Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The United States Postal Service Takes Another Small Step Toward its Demise


The United States Postal Service Takes Another Small Step Toward its Demise

I received a flood of emails and phone calls over the weekend, and every one of them came from postal employees in the Los Angeles district angrily reporting that the U.S. Postal Service has committed yet another assault on customer service.

The employees at Barrington Station in West Los Angeles reported that on Friday, November 26, 2010, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, instead of extending its hours to accommodate the customers who were unable to transact their business with the postal service the day before, the station abruptly closed its doors two hours early, leaving customers angrily knocking on the door trying to get in. It was also reported that the same thing took place at Bicentennial Station, also in West Los Angeles.

The employees allege that the two post offices in question that locked their customers out during normal business hours is yet one more example of the culture within the Los Angeles district that places saving money - for which management is rewarded with bonuses - above customer service.

The Los Angeles Sentinel attempted to contact Steve Marney, Manager of Labor Relations for the postal service's Los Angeles district, but he was unavailable for comment.

It's not unusual for a post office to change its business hours, but in the past the postal service would give its customers ample notice of the pending change in order to ensure that its customers were not unduly inconvenienced. But in this case, several sources complained, it was done with such thoughtless unprofessionalism that even the employees were caught off guard. Several employees indicated that they were completely shocked when management simply closed the doors on customers without any prior notice two hours before the scheduled closing time. The employees said that management then ordered the window clerks off the line to help sort mail that they should, and could have had sorted the day before. One employee commented:

"We were discussing the situation among ourselves, and nobody could believe that things have gone downhill so far, so fast. I've been working for the postal service for twenty-eight years, so I've seen them do some crazy things, but I didn't think it would ever get to the point where they would just close the door in the customers' faces. Doing something like that used to be unthinkable. We used to give priority to customer service during riots, floods, and Earthquakes! Now they're thumbing their nose at the public just to pad their bonuses.

"There were customers outside banging on the doors. I know they were upset. I sure would be. It reminded me of how I feel when I'm in a long supermarket line, then just as I get close to the counter the cashier puts out a sign saying, 'Line Closed.' But at least in a supermarket they'd open another line for the shoppers to go to. But in this case, the post office just locked the doors, leaving customers outside banging on the doors trying to get in. There was no consideration whatsoever given to the fact that many of those people probably took off from work to get to the post office on the day after a holiday.

"People used to take pride in working for the post office. I remember a time when I'd meet new acquaintances I'd find a way to work the fact that I was a postal employee into our conversation. But now, these managers are so incompetent, irresponsible, and make us look so bad, that I'm embarrassed to admit where I work even when I'm asked. A lot of the public think this stuff is our fault!"

This kind of blatant and unprofessional behavior is running rampant throughout the postal service. In fact, it has become so routine that many employees are beginning to suspect that it can't be by accident. One longtime clerk stated the following:

"No one in a position of responsibility could possibly be so unprofessional and clueless through ignorance alone. I think they're purposely trying to sabotage the postal service to make it easier for them to privatize us. The craft employees are the only thing that's holding the post office together, and management seems to be doing everything they can on a daily basis to make that harder to do. It's like trying to do your job with a bunch of bad kids running all over the place and getting into everything. Eric, a person would have to actually come in and see it to understand what I'm saying. I know this is an overused phrase, but in this case it is, REALLY, unbelievable. Management doesn't care anything about customer service. All they want to do is save money. Then when they get customer complaints, they want to write craft employees up, even though they know that they caused the problem. This district's management has become a liability to the post office - and I want you to write that."

It literally defies logic how the people in upper management can possibly think that they can promote the viability of the postal service by alienating both the workforce, and their customer base. One would think that when an organization is in the position that the postal service currently finds itself that the first thing it would do would be to make every possible effort to raise the morale of the people doing the work, and to provide better service to its customers. That's business management 101. But the postal service is doing just the opposite. Instead, of trying to raise morale, it's harassing, intimidating, and stealing from its employees; and instead of promoting better service, it's undercutting employee efforts to provide quality service by putting policies in place that gives saving money priority over customer service in order to insure larger bonuses for themselves.

What makes this problem even more serious, however, is that the corporate culture in the Los Angeles district is such that its going be next to impossible to correct the situation. The primary problem is that cronyism has been running so rampant throughout the district for so long that it's gotten to the point where the people with the very least amount of talent, good sense, and integrity are at the top of the food chain, while those who are the most capable, dedicated, and knowledgeable, are routinely weeded out and kept at the bottom of the barrel.

There are a number of reasons for that. First, the more intelligent and dedicated an employee is the more integrity he or she is likely to have, but since the district's number one priority is to save money by hook or crook, it works against these people, and it caters to those of lesser integrity and dedication, and thus, more likely to be of lesser intelligence. That leads to incompetent managers promoting their incompetent cronies. And finally, since mid and upper management is literally brimming over with incompetence, competence and intelligence are frowned upon as a threat to the status quo. Thus, the bottom line is, the system rewards ignorance and dysfunction, and penalizes intelligence and innovation, so how can the agency possibly succeed?

The failures of the postal service are often held up by corporatists as an example of why public service should be privatized. But actually, the postal service is a prime example of why public service should never be relegated to the private sector. The forty-year experiment of trying to run the postal service like a private business clearly demonstrates that whenever you attach a profit motive to public service, the corruption and greed attendant to making a profit will invariably overwhelm the primary purpose of providing that service. Thus, by insisting on using that approach you will always, virtually without exception, end up with service so negligible that it can be drowned in a bathtub.

Eric L. Wattree
Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

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