Friday, October 02, 2009

Post Office Version of the Big Three "Jobs Bank"

Federal Times -- The U.S. Postal Service, struggling with a massive $7 billion 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. So they sit — some for a few hours, others for entire shifts. Postal union officials estimate some 15,000 employees have spent time on standby this year.


HT: Paul Ringstrom

34 Comments:

At 10/02/2009 10:23 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

I can't wait for Post Office medicine. We can line it up right next to Post Office education.

 
At 10/02/2009 10:37 AM, Anonymous John said...

Leave it to the unions to keep the Post Office running in the red...Oh, wait, the PO is a government-run monopoly so they'll just ask for more of our tax dollars.

 
At 10/02/2009 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those extra employees sure aren't manning the retail windows in our town.

The population of our town has almost doubled in 15 years, yet the Post Office still has the same number of clerks on duty.

About three years ago, they did manage to build a much larger downtown branch -- but with the same amount of clerk windows as before.

Yep, sure looking forward to the government running my health care.

 
At 10/02/2009 11:30 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

If you read the Federal Times article, this post and title could just as easily be about the mistreatment of postal employees. A lot of editing took place in this posting. When GM had a jobs bank, some of the conditions where the employees were made to sit could not meet the standards for prisoners held in Michigan prisons (temperatures too hot or too cold, restroom facilities with no toilet paper or paper towels and plugged-up overflowing toilets, black-and-white TVs turned up full blast with static from no antennas, no reading allowed, no card playing allowed . . .). These sites were picked to be uncomfortable so employees would retire or violate rules and be discharged. Many times it worked.

These locations were aptly called "rubber rooms" by those who had to stay there for well-documented reasons. Most employees want to work not sit. Would you want to sit in a small room overheated in the morning and overheated in the afternoon with toilet water flowing out from under the bathroom door all day? I hope not. To imply workers, unionized or otherwise, are lazy freeloaders without proof is misleading and untrue.

 
At 10/02/2009 11:55 AM, Anonymous Wanda said...

Walt, I have no doubt you're telling the truth about employee mistreatment - a shame regardless of circumstances. Even in my job when work is light we are bored to tears. We can't use work computers for personal or recreational use. It feels like a rubber room. I have to "look" busy. But I get paid.

The mistreatment is the corporation's shame, but the excess labor is the union's shame. In a free market, during down times, wages, hours, and employment would be cut. No one wants that, but that's how the sausage is made.

Unions maintain rigidity in wages and employment. If wages were cut, employment would remain relatively stable. If employment is cut, wages would remain stable. When neither can be cut, the employer suffers huge losses. The natural human response when someone makes you suffer is to hurt them back.

I know you prefer to feel you are the victim and the little guy, but unions have only themselves to blame. Postal worker wages and benefits are absurd, even by government standards.

 
At 10/02/2009 11:58 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

Quote from Walt: "To imply workers, unionized or otherwise, are lazy freeloaders without proof is misleading and untrue."

Getting paid to sit around and do nothing, no matter what the conditions, sounds rather lazy to me. How much more proof do you need?

If the conditions were so bad in those GM rooms, then why didn't they complain to OSHA. There are standards on noise and sanitation.

Better yet, why not quit and get a job that doesn't involve sitting around doing nothing? I'll bet it was because it was more profitable for them to put up with the conditions than to get another job. Either way, it was their choice.

 
At 10/02/2009 12:18 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt g,

"who had to stay there for well-documented reasons".

One notes the lack of leg-irons, shackles or other physical restraints.

People make choices every day to stay in jobs they hate or find something better. The second course offers greater risk with greater potential for personal satisfaction and financial gain.

I did not see any reference to laziness in the post or the article. There is a financial disincentive to leaving the known which is equally true for staying in a job you hate.

Have you considered the cost of never reaching your full potential, of never feeling in full command of your life, of never knowing if you had what it takes to make it. What I see is the tragedy of someone selling themselves short.

 
At 10/02/2009 12:19 PM, Anonymous Titus Pullo said...

Do postal employees work fewer hours a week than university professors teach?

 
At 10/02/2009 1:09 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

You can all say what you want. The building inspector shut down one of the local jobs bank locations because more people were in it than the occupancy permit allowed and the toilets did not work properly; it was reported in the local newspaper at the time. Employers have to provide legal working conditions no matter where the "job" is located. Employees do not take jobs to be mistreated

People as a rule don't choose to sit, and all types of contracts are mutually negotiated. If you don't like the terms, you either live with them or change them. We changed ours. The UAW does not have a jobs bank at the “Big Three” now.

QT, I also did not see any reference to the Big Three "Jobs Bank" in the article, but for some reason it's in the title to this post. Why is that?

Yes, I have considered my full potential; however, I'm at a loss how that applies here. And yes, I feel in full command of my life: How about you? Can you provide more information what you mean?

 
At 10/02/2009 1:36 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Walt, you said "If you don't like the terms, you either live with them or change them."

Unfortunately, GM didn't have a very good bargaining position to . The union workers had the option of moving somewhere else and getting a new job, but by law, the only place GM could get workers was the UAW - or what they ended up doing - moving out of country. This labor monopoly is one of the imbalances that created the environment making rubber rooms possible.

The same type of labor monopoly is a significant contributing factor to costing you and me $4 Billion with regards to the Post Office.

 
At 10/02/2009 1:39 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Oh, I forgot to share my favorite part of the article.

“The local union shop filed a grievance against the Postal Service,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous because of concerns about retaliation. “We’re on standby time, not training time. Standby time is different. ... You can’t make people read training materials on standby time.”

The word indefensible springs to mind.

 
At 10/02/2009 1:52 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Has anyone read the article instead of just this post? The article is a fairly accurate description of problems that many workers and employers are facing today. I appreciate the link to it.

To only pull out of it the original post article summary, post title, and comments to the post so far shows bias that does not seem to reflect the author's original intent. I see a lot of venom here.

 
At 10/02/2009 2:42 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt,

The story seems to indicate that the jobs bank is not working for the employees, the managers, the U.S. postal service or the taxpayer.

"Yes, I have considered my full potential...etc."

We have debated this several times. It seems there is little we have learned of each other.

What is he to Hekuba? My life, interests, and decisions are of as little interest to anyone as the activities of an ant are to the planetary spheres in their orbits around the sun.

 
At 10/02/2009 3:11 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

It's amazing how technology has driven the need for fewer employees. Clearly, our support systems for workers and companies have not been able to keep up with this change.

To imply that our current problem is with unions alone is as ridiculous and along the same line as unions blaming other countries and their imported products for all of their problems.

The problem I see with this post is an unwillingness for everyone to work through the problems by exploring solutions and dealing with the concomitant changes that must occur in a 21st century globalized economy. It will take everyone for that to happen. That includes labor unions.

QT, your use of the term “jobs bank” shows either a preconceived notion of the Federal Times article or a successful persuasion from Professor Perry to his “side” without supporting evidence. The term did not appear anywhere in the article, and the article was well-balanced in its explanation of the multi-faceted problem.

QT, you introduced the "full potential term" not I. I think one of the largest problems with Americans is judging their self-worth by their jobs. We are much deeper than what we do for a living.

 
At 10/02/2009 3:32 PM, Anonymous Shannon said...

Don't take it personally Walt. There is a paucity of green shoots to dine on today, so this is a way of saying, "Here, look at the monkey!"

It's the intellectual version of the Chewbaca Defense.

University professors apparently work less than stand-by postal workers and get paid to post meaningless blog entries all day.

Yesterday we had to wear suits to the office and for the first time I noticed that the stripes on men's ties were going in opposite direction than the know. I said to myself, "Huh!" and then thought, "Who really gives a damn?"

There are now 263,000 more people than last month who will either have to take off their ties or buy their first one. They won't care which way the stripes are going.

 
At 10/02/2009 4:14 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt,

The term "jobs bank" is descriptive and readily understood. The U.S. Postal Services phrase "standby time" would be pretty much be meaningless to readers. I can understand that you may find the title offensive, however, what other term would you suggest?

I may have introduced the idea of reaching one's full potential. The reference, however, was not personal. The post concerns the U.S. post office not me or thee or the Big 3.

While the automation has been a primary factor in the auto sector, the U.S. postal service is experiencing dwindling demand due to the rise of mass communication. With instant text messaging, email, online banking, etc., demand for snail mail will continue to decline. The reality is that the customer will not be coming back.

 
At 10/02/2009 4:46 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

QT, the underlying theme that fuels many of these posts is the concept that I am better than ____, so I should earn more money. We lump money to prestige to arrive at self-worth or using your term "full potential." That's the reason when you meet someone the first thing most people think or ask is what do you do for a living or where do you work.

Postal workers are just attempting to put food on the table using protection that is not much different than a capitalist who pools his or her money into a corporation to limit personal liability and financial responsibility.

In the end, though, both unionists and capitalists are doomed to failure unless the underlying economic model they are using is sustainable. Take that thought and apply it to Social Security or the federal debt and GM or the U.S. Postal Service problem reveals itself as simply a microcosm of a much broader problem.

Bashing labor unions is not going to solve our problem, and the same folks who are in the labor unions will have to be part of the solution, so you might as well find a way to get them involved by embracing them instead of alienating them. Cooperation will be the key component to success.

 
At 10/02/2009 5:12 PM, Anonymous Headache said...

No, we don't need to "embrace" labor unions. We need to destroy them. We've already reduced them to 12 of employment. We're losing manufacturing jobs because of them. The only safe haven for them, and the only place they've grown are in the PUBLIC SECTOR. Politicians prize their organization as a block of votes and have seemingly unlimited resources to pander to them. Our massive federal and state budget deficits are shining a light on these cockroaches.

Your analogy of unions to corporations is obscene. The correct analogy is to OPEC and other price fixing cartels.

They are not "trying to put food on the table". A competitive wage already does that. They are reching into the wallets of consumers and owners of capital and stealing from them. Union collective bargaining is legalized theft.

A trained monkey could bag and deliver mail. They don't need to get more than $10 an hour.

 
At 10/02/2009 5:45 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Headache:

Comparing decent workers to trained monkeys does not strengthen your case. Some people want to solve problems. Some people want to escalate problems. We can see which camp you fall into.

 
At 10/02/2009 5:48 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt,

You seem determined to get me to rise to the bait with yet another strawman.

The central issue remains, namely, the economic reality that has lead to the growing use of "standby time". If the U.S. postal service is faced with permanent shifts in the demand curve, the organization simply does less business therefore it requires fewer workers.

Standby time does not address the fundamental problem of permanently reduced demand. In this case, there has also been an attempt to block reassigning employees to other suitable positions which would seem to offer the most promising solution to employees.

Wouldn't most workers trying to put food on their table appreciate a new assignment to the limbo of "standby time" with the Dickensian working conditions as you so eloquently describe?

If employees are not permitted to be reassigned, what other alternative is there other than a layoff? What solutions are being offered here? Certainly, neither you nor any of the union officials interviewed seem to suggest any possible solution. Just an observation.

 
At 10/02/2009 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unions destroyed mining, textiles, steel, autos, and they are working on the public schools. Is it any wonder the post office is going down?

 
At 10/02/2009 6:28 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

QT, Employees always want meaningful work. That's the problem with the tone of this post—it implies otherwise. Workers are just trying to get by however they can. Very few “golden parachutes” are available to the average worker. In the end, everything will work out fine as it always does, but the transition is going to be a lot bumpier for some than for others.

You can call it a straw man argument if you like, and I guess it is, but these are not isolated instances of organized labor problems. Too much money has been promised to too many people without an adequate funding source. Villainizing unions will not solve that problem; however, it might make those people with low self-esteem issues or who think they are superior to others feel better.

 
At 10/02/2009 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walt's always super defensive about job bank programs. I think he took part in one when he was an autoworker. Walt, you need to relax.

The trend to automation is even higher in sectors that are union dominated (except the public sector where costs don't matter...). You can replace a retiring union worker with a machine and not have to hire a new union employee.

People have problems with the unions because they drive up costs for everyone else be it through goods or through taxes (public sector). It's a direct cost and they engage in a legalized monopoly on an input.

 
At 10/02/2009 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one here has addressed the single most important issue - why is anyone allowed to organize against the people of the United States?

 
At 10/02/2009 8:24 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt,

The only input from MP on this piece is the headline. You yourself have described this article as balanced. How then, is this posting an example of anti-union bashing?

If one cannot discuss a subject without being accused of union bashing or passive aggressive personal attacks, is it even possible to conduct a civil discourse?

We lump money to prestige to arrive at self-worth or using your term "full potential."

The strawman that I am referring to is your attempt to mischaracterize my concern for workers who choose for economic reasons to stay in a situation of limbo (which could just as easily be a dead end job) rather than making positive choices and moving on with their lives, and careers. I have not said that the success of one's career is the measure of the worth of a human being. Not today and not ever.

What I am describing is what Robert Frost called the "road not taken". We cannot know what we would have been or who we might have become.

Postal workers are just attempting to put food on the table using protection that is not much different than a capitalist who pools his or her money into a corporation to limit personal liability and financial responsibility.

Postal workers are not the only ones attempting to put food on the table. The comparison of an employee to a capital however is fallacious. A corporation does not insulate the business owner from legal and personal liability. Ask Conrad Black or check with a corporate lawyer. A corporation is a business structure. Please note that under corporate law that the interests of the shareholders are paid out last after the government, secured creditors and unsecured creditors. In other words, you invest all of your capital and risk losing it. That is a risk that an employee does not have. No one asks the employee to mortgage their house to finance their own employment...not today and not tomorrow.

During our last debate on this subject, you compared tracking your personal finances to running a business. At the time, I did not bother to argue with you but I will do so now. Bookkeeping however thorough is not the same as mortgaging your house and owing the bank $500,000 and not knowing how you will make the next payroll. Accounting is to business what the radio tracking collar is to biology.

If you want to tweak my nose, you know me well enough to know that I push back hard.

 
At 10/02/2009 8:26 PM, Anonymous Frank said...

Although I hate anecdotal evidence, here is some, although it most likely applies to every Post Office.

The PO runs in 3 tours or shifts. Each tour is responsible for preforming a certain job. One of the tours runs from 2.30-11pm. However frequently the mail is all out by 10.30. The employees then simply go on break for the last 30 minutes of their shift.

In the PO there are two main positions, clerks and Mail Handlers. Mail Handlers can NOT do Clerk work and vise versa. Or else greviences may be filed. Managers can not do simple tasks like move a cart out of the way because a grevience can be filed against them.

Although Management is also very bad. However the Union is part of the problem.

 
At 10/02/2009 10:12 PM, Blogger QT said...

Walt,

On re-reading my original post, I can understand that my word choice has led to some understandable confusion. "One" has always seemed rather pretenious to me so I tend to use "you" or in this case "your".

My apologies for the misunderstanding. I was in the wrong.

 
At 10/03/2009 12:31 AM, Anonymous Headache said...

Walt, unions ARE the problem. Talking about the problem with union members is like having a discussion about swine flu with an individual virion.

Your suggestion to sit down and discuss things in a civil manner presupposes two things:

1. Union existence is status quo
2. You are having a discussion in good faith.

Union members are criminals and your unions are organized crime. I will no more have a civil discussion with you over unions than I will discuss the unification of the korean peninsula under the communist flag with Kim Jong Il.

You think you can fool people forever with nonsense about safety and fairness and right and workplace democracy?

You've already won the battle of workplace safety with OSHA, workers comp, and courts.

You're not "the folks who brought us the weekend". You're the folks who brought us mandatory time and a half and an expectation of coninuous overtime payments as if overtime is an entitlement.

People have the right not to be abused, mistreated discriminated against or harrassed. We no longer need unions to protect those rights.

Workers have no voice in how entrepreneurs operate unless they wish to give you their ears.

I give unions credit for a lot of progress in the past century. Now they are a haven for hate, intimidation, coercion, and coopting of other people's money.

I have numerous relatives who are in unions. None see themselves as evil. I don't expect them to and I don't expect it from you. But you are doing terribly selfish and destructive things to yourselves and others. German soldiers in WWII didn't see themselves as evil, but they bravely fought for the cause of evil shouting Gott Mit Uns!

UAW destroyed GM. SEIU are a bunch of strike hungry lunatics. The NEA and AFT thwart parents' rights and education reform. Police, firefighter, corrections and teachers unions have bankrupted several states and cities.

It's time for unions to die.

 
At 10/03/2009 5:22 AM, Anonymous Green job bank said...

your blog is really very nice, job field like Green Jobs is making a good progress now a days.

 
At 10/04/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> 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.

OH, REALLY?

Then why is it that every branch I'm aware of is operating for fewer hours than before?

Why is it that most "blue" mailbox pickups are picked up only once a day?

God forbid any of these fat lazy f***ing UNION SOBs should actually have to do something awful, like, you know, work the floor, or go out and pick up mail from more boxes than they have in the recent past.

How many people besides me are aware of the fact that the USPS used to deliver mail TWICE a day?

TO people's doors -- not some community mailbox a half a block from their home.

>:-/

YEESH.

 
At 10/04/2009 1:37 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Many times it worked.

Awwww...

*sniff*.

I have the world's smallest violin playing sad, sad, SAD music for them right now....

Walt, you are sometimes intelligent, but when it comes to the defense of UNION BULL SH**, your brain just shuts off totally.

.

 
At 10/04/2009 1:50 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Employees do not take jobs to be mistreated.

And employers don't pay wages for sitting around with your thumbs up your asses, unless forced to by union bull sh**.

Funny how that works.

> It's amazing how technology has driven the need for fewer employees. Clearly, our support systems for workers and companies have not been able to keep up with this change.

"Horse Puckey"

All it has done is CHANGE THE NATURE of the work needed. So the obvious thing is to train the people for other jobs which pay as well and/or require reasonably similar personal skills (i.e., IQ, patience, things like that)

As Mister Josh points out:
“We’re on standby time, not training time. Standby time is different. ... You can’t make people read training materials on standby time.”

So, "what we have here, is failure to communicate".

The union morons have actually got rules that prevent the USPS from using the time to retrain the workers for other jobs, AND prevents them from laying them off.


Here's a graphic depiction of this notion:
Head -- > Ass

Sorry -- if you're getting paid to sit in a room, then they should be able to use that time to teach you another job, as long as the conditions for that job are similar to or better than the original (subject to reasonable mutual agreement I suppose), and ditto the pay.

There is no possible justification for the idea that they can't teach you another job during this time, but have to pay you to sit on your ass under such horrible, debilitating conditions that whiny ass weasel-bastards can't stand it.

You don't want to be there, Get A Real Job.

 
At 10/04/2009 2:04 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Bashing labor unions is not going to solve our problem, and the same folks who are in the labor unions will have to be part of the solution

Really?

1) Bashing labor unions certainly reveals that they ARE a large part of the problem, and so that's hardly NOT contributing to the solution of the problem. Is it the sole element of the problem? Naw, of course not -- like anything in the Real World, the problem isn't one single thing.

2) "The same folks in the labor unions will have to be part of the solution" -- well, if you can completely exclude the union management, you're going to have a much more effective solution than otherwise. And, an undercurrent to your statement is the notion that the unions themselves are going to be even vaguely needed to solve the problems. I'd suggest that every union manager could drop dead tomorrow, spontaneously combusting and taking all instances of their union records and contracts with them, and the world would be only slightly worse off. In some cases unions would be reformed but more often than not, not. And in almost all cases, that would be a massive improvement. There have been times and places in the past where unions served a valid purpose, and even places where they may STILL serve a valid purpose, but in most cases, NO.



Frankly, I'm damned sick and tired of the USPS cutting back on services (banker's hours, fewer people in the offices, delivering to kiosks rather than homes or apartments).

If it wouldn't require a Constitutional amendment, I'd strongly suggest that the US Federal Government divest itself of the whole mess, and subcontract it out with obvious rules to Fed Ex and UPS (delivery to all existing addresses and all future addresses by the same rules the USPS used in 1960) -- They'd probably consolidate/subcontract a local arm for unified delivery in major areas and then compete on the rest.

And I'll lay you damned good odds the price of a first-class stamp would GO DOWN for the first time in 100 years.

The USPS is as good a model for federal incompetence as the DMV is a model for bureacratic rudeness.

In short, it's a business-school case study in how NOT to do things.

.

 
At 10/04/2009 10:03 PM, Blogger QT said...

OBH,

...and I thought I was kicking the hornet's nest.

There is a great deal of truth in what you say...although I might callibrate the words differently.

 

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