Thursday, August 27, 2009

Changing the USPS

[from billlifka, posted with permission] The U.S. Postal Service has provided poor service for a long time. Now it’s failing financially.

Emulating the House’s intended legislation on health care, this essay suggests a tongue in cheek congressional solution to the USPS problems.

An incoherent 1375 page bill would establish the FWCC, Federal Written Communications Commission, to interpret the language of the bill, to enforce interpretations and to fine violators. There would be no provisions for an appeal process. The FWCC would be headed by a Czar. A Czar outranks a Postmaster General, of course

The young prefer E communication to snail mail. That will cost them, and properly so. E mail and the like reduce the market for snail mail and postal workers are an important voting bloc. A tax on E mail will be equivalent to the cost of a first class stamp plus overnight delivery charge. Twitter tax will equal the price of a post card stamp. Seniors present another problem, in their fears about anything electronic. Their communications are by mail; some containing heavy catalogs and prescription drugs. Postal workers labor excessively processing such mail so it will not be delivered, nor will USPS competitors be allowed to provide such service. Old folks can just schlep down to their local retail stores, thus keeping the economy rolling. For folks above a certain age, all mail services will be withheld and replaced with end of life counseling.

Homeless people will be provided with government funded mail boxes in post offices nearest to their favorite street flops. Illegal immigrants will be provided with a similar service except with a feature like “sanctuary cities”; the USPS will, by law, hold alien addresses confidential from any federal agency, especially the immigration service. Providing all inhabitants with equal service is a primary goal, as demonstrated by the features noted. Another goal is to maintain the jobs of USPS workers without making them work too hard. On the maintenance side, UPS, Fed Ex and the thousands of local delivery companies will be required to buy an annual license to compete with the government; after all, it’s the government that owns communications. Similarly, these companies will pay taxes equal to their payroll expense as a penalty for taking jobs away from the public sector. Their deliveries will be restricted to the hours of normal USPS operations as one more means of keeping the playing field level for all.

It’s clear that Post Office locations are not chosen to match population densities. Some in the boondocks service less than 250 households. Others may serve 10,000 or more. Lack of equality is un-American. Also, it is costly. One solution would be to close Post Offices in the boonies but that isn’t acceptable since USPS jobs would be lost. The logical solution is to level load existing Post Offices. Accordingly, the FWCC will reassign citizens from crowded Post Offices to those with few customers. In sync with Medicare practice, these would be located no more than 60 miles away. Dealing with an unassigned Post Office would be a violation subject to fine. It’s not expected that lines in Post Offices will be reduced by this change. Either the clerks will take longer breaks or more clerks will be hired, as may be appropriate to a given location. Long lines is the USPS tradition that replaced the original one about snow, sleet and hail.

This essay is not intended to poke fun at USPS workers, many of whom are dedicated and just as conscientious as those in the private sector. The same can’t be said for a majority of legislators.


1 comment:

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks billlifka for a humorous piece with deep meaning. I hope everyone in favor of the House bill on Health Care realizes the futility of putting the government in charge of such an important part of our economy. If you cannot even organize a one car parade, you should not be given responsibility for the Daytona 500!

My Dad was a letter carrier in Brooklyn so I am familiar with that historic institution. The other carriers in in the Midwood Branch elected him as "Executive Member" (Head of the Union in that Branch). He attempted to rise in the union heirarchy, but he was too honest - perhaps he let it out that he voted for Eisenhower.

Towards the end of his career he wanted to be a "Field Supervisor", the lowest level of management in the post office. He got a high score on the examination -he had a couple years of college before the depression forced him to leave- but could not get the job until he made a contribution to a political party (it may have been to the Republican Party, I am not sure). He spent his final working years supervising letter carriers as they sorted the mail in the morning and he walked routes with them to certify the quality and speed or their work (if you can use those words for civil service workers). He was quite critical of the low intelligence, poor work habits and sloppy dress of the younger generation. When he got his post office job during the depression it was a real feather in your cap to have a steady job like that.

During my college years I worked second or third shifts in the post office during the pre-Christmas rush. I was at the main Brooklyn center where incoming mail was sorted. I was seated at a set of cubby holes: Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, NJ, PA, CT, New England, South, Midwest, Southwest, Northwest. After a while I went on "automatic pilot" rapidly racking the mail despite the fact the addresses were hand-written and had no Zip codes. I was able to think of school work and personal matters while the robot within me did the mindless work. I noticed that the regular post office workers, working a second shift to get extra pay, were far slower than me.

On another night I was given the job of emptying the cubby holes. If I had a tray labeled "Brooklyn" for example, I went from rack to rack empyting the "Brooklyn" cubby. It did not take long to master that job. I took it as a challenge to zip around as fast as I could to make the time pass more rapidly. I guess I should not have been surprised when a regular employee grabed my arm and took me aside. "You're walking too fast!" he said, in a mildly threatening manner.

These guys were earning extra cash for Christmas and if I used up all the work they would be sent home early.

Ira Glickstein.