The plan for the post office to drop Saturday delivery has met a lot if controversy, but it us a solid plan that should be getting more support. The US Postal Service lost $7 billion last year and nearly twenty billion in the last four years. Obviously, for the Post Office to remain viable in the 21st century, it is going to have to make changes to the way it operates.
Mail volume has decreased by 12% in the last decade, and labor expenses have increased due to inflation. Those two numbers don’t add up to a successful business. The two plans that are regularly floated about to reduce labor costs are closing smaller post office branches, and ending Saturday delivery. Both are met with serious controversy.
Closing Post Office branches
Closing branches isn’t some hazy plan for the future, but has already started happening. More than 2000 branches have already been closed.
I’ll admit I’m conflicted on this one. While 4 in 5 post office branches lose money, the ones that lose the most are probably the ones that are needed the most. It’s a tricky balance to decide how far is acceptable for rural postal customers must drive. If they have to go to the next town 10 miles away, that doesn’t sound so bad. If they have to drive to the next town 50 miles away, that does.
Besides, there is the issue that post office branch that collects the money has little to nothing to do with the total expenses of delivering that mail. As Postal News points out, you could buy a stamp at your local post office, but drop the envelope in the mail box at work in another city to have it delivered in another state.
The case for ending Saturday mail delivery
The standard workweek in the United States and most of the industrialized world is five 8 hour workdays for a total of 40 hours per week. By US law, most industries must pay overtime rates for hours greater than 40 per week. But how do you reconcile five working days with six days that the post office is open?
To work around this scheduling conflict, the Post Office uses a rotating day off. A postal worker will have Monday off on one week, Tuesday the next, then Wednesday, Thursday, etc. After 6 weeks, they will have had one of each calendar day (plus 6 Sundays) off. Somebody else has to work that shift on worker 1’s day off. Off course, worker 2 can only cover 5 of those 6 shifts, leaving a third worker to cover the 6th. Doing the math, it takes 6 workers to cover 5 shifts.
By dropping Saturday delivery, 23% fewer hours are worked and 23% fewer workers are needed. Now this savings only counts towards the actual letter carriers, not sorting facilities. Obviously, the number of workers required to sort letters and packages wouldn’t diminish, but reducing the public facing workforce by 23% is estimated to save the Post Office $2 billion per year.
This isn’t actually a new plan. It’s been proposed since 2009 and I remember hearing rumors about it ever since the 90’s. But it has always received such public outcry that it has been a non-starter until recently.
So why are so many people upset?
Getting less for the money
I believe the big reason is one of perception. They see the post office cutting hours and not seeing a reduction in prices. They are paying the same for less service, which is the same as paying more for the save level of service. The problem is that they don’t see the Post Office hemorrhaging money.
From their position of armchair quarterback, they aren’t considering the fact that the alternative is raising prices. Dramatically. I can remember when stamp prices were half of what they are today. But without a plan to save money, the Post Office would be forced to double the price again over the next decade. Is Saturday delivery worth a dollar per stamp?
Most people are off on Saturdays
Outside of the world of retail and food service, the majority of businesses operate on a Monday-Friday schedule and employees are off on Saturday and Sunday. Those two days become the days when all off the errands and chores get done, like going to the bank to deposit a check or the post office to mail a package.
Under those circumstances, losing the one day the Post Office is open and you are off seems like a big deal. But simply shifting the office hours of branches my an hour or two would ensure that branches were still open when people were getting out of work. Get it out-of-the-way during the week and have one less thing to worry about on your day off.
Time sensitive mailings
Some mail is time sensitive. If it doesn’t get delivered on time, there could be trouble. The only problem: unless you opt for next day or 2 day delivery, there is no guarantee that a package will arrive by a certain date.
FedEx and UPS don’t deliver on Saturdays as a rule, and somehow they seem to survive.
An alternative plan for the post office
One alternative would be to take a page out of UPS’s playbook. Do you want your package to be delivered on a Saturday if it gets to the destination facility on Saturday? No problem, simply pay a Saturday delivery fee. I don’t have numbers for how many people use that service, but it doesn’t seem like a large number. Certainly, I’ve never seen it as a delivery option for online shopping.
The Post Office could do the same. If you really want a letter to arrive on Saturday, there could be a higher “Saturday delivery” rate that would ensure a Saturday delivery and would pay the salary of a small number of mail carriers that worked only on that day. These carriers would be based out of larger distribution centers instead of local branches to account for the fact that any given branch would likely have little mail at this special rate.
To reduce overhead of producing another mailing rate, maybe have it built into Priority Mail or even higher mailing rates. Perhaps just 2-Day and Next-Day, since they are the only levels that have a guaranteed delivery date anyway?
What do you think about the Post Office’s plan to drop Saturday hours?