September 23, 2014
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With larger routes, many postal carriers on road until after dark
John Howell
GETTING OUT THE MAIL: A 25-year Postal Service employee, Janet Lavoie says it takes her from nine to ten hours to complete her route of about 900 stops. She said people on their days off have had to be called in to cover routes and she doesn’t know how carriers will cope with the job when about 15 temporary positions are to be eliminated in the near future.

If it seems that you aren’t getting your mail until later in the day, it’s not your imagination.

In many cases, postal carriers are out doing their routes, which have grown not only in volume but also territory, until dark, especially at this time of year.

But while carriers are making more stops and going further, they aren’t necessarily working more hours, says Christine Dugas, director of public information for the U.S. Postal Service Southeast New England District office in Providence.

Dugas said adjustments to carrier routes, made possible by the introduction of equipment that sorts flat piece mail such as magazines and catalogues, is all part of the Postal Service strategy to reduce costs. With more of the mail being sorted electronically, carriers spend less time sorting and have more time to deliver. Routes have therefore been consolidated, but the workday remains at eight hours.

That’s not always the case. Warwick carriers interviewed for this story said they are working nine and ten hours a day and working into the evening hours to cover their routes.

Other cost saving measures include the possible closure of 3,700 post offices nationwide [13 in Rhode Island], consolidation of processing centers and elimination of Saturday service. The service will also be increasing rates as of this Sunday when the price of mailing a first class letter will be 45 cents, a one-cent increase. The extra penny will reportedly generate an added $888 million in revenue annually.

On another front, Dugas said, the service is looking for relief from the Postal Service Enhancement Act that was passed in 2006, requiring the service to allocate $5.5 billion annually for the health care benefits of future retirees.

Under the 10-year plan, Dugas said, the money would “pre-pay” the health care benefits of employees for the next 75 years.

“It not only pre-pays for those working for us, but those not even born,” she said.

Congress is discussing proposals to cut Postal Service costs with a moratorium on any changes, such as the elimination of Saturday service that would save a projected $3 billion, until May of this year, Dugas said.

Without measures to reduce costs or increase revenues, she said the agency is projected to run up a $238 billion deficit in 10 years.

Apart from the later delivery of mail, most cost saving measures haven’t had a direct impact on customers. Dugas said seven area regional districts have been eliminated and, in the process, the Connecticut Valley district has been merged with Providence. What this has enabled the Postal Service to do is reduce positions. Now, for example, with the consolidation of two districts into one there is the need for only one finance and one human resources director, she said.

Nationwide, the post office has reduced 101,000 positions through attrition. In Warwick the post office went from 174 employees in 2009 to 153 last year.

While both the telephone and the fax machine were said to be the new technology that would bring an end to the post office, first class actually increased with their advent and kept climbing until 2006 when e-mail and social media reversed the trend. Since 2006, the volume of first class mail has dropped 26 percent, said Dugas, and is expected to decline another 25 percent in the next five years.

The service has sought to appeal to its younger tech-savvy customers with smart phone apps and other means of providing services online. In addition to those developments, which reduce the demand for personal service, the post office is studying the need for all its stations. Dugas said stamp sales constitute the greatest activity of offices and that all offices where two hours a day or less was spent on those transactions are being considered for closure. She said other factors such as the distance between offices and workload are also evaluated.

The process of selecting an office for closure includes a survey of customers, written comments and testimony gathered at a public meeting. Dugas said it was on the basis of public comments and the information that the office was highly accessible to bus service and used heavily by the elderly that the decision was made to keep the Annex Finance Station in Providence near the Superior Court open.

None of the stations being considered for closure are in Warwick, Cranston or Johnston. Among other offices being reviewed for closure are ones in Central Falls, Smithfield, Riverside, Clayville, the Navy base in Newport and ones in Providence and Newport.

With obvious frustration, Dugas pointed out some regulations imposed by Congress have hamstrung the Postal Service and impaired its ability to compete. She cites Express Mail and the fact that the post office was not permitted to offer volume discounts for the service. Competitors such as Federal Express do offer discounts.

Dugas notes that federal government offices, including Congressional offices, use competitors.

“We’re being prohibited and they went with the other company to go overnight,” she said.

Despite later deliveries, which Dugas believes will improve as carriers grow in familiarity with their routes, she says, “We’re the experts at it. We’ve been doing it for 237 years.”

“What we’re trying to protect is universal service at a universal price,” she said. Other delivery services don’t offer service to some areas and charge different rates based on distance.

In addition to the one cent in the first class rate, the cost to mail a post card will increase 3 cents to 32 cents; letters to Mexico or Canada will be 85 cents, up 5 cents; and letters to other countries will be $1.05, up 7 cents. Prices for Express Mail and Priority Mail will remain unchanged.


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