The U.S. Postal Service will end first-class Saturday mail delivery this August, something that has long been a key cost-cutting priority. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The U.S. Postal Service plans to end Saturday mail delivery starting in early August as part of its effort to stem huge losses, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said Wednesday. Package delivery would continue and post offices would remain open Saturdays.
As mail volume continues to plunge, “it’s the right thing to do,” Donahoe said at a news conference at USPS headquarters. The move, which carries an estimated $2 billion in annual savings, would cut work hours by the equivalent of some 22,500 full-time employees, Donahoe said. With unionized career workers generally protected from layoffs, the Postal Service plans to handle the reduced workload through attrition, overtime cuts and paring the hours of non-career employees.
Donahoe said it is possible the Postal Service will offer additional early retirement or buyout packages to encourage employees to leave. “We’ll see, it’s a negotiation issue,” he said.
Ending most Saturday delivery has long been a top cost-cutting priority for the Postal Service, which lost almost $16 billion in fiscal 2012. The Obama administration last year endorsed the move. But Congress has consistently prohibited changes in the frequency of daily mail delivery. That ban has been in annual spending bills for years and remains in effect under the continuing resolution that expires March 27. Donahoe acknowledged that a legal challenge could lie ahead.
In a news release, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the union that represents mail carriers in urban areas, accused Donahoe of flouting the will of Congress and called for his removal. The end to most Saturday delivery “would have a profoundly negative effect” on the Postal Service and harm small businesses, the elderly and others “who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said in the release.
The step would be “another death knell for quality service,” Jeanette Dwyer, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, said in a separate release. “To erode this service will undermine the Postal Service’s core mission and is completely unacceptable.”
The plan to end Saturday mail delivery is certain to dominate a previously scheduled Feb. 13 hearing on the Postal Service by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. Donahoe and Dwyer are among those scheduled to testify.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., co-sponsored legislation last year that would have allowed the Postal Service to go to five-day delivery in two years. The bill, which passed the Senate, died in the House. On Wednesday, Carper expressed disappointment that the Postal Service is going ahead on its own, but added in a statement that “it’s hard to condemn the postmaster general for moving aggressively to do what he believes he can and must do to keep the lights on at the Postal Service.”
Endorsing the schedule change were the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The two lawmakers urged colleagues in a letter Wednesday to support the change by dropping the ban on delivery schedule changes from future spending bills.
The Postal Service’s financial situation “is not sustainable,” Issa and Coburn wrote, adding that the agency’s plan is “worthy of bipartisan support.”
But many lawmakers are certain to fight the move. Last year, a bipartisan majority of House members signed on to a non-binding resolution supporting six-day delivery. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the resolution’s sponsor, has reintroduced it this year. Although the Postal Service needs reform, Graves said Wednesday, “reducing core services is not a long-term plan. I worry that reducing services will lead to other reductions like closing rural postal offices.”