US Postal Management’s Dysfunctional and Failing Culture

by: Mark Jamison; A retired Postmaster having served the town and community of Webster, N.C. Mark can also be read on Save The Post Office, a blog discussing the state of the USPS.

“In the following weeks, Mr. Green would go on to scream at me, ALL YOU ARE IS A LIABILITY, YOU EXIST ONLY TO REDUCE OVERTIME,’and enforce a rule no one ever explained to me: We had to be off the clock by 5 p.m. Before I broke my toe, the rule was you had to be off the street and back at the station by 6.

I tried to explain to Mr. Green, who strictly enforced the 5 p.m. deadline, that most days I wasn’t able to leave the station until after 10 a.m., often with more than eight hours’ worth of mail to deliver. When you factor in travel times to auxiliary routes, I could not finish by 5 p.m., even running between houses and never eating lunch. His response? ‘You’ll have to work off the clock.’ If I weren’t willing to do this, he explained, I might not be worth having around. He offered another alternative: Get the routes done faster than required or every morning admit to him that I wasn’t capable of doing my job. An often-toxic work environment had become untenable. Mr. Green didn’t behave this way just to CCAs; I watched him dress down carriers who had worked for the Post Office for decades.” “Blues on Wheels,” Jess Stoner The Morning News.

I worked for the Postal Service for thirty years, the last fourteen as Postmaster of Webster a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. Over the years, I became an increasingly outspoken critic of the Postal Service. While I was still employed, I began participating in cases before the Postal Regulatory Commission. I also began contributing to the website Save the Post Office, a site started and edited by Steve Hutkins, a professor at NYU who became concerned about changes to his local post office. STPO has done some of the most detailed and in depth reporting on postal issues and I would encourage anyone interested in the fate of the Postal Service to take a ramble through the site.

Last week the folks here at Angry Bear were kind enough to host an STPO post I did titled “What are People and the Post Office for?” The “crisis” surrounding the Postal Service is in some ways much more complex than what has been reported in the broader media. In some ways, though it is very simply an attempt to eliminate a well paid unionized work force while privatizing an essential national communications network.

One of the aspects of this issue largely ignored is the dysfunctional institutional management culture that has infected the Postal Service. Since postal reorganization in 1971, the management of the Postal Service has abandoned any pretense of fulfilling its public role while pursuing dreams of corporatization. One consequence of this behavior has been a terribly hostile workplace. The phrase “Going Postal” has entered the lexicon after multiple incidents of workplace violence. Stephen Musacco has a tremendous book “Going Postal: Shifting from Workplace Tragedies and Toxic Work Environments to a Safe and Healthy Organization” detailing the history of the failing postal management culture. I have also written about this at Save The Post Office.

Now there is a wonderful article by Jess Stoner in The Morning News. “Blues on Wheels” highlights the short tenure of Ms. Stoner as a CCA (City Carrier Associate), a temporary category of worker who delivers mail. The article chronicles in sad and brutal detail the difficult conditions under which mail carriers work.

One of the most popular memes in today’s society of the self is to claim that folks who do regular jobs are not worth the money they are being paid. To listen to some folks everybody else is lazy and overpaid and the problems of our society would all be solved is we simply bucked up, worked hard and paid people what they’re worth (which usually demeans anyone who performs physical labor of any sort) . It’s a toxic variation on the myth of meritocracy that ultimately treats human labor as merely an input to production and eschews any concept of human dignity or the value of honest labor.

Over the years, Congress has held hearings about the toxic postal work environment but they never amount to very much. In all the discussion over the last five years over about the Postal Service’s business model, it’s cash flows, it’s finances, and it’s long term liabilities; there has been virtually no attention paid to the fundamental lack of competence embodied in the culture of postal management. Toxic work environments are only part of the problem. Processing plant closures and arbitrary methods of scheduling have created situations where carriers are delivering mail late into the night. There are reams of OIG reports demonstrating wasteful and dishonest practices by postal management.

The Right tells us the privatizing the Postal Service is the answer; but, the current management of the Postal Service has already done everything they can to act like a private corporation. The treatment of employees at the Postal Service is a reflection of our disdain for the human element of labor across society. Regardless of what changes are made to the postal business model the plain and simple fact is that those changes will result in failure because the Postal Service has a corrupt and largely incompetent management culture. Mail delivered somewhat efficiently is more a testament to the efforts and pride of the hundreds of thousands of clerks, carriers, and mailhandlers that care about their communities; that and simple inertia.

It is far past the time for Congress to take a serious and unstinting look at the way the Postal Service is managed, the honesty of its projections, and the competence of its managers. Ms. Stoner’s piece touches on a small piece of the postal puzzle but it ought to serve as a wakeup call.