Photo by Ken GreeningIn a previous blog (Downfall of the Postal Service) I wrote about "DPS" mail in the post office and the problem with it. The idea is great. DPS is letter mail sorted and put in order by machine so the carrier doesn't have to sort it. But machines are not perfect and mistakes are made, so we carriers have to finger through it and check it while in our mail trucks with the engine running, in both auto and pedestrian traffic, sometimes in a heat index of over a hundred degrees (no air conditioning) and despite the high cost of gas. By the end of the route, we have a hefty quantity of mail pulled from DPS to bring back to the office, which delays a bunch of first-class mail one day. It used to be that "delay of first-class mail" was strictly forbidden. Now, since DPS, it's policy to delay it. It would be better to sort the DPS mail in with the "raw" unsorted mail each morning before leaving for the route, which takes comparatively little time and corrects the errors at the outset.
Meanwhile we've been constantly convinced that management--especially upper-management in district offices--is working against us and seemingly trying to make our jobs more difficult. One example, of many, is the "pumpkins." For years here at Branson we carriers used what we call "nutting trucks" to load our sorted and trayed mail onto and wheel to our mail trucks outside. We have many here available to use. They are long, heavy platforms on wheels, with no sides and with push-bars at both ends. All the mail would fit on them, and we were able to set down and lift heavy trays and tubs properly and safely, bending at the knees instead of the back. The nutting trucks are heavy enough to push open the building's swinging doors with ease, and, because of their size, only one trip to load the truck was necessary.
But a woman in upper management, the boss of our postmaster, thought the "pumpkins" are cute and wanted us to use them. She never carried mail in her life. The so-called pumpkins are small, light-weight, plastic carts. Their four sides are a bit rounded and the carts are orange, hence the name pumpkin. Inside, they are deep, and they are wheeled to our work-cases full of parcels for our routes. We were told to leave the parcels in them (having somehow to remember them when we load the truck so we don't miss delivering any) and stack our trays and tubs of mail on top of them. The second time I watched horrified as the heavy trays of mail caved in on someone's collapsed package, damaging the contents, I stopped stacking trays on the parcels, no matter what we were told to do. I'm not going to damage my customers' goods even when management tells me to. Other carriers feel the same, and so we often have to make two trips to load the truck instead of one; and to lift things out of the pumpkins, we have to bend at the back instead of the knees. These little carts are too light to bump the building's swinging doors open, and instead come to an abrupt stop at the doors and we have to heave them through.
We put up with this, and finally the pumpkin-loving woman retired! I was thrilled, and was looking forward to going back to using the efficient nutting trucks again. But, perhaps as a memorial, our postmaster insisted that we continue using the pumpkins, and we struggle with them to this day, while the nutting trucks sit there unused. This is a trivial example, but very illustrative of our having to deal with methods enforced by people who have never done the work themselves. It's also something that can be very easily remedied, and it's only ignorance and stubbornness that prolongs it.
In order to have sufficient space in my work-case to sort the mail for my route, I need to have three sections and a wing (half-section) of six shelves each. This way, I can sort all the mail without damaging any by having to force it into a tight slot. Well, for something to do, the people in upper management decided that we should do away with all the wings. It's presumed that the reason for this is so the supervisor can watch us work without a wing in the way, to make sure we're not goofing off. And so I've had to cram all the addresses for my route into three sections, which is possible, but some mail, especially newspapers and magazines, sometimes get torn. But, the supervisor can watch me better now. Unfortunately their strategy backfires here though; because, by feeling eyes on my back, I get self-conscious and distracted, and end up slower than before because it's harder to concentrate on addresses. For more than twelve years before the Postal Service, I worked without supervision and am a great self-motivator. But here they think staring helps. Maybe it does for some, but individuality doesn't account for much in the Postal Service. Everything must be uniform.
This, of course, leads us to believe that we're not trusted. I tend to believe in the old adage that those who don't trust others, shouldn't be trusted themselves. What affirms the fact that management doesn't trust us are the scanners. Brought into use by the USPS several years ago, these awkward hand-held machines have to be carried with us all day, and more and more things are having to be scanned, including mail drop boxes around town, so they can be sure we picked up the mail, and various private mailboxes throughout the route, so they can determine how long it takes us to get from one place to another, so as to prevent any diverting to Cheers tavern for a beer. These scanners even have GPS capability, so, if programmed to do so, can let management know exactly where we are. As I understand it, they haven't programmed this feature for use yet. Big Brother's eyes are still limited mainly to my back in the office. One day when I was emptying a mail drop box downtown, a man noticed me scanning the bar code inside the box, and asked, "Do they make you do that to show that you picked up the mail?" And I said, "Yes, they don't trust us; but they expect you to."
This morning I was pondering on whether or not I should retire soon after March 2009, when I'm eligible to, or wait another three years when Social Security also kicks in to add to my meager pension. Well, today my mind was made up for me. The straw broke the camel's back, and so I'm once again counting the days: 220 to retirement! This morning at work we city carriers were called into a meeting and told the news. For some time now we have been hearing about the nightmare that the USPS, besides just having automated DPS letter mail, will soon be having automated DPS flat mail, too. This means that we'll be having the same problem with magazines that we do with DPS letters. We'll have to sort them in a hot truck with the engine running, like we do now with DPS letters, and have yet another collection of mail to juggle in traffic, bringing back a pile at the end of each day to delay until the next day. This is a burden we're all dreading. Some places in the U.S. have the carriers already doing it, and how we pity them! It's still not known when pre-sorted flats will invade us...but...it's been determined by upper management that we are to arrange our work cases by September 1st as if the change was already here. In two-and-a-half weeks, we have to get rid of all but two sections of six shelves each, to cram the mail into 2/3 of the space we're cramming it into now. So expect a lot of torn and wrinkled mail in the near future. We will have to put up with not enough space from September 1st until finally the DPS flats appear, which by then the nightmare will be a relief.
This is a prime example of the brains of upper management. It seems a bit more sensible to wait until most the magazines come pre-sorted before cutting down our space to sort the mail, but maybe that's just me. Instead, it's like a family of five moving from a three-bedroom home into a one-bedroom apartment because, in only a few years the older children will be moving out on their own. No one can explain why we can't just keep our three sections, even after having to deal with both DPS letters and magazines. The pumpkins keep rolling. Sometimes I have the feeling that the USPS has been infiltrated by its competitors and is working from the inside to put itself out of business.
Now I'm not just complaining. Here's the solution: Get a Postmaster General who has actually carried mail and remembers carrying mail. Or, at least get one who knows that those who do the job, know the job. District offices can be done away with entirely, which will save the USPS billions of dollars and lower postage instead of constantly increasing it. Station postmasters can show respect rather than mistrust, and tell their clerks and carriers, "You are experienced professionals. Do your jobs as accurately and efficiently as you know how, providing good service to the people who pay us to do just that." Supervisors should be mainly coordinators, and given the freedom to run their offices smoothly, without the endless counting and paperwork.
Unless we make drastic changes, the Postal Service will go the way of drive-in movies in a world of DVDs. When the latest postage increase went into effect, the volume of mail dropped considerably. People are not mailing as much now. It's too expensive. And so the Postal Service is losing money, and what must it do to make up for it? Increase postage cost again?
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.