A U.S. Postal worker moves stacks of sorted mail in San Francisco. Paid overtime costs for fiscal 2012 amounted to $3.53 billion, up almost 7 percent from 2011, an IG audit found. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Even as total work hours dropped again last year, the U.S. Postal Service’s overtime costs kept climbing, according to a newly released audit by the agency’s inspector general.
Paid overtime costs for fiscal 2012 amounted to $3.53 billion, up almost 7 percent from 2011, the IG found. At one Des Moines, Iowa, distribution center, overtime pay for seven mail handlers ranged from $65,000 to $76,000 each, more than doubling their respective salaries, according to the audit. Although overtime hours are not supposed to account for more than 5 percent of total workhours under a USPS management target, they added up to 7.8 percent last year, the audit said. After falling sharply in 2009, the proportion of overtime hours has risen every year since.
Auditors attributed the increases in part to the continued downsizing of the Postal Service’s workforce. But at individual mail processing plants, they also found that the number of employees did not always mesh with the workload.
At the South Florida Logistics and Distribution Center, for example, managers did not fill vacant jobs because they wanted to make sure that positions were available for career workers displaced by closings and consolidations elsewhere in the district. At the Des Moines distribution center, management also blamed heavy overtime use on understaffing, but said they are working on a plan to handle the workload better. And in the Houston district, a local agreement between the Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers required a $10 per hour premium for any time worked after 5:15 p.m. on top of regular and overtime wages, the audit found.
In a written response attached to the audit, senior USPS officials agreed to pursue staffing plans and other steps to reduce reliance on overtime, but said that the inspector general “completely fails to understand an organization in transition.” The Postal Service is in the midst of consolidating more than 270 processing plants and has shed thousands of postmasters and other employees in the last year with the help of buyouts and early retirement incentives, the three officials said in the response.
“These changes are significant and impact employee schedules and operational staffing requirements,” they added. “As consolidations and realignments occur, there will be periods that workload and workforce are not aligned. The objective is to keep this to a minimum, for it cannot be eliminated in the short-term.”