Postal service eyes layoffs of managerial positions

The country is in the process of regaining plenty of jobs as businesses begin to reopen and unemployment creeps downward. But not everyone is hiring. In fact, some people are going to be losing their positions for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. That appears to be the case at the U.S. Postal Service. They’re still battling endemic budget issues and wrestling with a reorganization plan being developed by the new Postmaster. As part of that plan, the USPS already announced a sweeping offer of early retirement options as part of a larger “Reduction in Force” (RIF) effort. But it appears that not enough people will be taking advantage of that program, so they’re warning of impending “involuntary layoffs” intended to trim more fat from the organization, and the losses would be mostly among the managerial ranks. (Government Executive)

The U.S. Postal Service is leaving the door open to involuntary layoffs as it seeks to downsize its managerial and administrative staff, part of an ongoing effort to reorganize the agency.

USPS first announced it would offer voluntary early retirement to eligible non-bargaining unit workers in early March. It declined to say how many employees it was targeting for the staffing reductions, announcing only it would finalize its plan in May.

Ahead of that rollout, postal management has not ruled out reductions in force, the government term of art for layoffs. The National Association of Postal Supervisors, the management association that represents most of the impacted workers, said USPS has informed the group there could be a RIF forthcoming. Much will depend on how many employees accept the early retirement offers, as well as how the Postal Service’s final structure and staffing plan takes shape next month. The early retirement offers, which did not come with any buyout incentive, were part of a “RIF-avoidance” process.

This is all part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s ongoing efforts to turn around the fortunes of the financially flailing institution. Some of the changes have drawn criticism, such as the plan to make mail deliveries slower and more expensive. It seems that those changes won’t be enough to bring the USPS back to sustained profitability, however, so staff reductions were always going to be on the table.

DeJoy’s job could be made a bit easier if Congress gets around to eliminating the Postal Service’s unfunded mandate to set aside more than $70 billion to pay for all of the plush retirement benefits that its workers receive. Were it not for the costs that the rule imposes on the Post Office, it would actually have been profitable in most of the past several years. But as we discussed here previously, that only kicks the can down the road for a few decades. Eventually, the retirement funds will run out and they’ll be right back where they are now.

Just as it happens in the private sector, if the Post Office is to be profitable, cost reductions will have to be put into place, including the possibility of layoffs. And those layoffs frequently must come from the ranks of middle management rather than the troops that are out there on the beat getting the actual work of delivering the mail done. They clearly can’t afford very many cuts in their delivery force because there are still places where people aren’t getting their mail for weeks at a time and the USPS blames a lack of employees for that shortcoming.

The biggest possible barrier to these reorganization plans comes in the form of the postal workers’ unions. So far, the National Association of Postal Supervisors has been acting in a cooperative fashion, saying that many of the affected workers should be able to relocate to parallel positions following the recent consolidation of the Post Office’s 67 districts into 50. But DeJoy is shooting for an overall reduction of 60,000 people and he’s not going to get there by simply shuffling bodies from one office to another. And if the number of “involuntary layoffs” rises too much, the union is obviously going to try to throw a wrench in the gears.

I have one possible suggestion for how to handle this situation with fewer job losses, though it probably wouldn’t be very popular. Rather than laying off people in lower-level management positions, how about offering them the chance to step back from management and go back to delivery duties in the areas where they can’t hire enough carriers to get all of the mail out on time? I realize that nobody wants to take a “reverse promotion” after working their way up through the ranks, but it might allow some of these people to continue their careers until they qualify for early retirement. It would probably be better than hitting the unemployment line and losing their retirement benefits.