Postal Unions will mobilize Thursday with a national call-in to Senators to prevent what they see as counter-productive changes to the postal service as well as for the passage of a COVID-19 relief bill. Changes in procedures initiated by the new Postmaster General in July sparked the mobilization. The National Association of Letter Carriers and other postal unions believe that these changes have slowed mail delivery.
To understand the changes, one needs some understanding of how the process of mail delivery has worked. Mail is delivered to postal stations were it is sorted by the carrier for delivery to individual addresses. After that, the carrier the goes out on their route to actually deliver the mail.
BaLynda Croy, vice president and education director of the Wisconsin State Association of Letter Carriers, explained the changes, saying “The first thing that we are seeing, that is being already implemented, are transportation changes, specifically when mail is left behind at the sorting or processing center, or on the floor of the delivery station, we are seeing these delays happening already. Another thing that they are looking to implement is the Expedited Streets/Afternoon Sortations test. This is a test that has been announced and will be implemented in six stations within our district. Essentially, this means that a majority of unsorted mail will be left behind to be sorted at the end of a carrier’s day, instead of at the beginning. So it will be delivered tomorrow.”
The total work load for the carrier does not change, but the new sequence of the work does lead to delays. Croy also says that it leads to issues in scheduling.
“The scheduling of carriers who would normally work their day off, the scheduling is needing approval from outside our local facilities. What this means is that the managers who are normally assuring the staffing needs are needing permission to do that. Vacant routes due to scheduled vacations, or COVID leave, or unexpected illnesses and injuries, and management isn’t receiving those permissions,” Croy said.
This has resulted in some carriers working until after 10pm as well as other delays.
“Routes are being left undelivered. And mail was delivered this past Sunday to get out what was left behind last week.”
According to Croy, customers of the USPS are already seeing and could continue to see reduced service. She says, “The most devasting impacts that we are seeing as a result of this is to the customers. Customers aren’t receiving the service that they have already paid to receive. This includes those who have outbound letters and packages in their mailboxes. If we aren’t out delivering in their area, we aren’t getting those items into the mailstream in a timely manner for them. And this is already happening as a result of some of the instructions that have been handed down.”
The union attributes some of the changes to a misplaced belief that the postal service should be run like a business and make a profit. Postal management believes that the USPS should use lean manufacturing and six sigma type measurement systems in current use by such firms as FedEx or Amazon. According to websites for both the USPS and Six Sigma, the USPS has been a customer and user of lean six sigma practices.
However, Croy puts it this way, “The problem that I’m seeing with these measures is that the US Postal Service is not a private company, we are public service. And even if we were a private company, when you are working with six sigma and lean manufacturing practices, you do not cut the core of your business, and the core of our business is customer service.”
Federal unions are prohibited from striking. Political participation by Federal union members is strictly controlled by the Hatch Act. However the NALC is not remaining silent. They are organizing and mobilizing their members and people outside their membership.
“What we’re hoping to happen is to be able to sit down with management and other unions to develop an actionable plan that will make the necessary systematic changes while also preserving the sanctity of the service we provide. I cannot stress enough, it is ingrained in our marrow, that we deliver to every door, every day,” said Croy.
The NALC is also part of a nationwide coalition of unions and community groups called the US Mail is not for sale. On July 23rd there will be a national call in day of action to urge Senators to approve desperately needed relief for the USPS.
Image: A photograph of USPS delivery trucks parked in a parking lot. Photograph from user Ron Doke on Flickr (license)