U.S. Postal Service can't escape painful workforce decisions

U.S. Postal Service can't escape painful workforce decisions

December 16th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

There is broad agreement that the U.S. Postal Service is in serious financial trouble. There is less agreement on what to do about it.

The problem is that the Postal Service has suffered a huge drop in business over the past several years as millions of Americans have begun using email and the Internet, rather than traditional mail, for bill-paying and correspondence. Postal revenue is way down; the Postal Service expects to lose $14.1 billion next year!

But there's no likelihood that Americans are suddenly going to reverse course and start paying to use traditional mail again when they can handle so many things online at no charge. So the Postal Service, which employs more than half a million people, has been casting about for solutions, none of which is very appealing.

Some of the main ideas for shoring up the Postal Service include dropping Saturday mail delivery and closing hundreds of mail-processing centers and thousands of post offices around the country.

One of the mail-processing facilities that could be closed is in Chattanooga, on Shallowford Road. That would eliminate more than 100 jobs. Several post offices in the area also could be on the chopping block.

Another proposal is to lower first-class mail delivery standards. Instead of one to three days, delivery could take two to three days.

We understand why the cash-strapped Postal Service is considering such measures. But ironically, slowing delivery times is likely to cause even more customers to reduce their use of traditional mail, worsening the Postal Service's plight.

Nothing has been finalized as yet. In fact, the Postal Service said recently that it would postpone closing mail-processing centers and post offices until mid-May, while Congress tries to come up with legislation to allow the agency to take measures to fend off bankruptcy.

But the difficult decisions cannot be delayed forever.

It is troubling - especially in such a weak economy - that some postal employees around the nation could eventually be laid off as part of the effort to keep the Postal Service solvent.

But ultimately, as with any private company that begins losing customers, the Postal Service will need to adjust the size of its workforce to reflect actual market demand for its services.