Post Office has thousands of workers paid for … not working

posted at 3:35 pm on September 30, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Last week, Democrats on Capitol Hill pushed forward with a $4 billion bailout of the US Postal Service, which continues to lose money while business declines.  One reason that the Post Office has such a large deficit may be their labor practices.  The Federal Times reported earlier this month that the USPS pays out an average of 45,000 hours per week of “standby time,” where literally postal employees sit around and do nothing:

The U.S. Postal Service, struggling with a massive deficit caused by plummeting mail volume, spends more than a million dollars each week to pay thousands of employees to sit in empty rooms and do nothing.

It’s a practice called “standby time,” and it has existed for years — but postal employees say it was rarely used until this year. Now, postal officials say, the agency is averaging about 45,000 hours of standby time every week — the equivalent of having 1,125 full-time employees sitting idle, at a cost of more than $50 million per year.

Mail volume is down 12.6 percent compared with last year, and many postal supervisors simply don’t have enough work to keep all employees busy. But a thicket of union rules prevents managers from laying off excess employees; a recent agreement with the unions, in fact, temporarily prevents the Postal Service from even reassigning them to other facilities that could use them.

And let’s not forget — ObamaCare will be just like the Post Office!

If nothing reveals the inefficiency of government or government-subsidized operations, this should.  Under the rules, the Post Office cannot shift employees to other facilities; they have to hire new workers in one place while workers sit idle in another.  Small wonder that the USPS finds itself in a multibillion-dollar hole.

How do the employees like it?  They don’t:

“It’s just a small, empty room. … It’s awful,” said one mail processing clerk who has spent four weeks on standby time this summer. “Most of us bring books, word puzzles. Sometimes we just sleep.”

Employees interviewed said they hate the practice, which relegates them to hours of boredom each day. Postal managers don’t like it, either — but they say declining mail volume makes it necessary. …

Employees are often forbidden from doing almost anything while on standby time. In some facilities, the employees aren’t allowed to do anything they couldn’t normally do on the job. That means no books, no playing cards, no watching television.

Maybe the government should have borrowed them for the Cash for Clunkers program, eh?


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Comment pages: 1 2

Waste and abuse! I guess if they cut the Waste and Abuse they can actually keep the Post Office open. I guess if they addressed the Waste and Abuse in Medicare it would not be going broke. I guess if they cut the Waste and Abuse in Social Security System and put the funds into its own Trust, it would not be going broke either.

You don’t need to vote a Socialist into office to fix this..

Remember to vote in 2010 and 2012

BigMike252 on September 30, 2009 at 6:12 PM

Well, my husband was laid off today after 9 years of service with his employer who has to shut its doors because the “economic rebound” never came.

Thanks, Obama. Whadda hero. Farkface.

Key West Reader on September 30, 2009 at 6:13 PM

Wow, my girl buddy is working loads more hours due to the cutbacks.

She’s pooped! She doesn’t complain, though. It beats unemployment.

AnninCA on September 30, 2009 at 6:29 PM

Call me silly, but if they have all those extra people and they can’t send them home for some senseless reason, why not let them share the workload with the other staff and get more work done in less time? Then they could all share the down time too.

MikeA on September 30, 2009 at 6:36 PM

45,000, eh.

Isn’t that about the same number of reinforcements the generals are asking for in Afghanistan?

Hmmm….

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 30, 2009 at 6:37 PM

Union rules do not allow you to cross crafts. If another clerk isn’t available you can’t use a mail handler to do clerk work.

Terri on September 30, 2009 at 5:35 PM

Yeah cuz that would require 3 years of additional training. A mail handler selling stamps? Why that would be like a heart surgeon performing brain surgery!!

angryed on September 30, 2009 at 6:38 PM

Union rules do not allow you to cross crafts. If another clerk isn’t available you can’t use a mail handler to do clerk work.

Terri on September 30, 2009 at 5:35 PM

Pardon me but that is about the most insane business concept I have ever read. No wonder this country is bottoming out. The unions need to be outlawed alltogether.

MikeA on September 30, 2009 at 6:40 PM

darwin-t on September 30, 2009 at 4:23 PM

When I came to DC to work for the Government nearly thirty years ago, I was told that the US had the best postal system in the world, with the exception of the UK. Competition and an aging workforce with maxed-out pay-step increases has changed that. I suspect the unions are behind any hesitancy to provide retirement incentives. Buyouts in the late 90s made significant reductions elsewhere in the Federal government. They should do the same for the Postal Service.

I think most people have a sense of pride in the work they do, which is why I can believe that enforced standing down would meet with objections. Smart workers know that it’s a bad sign in the long run. So even though my visits to a post office tend to be more or less unpleasant, I’m disinclined to rush to judgment against them. I blame the union officials, and I certainly blame the leadership.

manwithblackhat on September 30, 2009 at 6:44 PM

Again, my friend who delivers mail is experiencing opposite of this article.

Her route has been lengthened. She has to work much harder.

That’s the job.

AnninCA on September 30, 2009 at 6:50 PM

The unions need to be outlawed altogether.

MikeA on September 30, 2009 at 6:40 PM

Agreed. It was a total mistake to allow civil servants at ALL levels of government service to organize. If/when the conservatives ever get any power back they need to eliminate this rule as fast as possible.

Terri on September 30, 2009 at 6:52 PM

Again, my friend who delivers mail is experiencing opposite of this article.

Her route has been lengthened. She has to work much harder.

That’s the job.

AnninCA on September 30, 2009 at 6:50 PM

You are right. This is happening with the carriers in my area too. The excess staff is at the mail handling facilities and plants. Most offices are short staffed on clerks and carriers are stretched thin. I don’t know about administrative facilities. We aren’t near one.

Terri on September 30, 2009 at 6:55 PM

First off, let me call bullsh*t on this story. The post office is current reassigning window and office clerks to anywhere within 500 miles of their current work location or preparing to lay them off. The standby workers are all mail processing clerks (people who run the processing machines, sort packages, etc.), not letter carriers as Ed’s picture would have you believe.

I don’t have problem with talking about stupid, incompetent management within the post office, but at least I’m qualified to do so.

Get your facts straight Ed.

postaldog on September 30, 2009 at 6:56 PM

Again, my friend who delivers mail is experiencing opposite of this article.

Her route has been lengthened. She has to work much harder.

That’s the job.

AnninCA on September 30, 2009 at 6:50 PM

Is there any subject on the planet or event throughout the history of time that you do not have a personal experience to share with us?

My God. It’s Cliff Claven. Has to be. C’mon, show us the beet-abaga. Tell us you don’t have any connection to the moon landings. I dare you.

BobMbx on September 30, 2009 at 7:13 PM

What do the Post Office and a shoe factory have in common?

Lots of loafers.

Mangy Scot on September 30, 2009 at 7:24 PM

Use them to take the census. They are naturals for knowing the neighborhoods.

onlineanalyst on September 30, 2009 at 7:27 PM

Years ago I took some students on a tour of our small metropolitan area post office. It was fascinating to watch the employees type in the zip codes of mail that flew past them at an incredible speed. Once those codes were keyed in, the letters were immediately routed to the correct area (for further processing, I assume).

At any rate, the employees had to maintain a degree of accuracy to keep their positions or else be retrained. To me, the level of stress to do that job well must be high.

onlineanalyst on September 30, 2009 at 7:52 PM

Key West Reader on September 30, 2009 at 6:13 PM

Sorry to hear that KWR. I have a feeling that is going to happen to a lot of us…I keep my fingers crossed for my husband’s job.

yoda on September 30, 2009 at 7:58 PM

Key West Reader on September 30, 2009 at 6:13 PM

Sorry to hear that KWR. I have a feeling that is going to happen to a lot of us…I keep my fingers crossed for my husband’s job.

yoda on September 30, 2009 at 7:58 PM

Ditto that to KWR, and to all the good people who do not deserve the trials of unemployment. Stay strong.

redwhiteblue on September 30, 2009 at 9:01 PM

It is past time to contract out local postal deliveries to private enterprise.

kens on September 30, 2009 at 9:21 PM

First off, let me call bullsh*t on this story. The post office is current reassigning window and office clerks to anywhere within 500 miles of their current work location or preparing to lay them off. The standby workers are all mail processing clerks (people who run the processing machines, sort packages, etc.), not letter carriers as Ed’s picture would have you believe.

postaldog on September 30, 2009 at 6:56 PM

There have been several layoffs in our district and all have been clerks.

Terri on September 30, 2009 at 9:23 PM

… and three Bronx cheers for taking out all the vending machines in post offices!

corona on September 30, 2009 at 11:50 PM

Big deal. Major cities around the country also have hundreds of teachers sitting in rubber rooms playing checkers and reading books while being paid not to teach.

Top that, Post Office!

manofaiki on October 1, 2009 at 7:02 AM

Another thing that this mess indicates is the stupidity of allowing govt employees to unionize.

In the free market, there are competitors who punish wastefull and inefficient companies, either forcing them to straighten up, or driving them out of business.

Govt services are by definition a monopoly. As such, any inefficiency introduced by union work rules is covered by raising taxes. The leech, once attached, cannot be removed until the patient is dead.

MarkTheGreat on October 1, 2009 at 9:10 AM

Back in my Hippy Dippy daze of the 60′s one of many jobs was working for the Post Office in the Postal Center where mail destined for our G.I.s around the world was sorted and sent to the harbor or airport for delivery to its final destination.

The hardest part of the day was to find a place where physical work or any work at all needed to be done. One of my favorite work areas, which I volunteered to work often, was the loading dock. I would work in the van and fill up about a quarter of it, and in the busy pace of the dock, I would fill the van up to the ceiling with mail bags and crash. The van would be filled up and off to SFO it would go.

When the crew at the airport unloaded the van I woke up and when they got to where I was zonked out I help them finish off loading the van and ride back to the center with the driver (who did nothing but drive the truck 40 miles a night) and punch out for the day.

MSGTAS on October 1, 2009 at 10:38 AM

This has always been a problem with the Post Office. The heavy handed union rules practically let the employees get away with anything beyond, well, going postal. The local TV news did a investigative peice on the main Dallas Post Office a long time ago and found employees on the clock doing nothing but sitting in the parking lot drinking 40oz’s.

Heftyjo on October 1, 2009 at 1:43 PM

In the free market, there are competitors who punish wastefull and inefficient companies, either forcing them to straighten up, or driving them out of business.

Like GM and Chrysler?

Govt services are by definition a monopoly. As such, any inefficiency introduced by union work rules is covered by raising taxes. The leech, once attached, cannot be removed until the patient is dead.

MarkTheGreat on October 1, 2009 at 9:10 AM

The Postal
Service doesn’t get it’s money from taxes. All of it’s revenue comes from sales of postage.

darwin-t on October 1, 2009 at 10:25 PM

Comment pages: 1 2