Going Postal

When we talk about waiting, no discussion would be complete without mention of the United States Postal Service, which at least around here seems single-handedly determined to teach people patience whether they want to learn it or not.

The Postal Service is a giant amorphous agency that seems to be perpetually a point of controversy. Is it an arm of government, a service for the public? Or a money-making enterprise? Should it be required to fully fund its retirement plans, which seems like it should be a “yes” except that apparently no company anywhere in the country does this? Should it electrify its fleet of vehicles or not? Should it be delivering packages for Amazon and how much should Amazon pay?

It’s also an agency that, like so many giant corporations, feels no need to explain itself to anyone, including the people who work for it.

This would include Lynn, just beginning her eighth year with this mysterious organization. On its surface, it isn’t so mysterious: for a fee, it will deliver, often to your door, letters, catalogues and packages, six days a week. But the inner workings don’t seem clear to anyone.

When Lynn started, I had several people tell me what a great job it would be with all its benefits. Lynn has really enjoyed going postal, but things have changed since the old days at the Post Office, and it hasn’t been the benefits-laden position everyone imagined.

Lynn was hired as a PSE, a Postal Support Employee, and like large companies everywhere, many of whom will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting unionization rather than just giving employees a raise with that same hundreds of thousands, the USPS designates these “support employees” as temporary and thus not worthy of benefits — or even a guarantee of a job from year to year.

Every August Lynn is “terminated” for five days. She does accrue some paid time off, all of which has to be cashed out, and she gets a letter informing her that her post office is under no obligation to rehire her five days hence. There’s really been no suspense in Lynn’s case as to whether she’ll be rehired, because these are generally career positions being treated as temporary to avoid providing benefits.

Unlike a lot of private companies, though, there is a union for postal employees, and this year they negotiated that PSEs at “Level 20” post offices would be converted to PTFs (Part-Time Flexible, frequently full-time and all the flexibility belongs to the Postal Service), which comes with a lot more benefits: paid vacation, retirement, broad selection of health plans. Plus a raise.

I think RMPO is Remotely Managed Post Office, but whatever it is, Almont is one of them. So while Lynn’s co-worker who was hired three years ago was immediately converted to PTF status (thus leap-frogging right over Lynn in seniority despite being there only half as long), Lynn was stuck as a PSE — even though it turned out she had logged the requisite two years assigned to Gunnison to qualify for PTF status.

That sounded good since Gunnison is “Level 20” (whatever that may indicate), but there was of course, a problem, as the union acknowledged pretty much right after negotiations were wrapped up: they left RMPOs out of the agreement.

As all this was happening, an existing PTF at the Gunnison office decided to retire. Perhaps Lynn could be reassigned from Almont back to Gunnison and have that position. Seems like that could have been figured out in straightforward fashion, right? But no — this is the Post Office. The woman who retired left in May, I think, and although this has left the Gunnison office short one employee it took them until Tuesday of this week to decide that Lynn can be a PTF — as of Sept. 10.

The delay may have helped Lynn, because there was a woman from the Crested Butte PO who was on a waiting list to transfer to Gunnison, and she likely would have been given priority over Lynn’s lowly PSE status. However, the situation in Crested Butte has become nearly untenable, and that woman got tired of waiting and took a job with the Forest Service instead.

Crested Butte has this small post office on its main street that has to serve not only the town but every other population center with “Crested Butte” in its name from the mountain three miles north to the sprawl six miles south. And none of these folks get home delivery.

They all have to go to the small post office to get their mail, and apparently the worst thing that can happen is that you get a yellow slip in your box signifying that you have received a package. Because now you have to stand in line for an hour or more to get your package.

USPS seems to be contemplating finding/building a bigger post office somewhere in the area, but instead of communicating with any town officials, they stuck a note on the door of the Post Office when no one was there. With real estate prices at the obscene level they are, finding a new location seems improbable — and USPS appears to have no interest at all in working with the town to find any solution, short- or long-term.

People in Crested Butte — and also Buena Vista, just over the Continental Divide and not quite the size of Gunnison — would dearly love to get home delivery, rather than having to pay for a post office box, but USPS insists, without any shred of evidence, that these communities voted not to have home delivery. Jim “Deli” Schmidt, recently retired from four decades of Crested Butte politics, can find no record of any vote, but this has not swayed the implacable Postal Service.

I also just read about Colorado City, a 30-minute drive away from Pueblo, which has recently lost its post office, forcing residents into an hour-long round-trip to get their mail at the main office in Pueblo. Residents are charging that much of their mail is going missing, and the folks who have attempted to contract with USPS to provide service in Colorado City all quit, frustrated with a lack of training and promised assistance — both of which USPS insists it provides. Who you gonna believe on that one?

Crested Butte is, I believe, down to two employees, both of whom are contemplating walking out. The Gunnison office, which had finally filled its empty carrier supervisor position, had to send that supervisor to CB as a de facto postmaster — up until she took a position in Denver. Gunnison was sending employees, both clerks and carriers, to Crested Butte, Buena Vista and Salida but now, short a supervisor, a clerk and possibly a carrier, plus with at least one person on vacation every week, Gunnison has no one to spare.

Lynn’s boss, the Gunnison postmaster, is exhausted, and all he gets from above is demands to cut down on his staff’s overtime. Deliver more, but do it in less time with fewer people. And maybe you can advertise a vacant position months after the vacancy opened up, but not before.

Lynn really does like her job — maybe not 50 hours’ worth each week — and after months of uncertain waiting, it is a great relief to know that after only seven years she will no longer be considered a “temporary” employee.

2 thoughts on “Going Postal

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