Let me begin this week’s column by stating that I’ve always been a fan of the United States Postal Service. I was a stamp collector in my younger days (and yes, philately will get you everywhere), and I have maintained my Post Office Box in the Marathon Shores branch for a quarter-century. Besides, any organization that can still send a piece of written correspondence across the country for under fifty cents is all right in my book.
It seems, however, that stark raving lunatics have assumed control of the local Postal Service. The situation has gotten so bad that our Congresswoman has had to intervene.
What could have happened to Post Offices in the Keys that diverted the attention of an actual member of the United States Congress?
Two words: Standby Room. I’ll try to explain.
As USPS management will tell anyone who cares to listen, the Postal Service is not subsidized by the Federal government. They’re losing money each year. One could say that the Post Office is at a crossroads – do they take the steps necessary to compete with the UPS and FedEx models as well as continuing to be the mail carriers, or do they just make the decision to fold the tents and wind down?
It seems that the Postal Service has chosen the latter. With the declining volume of mail, USPS managers are only looking for ways to cut costs and consolidate. They are offering early retirement packages – 14 of which were accepted here in the Keys. They are trying to get Congress to change laws about which workers can be laid off or fired, and they are trying to consolidate operations by reducing staff levels (up to 57,000 jobs) and closing post offices.
Here’s where the stupid part comes in.
To illustrate the “fact” that local post offices are overstaffed, local managers assigned a number of postal workers to just sit and wait in Standby Rooms. They weren’t allowed to work. Neither were they allowed to eat, drink, talk on the phone, or do anything except read Postal Service instructional materials. I don’t care how many times a person reads “Priority Mail for Dummies,” it just doesn’t ever become an exciting and compelling read.
The fact that managers pulled this little gambit during the off-season when demand is reduced shows that providing Keys postal customers with quality service is secondary to cutting costs at all costs. Never mind that the holiday shipping rush is now upon us and that the existing staff levels are way too low. Key West had been the focal point of the staffing level dispute, but cuts are heading to other parts of the Keys as well. Marathon will lose two workers out of the main branch to the Summerland Key and Tavernier Post Offices, and the Marathon Shores and Key Colony Beach branches will go to a drastically reduced schedule.
When customers in a line in the Key West Post Office complained about how long it was taking, local Postal Workers Union President Jack Baldwin suggested that the customer contact our representative in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. That suggestion failed to impress the “higher-ups,” and as a result, Baldwin was suspended for seven days. An actual letter (presumably delivered by postal workers) from one Donna Chavis-White, a Customer Service Supervisor in Key West, said that Baldwin’s comments were “unnecessary and inappropriate” and that “as a postal service employee, you are required to be loyal to the Postal Service.” Really now… what answer could he have given that could be interpreted as being “loyal to the Postal Service?”
How about, “Sorry for the delays. Please come back next September when demand isn’t so high.” Or perhaps, “What delays? Are you on drugs? The line is moving faster than you think!” Or maybe, “Welcome to our new Standby Room!”
Much to the dismay of USPS management, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has gotten involved. According to various sources, she has met with postal representatives and asked them to end the mandatory staffing reductions. It seems that customer service is a higher priority with our Congresswoman than it is with USPS management. And that’s perhaps the saddest development of all: the Postal Service will assist in its own downfall as frustrated customers walk out of Post Offices for the last time and head to UPS and FedEx outlets. USPS management has to learn that it can’t require customers to be “loyal to the Postal Service.”