A worker sorts paperwork at a Post Office in San Francisco in 2011. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A huge U.S. Postal Service early-out offer is attracting thousands more takers than an identical pitch three years ago.
As of Nov. 28, about 23,600 full-time postal workers had signed up for the offer, which combines a $15,000 buyout with an early retirement package for longer-serving employees, according to a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union. Virtually all of the approximately 188,000 clerks, mechanics and other employees represented by the APWU are eligible.
When the Postal Service dangled the same offer in 2009 to employees represented by both the APWU and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, only about 18,000 accepted.
“The uncertainty of the [Postal Service’s] financial situation — I’m sure that makes the employees nervous,” former APWU National President William Burrus said this week in an interview. Burrus, who retired in 2010, also attributed the added interest to the Postal Service’s plans to close or consolidate more than 200 mail processing plants in the next two years. That downsizing got underway this summer, with the next wave scheduled to come early next year. While unionized employees enjoy strong no-layoff protections, the Postal Service can require them to take other jobs or change workplaces.
“When they go forward with the next round of consolidations, there will be a lot more employees forced to relocate,” Burrus said.
The Postal Service announced the buyout in early October. Full-time employees had until Dec. 3 to decide whether to accept the offer and then agree to leave by Jan. 31. Part-timers can receive a pro-rated share of the $15,000 buyout based on the number of hours worked in the preceding year. They have until Jan. 4 to make a decision, with a Feb. 28 departure date.
Of the total pool of employees eligible for the buyout, about 115,000 — or more than 60 percent — can retire now or qualify for the early retirement package, which allows workers to begin drawing a pension if they are at least 50 years old with a minimum of 20 years on the job or at any age with at least 25 years’ service.
A USPS spokesman declined to confirm this week how many employees had accepted the offer so far, saying the agency will provide a count only after the Jan. 4 deadline passes.
While the Postal Service once rarely offered buyouts, it has resorted to them repeatedly in recent years to cut labor costs by enticing older employees in particular to leave. As of the end of September, the Postal Service, which lost almost $16 billion in fiscal 2012, had about 528,000 career employees. As part of a plan to regain long-term financial stability, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe wants to cut that workforce to 402,000 by 2016.
This year alone, about 4,200 postmasters left with the encouragement of a $20,000 incentive, while almost 3,000 mail handlers accepted $15,000 buyouts to retire or quit.
In the Tampa, Fla., area, more than 100 APWU-represented employees have so far signed up for the latest offer, with some married couples deciding to leave together, said Jane Sells, president of the union local there.
“Many of them were just waiting for the incentive,” Sells said, “and the others were just saying, ‘It’s time.’”