Nobody else has the day off but you and bank employees, so everyone else was busy generating mail. Plus, it’s the kickoff to the Christmas catalog season, and election mail has started.
I remember Gerald Ford died right before the New Year’s holiday. We all wondered when his funeral would be, because we’d get that day off too. No way, I thought, they’d make it a Tuesday after we had Sunday and Monday off. That would mean an unprecedented three days of nondelivery, and we might never see our loved ones again. But they did. We were still shoveling our way out over a week later.
The point is this is real work. In that you can’t just wait out the clock. Real mail shows up and real mail needs to get where it’s going.
In 2006, a ridiculous burden was put on our Service, when the W. Bush administration required us to pre-fund health benefits for retirees 75 years into the future. That is extremely expensive, and unnecessary, unless, golly, you’re trying to undermine the Postal Service. Immediately changes were made that affected us. Mail routes come up for bid whenever they become vacant because the carrier bids on another route, or retires. Suddenly a portion of those vacant routes quit coming up for bid. Those routes, through no fault of the poor souls who lived on them, became “auxiliaries.” No one was assigned to them and they were sorted and delivered by committee. Often after dark, all of it.
“Honey, I’m bushed. I’m going to hit the hay. Coming with me?”
“No, you go ahead—I think I’ll wait up for the mail.”
People were pissed. And we carriers who were delivering sections of the route on our overtime had no good answers for the aggrieved customers squinting at their mail by porch light. This is seriously shitty service.
The letter carriers union worked hard for a simple concept: one carrier per mail route. But we did not prevail. It was simply too expensive to hire enough humans–and humans are what is required–since they had to pay retirement benefits so far into the future. It was cheaper to keep a minimal crew and make them work time-and-a-half to deliver poor service. Demoralizing, to say the least.
So when our fine new Postmaster General says no more overtime, in a deliberately understaffed workforce, he means the mail won’t go out. And this ain’t no holiday. Starting now, there’s no catching up. That shit is going to be stacked on the loading dock or warehoused somewhere else and there will be no digging out from under. There aren’t enough people, and in this business, we need people. We already thinned the workforce by automating the mail sorting, but now the sorting machines are being laid off too.
At the end of that little quarterly newsletter, DeJoy says: “We stand on the shoulders of the men and women who built this institution.” Okay then.
It’s not kneeling on our necks, but it’s close.