The Cost of Postage

One of the bigger announcements from the Department of Labor of late was the news it released July 6 saying its solicitor had filed a complaint against the whole U.S. Postal Service for electrical work safety violations. The complaint asked the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order USPS to correct electrical violations at 350 facilities. The move was groundbreaking because, according to the department, it marked the first time DOL has sought enterprise-wide relief as a remedy.

By a not so extraordinary coincidence, July 6 also was the day USPS announced it wants to increase the price of first-class stamps by 2 cents – to 46 cents – starting in January. The agency said it lost $3.8 billion last year, despite cutting 40,000 full-time positions and making other reductions, and USPS Vice President Stephen M. Kearney said it is facing a $7 billion loss for this year and the same for fiscal 2011, which begins in October. The rate increase would bring in $2.5 billion, meaning there still would be a large loss for next year.

DOL’s enterprise-wide action did not have a price tag, but easily it will add millions – tens of millions -- to the postal service’s woes. In June, OSHA fined five individual postal facilities in various parts of the country -- all centering around insufficient electrical safety practices – and those proposed penalties alone added up to more than $1.3 million. If the July 6 complaint is on par with those citations, USPS is looking at 70 times that amount.

All of which leads me to offer my two cents and think that it cannot be much fun being a USPS employee these days. If it ever was. I mean, “going postal” has been a phrase of opprobrium as long as I can remember. Thank God, there have not been any reports lately – not since the incident at Fort Hood late last year, anyway – of employee actions that gave rise to the phrase, but it’s worth noting that the $1.3 million-plus in proposed penalties from June happened only after employee complaints were lodged against the respective facilities.

It’s weird. Latent philatelist that I am, it seems that working in a post office would be such an easy, fun, or at least laid-back, job, but apparently that’s not anywhere near the case. I’d love to hear from some actual USPS employees about the true nature of the job. Outside of vicious dogs for those who have delivery routes, are there workplace dangers that go with the territory us commoners have no idea of? What makes the job so cruddy or psychologically challenging? Or maybe you’re a USPS employee who loves the job. That would be refreshing to hear about, too.

No matter what, though, the agency seems to be in a deepening financial crisis. If rampant electrical hazards are truly a threat to employees, then it only worsens the crisis, but those hazards have to be fixed now, even if it means another two cents will be added to the proposed hike in place. I propose we just make it an even 50 cents per stamp, if doing so will allow USPS to pay its bills, take care of the hazards, and use some of the change to institute Friday jeans day for its employees, or something. In fact, I’m going to e-mail this proposal to everyone I know. If I could afford to, I’d snail mail it.

Posted by Ronnie Rittenberry on Jul 12, 2010