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IG: USPS underusing plan intended to cut labor costs

May. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

The U.S. Postal Service is not taking full advantage of a union-approved plan intended to cut labor costs, a new inspector general audit shows.

In a landmark contract ratified in May 2011, the American Postal Workers Union, which represented almost 205,000 clerks, mechanics and other USPS employees, agreed to create two new classes of workers: Non-traditional full-time (NTFT) employees who work between 30 and 48 hours per week, with start times and days off subject to weekly change; and non-career postal support employees (PSE) who earn much less than career workers and have no guaranteed regular hours.

The two new categories are supposed to help the Postal Service cut labor costs and let managers use workers more efficiently. They were one reason that Postmaster General Pat Donahoe predicted at the time that the contract would save some $3.8 billion over its 4 1/2-year lifespan.

But while the mail carrier’s reliance on such employees has been growing, the numbers were still well below what the contract allowed, according to the audit.

For the first five months of fiscal 2013, for example, the ranks of non-traditional full-time clerks averaged about 3,630, up almost one-third from 2012, the inspector general found. But that was barely one-tenth the average number of 33,340 NTFT clerks permitted under the contract.

Although the Postal Service has also stepped up hiring of postal support employees since the beginning of fiscal 2013 in October, the ranks of PSE clerks during much of last year hovered around 8,000, or less than two-thirds of the contract threshold, according to the inspector general. Had the number been up to that limit, the Postal Service could have saved some $30.6 million in overtime costs, the audit said.

In part, the Postal Service fell short because some mail processing and distribution centers did not have jobs they could fill with PSEs, the inspector general found. In addition, employees in some cases were reluctant to apply for non-traditional full-time jobs that would cut their work hours below 40 per week and supervisors didn’t always get proper training on special scheduling requirements for NTFT employees.

In their response to the audit findings, postal officials noted that they cannot force career workers into NTFT jobs, which “has greatly limited management’s ability to utilize” those assignments “to the maximum potential.” In addition, the Postal Service was “excessing” career employees last year, making it difficult under the contract to maximize the number of postal support employees, Judith Leonhardt, director of audit operations, said in the response.

But the Postal Service would provide additional supervisor training and to continue looking for opportunities to make the most use of PSEs, she said. For the most recent available pay period last month, the number of such employees stood at 28,900, or more than three times the number from the same period in 2011, according to numbers provided to Federal Times by USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer.

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