That poor United States Postal Service. Nobody pays any attention to it until we stop getting our mail.
But the USPS – which has experienced a 20 percent drop in mail volume since 2007 – clearly is lobbying for more financial stability and fewer expenses.
A key objective is increased flexibility among its workforce. “We have 32,000 post offices and 574,000 (career) employees,” said Mark Saunders, Public Relations Representative Human Resources, Labor, Stamps at USPS. “And 80 percent of our costs are labor costs.”
So is the USPS turning to temporary staffing? That’s evident in the new contract ratified in May by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and good through May 20, 2015.
Article 7 of the contract previously contained classifications only for its “regular workforce” – full-time (40 hours per week) and part-time (less than 40 hours per week). Now it has an entirely new classification.
Section 1B covers the terms and procedures for “Postal Support Employees,” or PSEs. Most of the section sets parameters for the total number of non-union PSEs – in effect, temporary workers – who can be used in each district, as a percentage of the total number of employees. The contract spells out percentages – normally either 10 percent or 20 percent – for each PSE position in certain union crafts, including Clerk, Maintenance and Motor Vehicle. It also provides percentages for window employees by office level.
“PSEs provide the Postal Service with lower costs and greater workforce flexibility,” Saunders said. “As up to nearly 20 percent of the workforce ultimately may be PSEs, this significantly increases the number of lower cost, more flexible employees available to the Postal Service as compared to the number of non-career employees permitted in the previous agreement.
Interestingly, the contract also states that PSEs will not be counted towards the total if they are performing light-, limited-duty or rehab assignments, or if they are hired for new non-full-time positions or for formerly contracted work that is brought in-house.
“I would say that this was a compromise,” said Sally Davidow, Senior Manager of the Communications Department of the American Postal Workers Union. “Our goal was to bring work that had been subcontracted to the private sector back in house. Management wanted flexibility. And the PSEs was a way to facilitate that.”
Saunders, who points out that the contract also creates a two-tiered hiring and pay system among regular workforce employees that results in “a lower starting wage, and a lower peak overall,” seems satisfied with the outcome.
“We applaud the union for recognizing that we need to change,” said Saunders.
“PSEs are not limited to work that is only part-time or temporary. The number of PSEs employed and the pace of their hiring will be dependent on the Postal Service’s needs, which will be impacted by mail volume and employee attrition. PSEs are expected to be an important part of the Postal Service’s future labor force.”