Saturday, February 25, 2017

Turnover Rising Among Non-Career Postal Workers

USPS is looking for answers to rising turnover.
Plagued by increasing turnover among non-career employees, postal officials are trying to stem the tide with new management incentives and an overhauled orientation program.

The average annual turnover rate among non-career employees rose from 38.69% in FY2015 to 42.82% last year, the U.S. Postal Service reported earlier this month. Postal officials had set a target of 34.8% for FY2016.

Turnover was worst among City Carrier Assistants (CCAs), rising from 54.24% to 59.66%. Among the other three major non-career categories, turnover for Rural Carrier Associates rose from 30.1% to 35.29%, for Postal Support Employees remained stable at 36.6%, and for Mail Handler Assistants increased from 29.86% to 37.67%.

“Most frequently cited causes for non-career employee turnover are lack of schedule flexibility, physical demands, and employee did not like supervisor,” the USPS said.

Swelling the ranks of the non-career workers – who are paid far less than their career counterparts and receive few benefits -- to more than 130,000 is yielding huge savings for the USPS. But it’s come at a cost.

Postal officials acknowledge that having so many inexperienced employees is lowering productivity, increasing on-the-job injuries, slowing deliveries, and jacking up recruiting and training costs.

“Because CCA turnover represents the biggest opportunity for improvement, non-career employee turnover was selected as an NPA [National Performance Assessment] indicator for field positions with high concentrations of CCAs (large Post Offices and Stations and Branches),” the USPS said. Pay-for-performance bonuses for postal managers are based on progress toward meeting NPA targets.

The USPS is also rolling out a revised new-employee orientation program that attempts to address the factors that cause turnover – “from training to feeling welcomed and supported by supervisors,” the USPS reported in December. A pilot of the program in Northern Virginia decreased turnover 22%, the agency said.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Old Paper Mills: Monuments to a Strong Dollar

 
1909 postcard: 21 million logs at Millinocket, ME paper mill (from the author's collection)
1906 postcard: ME, Maine paper mill and hydroelectric dam (from the author's collection)
"Strong dollar."

Sounds good, doesn't it? The news that our currency continues to strengthen in comparison with those of almost every other country is like winning the Olympics, right? "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Once-bustling paper-mill towns in Maine that are now turning to ghost towns tell another story. In a state where making paper was an iconic livelihood on par with Down East's famed lobstermen, half of the paper mills have closed in the past two years. Already this year, the site of the former Millinocket mega-mill (pictured above, nine years after it opened as the world's largest paper mill) was sold to a non-profit for $1, permission to demolish another mill was requested, and the Maine Pulp and Paper Association disbanded.

Donald Trump's tirades against foreign trade resonated in the paper-making regions of Maine, just as they did in the parts of  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin that once thrived on steel, autos, coal and paper. Solid-blue counties that previously went for Obama voted instead for Trump, flipping the states' electoral votes to the GOP column.

But as even President Trump recently seemed to acknowledge, the "strong" dollar may be the real culprit behind the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Especially in the paper industry, and most especially in Maine.

The Madison mill -- pictured above 1906, the year it opened -- is a poster child for the inability of protectionist policies to overcome currency issues. Under questionable circumstances, the U.S. Department of Commerce in July 2015 imposed import duties on all four of its Canadian competitors in an obvious attempt to prop up the Madison mill.

That wasn't enough to save Madison. It couldn't overcome a 35%-plus "strengthening" of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian currency in just four years.

With most of their expenses in cheap Canadian dollars but their revenue in pricey American dollars, Canadian mills could still make a profit selling into the U.S. despite penalties of as much as 19%. Similarly, UPM, the world's largest and most profitable paper company, found it made more sense to supply supercalendered paper to the U.S. from its weak-euro European mills than to continue operating Madison.

The Madison mill made its final roll of paper in May 2016. It was sold to an industrial liquidator late last year.

The Digital Revolution and the strong dollar have been bad news for all U.S. makers of publication papers. Maine has the additional bad fortune of mills that were focused on lightweight papers like newsprint, directory, supercalendered, and lightweight coated that have borne the brunt of the shift to digital media. Plus, its out-of-the-way location gives it at best minimal freight advantages versus Canadian mills when shipping to the Midwest or versus European mills when shipping to must of the U.S. East Coast.

Protectionist policies are no match for declining demand and a rising dollar.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

More Mail on Saturday? There's a Reason for That

If you think your mailbox is fuller on Saturdays than it used to be, it’s not your imagination.

During the past year, the U.S. Postal Service made operational challenges that cause some letters to be delivered on Saturday even though they don't have to be delivered until the following week.

“When feasible, based on local operating conditions, the Postal Service advances Standard Mail [letters] scheduled for Monday and Tuesday delivery into a processing window that enables delivery on Saturday, which is generally the lightest delivery day of the week,” the USPS told the Postal Regulatory Commission yesterday (PDF, page 5).

“This practice balances the processing and delivery workload for Monday, which is generally the heaviest delivery day of the week.” Postal officials were responding to a question about how they managed to improve on-time delivery for Standard Mail during FY2016.

Last year, the Postal Service delivered more than 55 billion Standard letters, which generally are mass solicitations sent by businesses and other organizations. (The growing category is often called junk mail --but not by the Postal Service.) Standard letters have lower postage rates than do First Class letters, partly because First Class enjoys more expedited delivery.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Which of These Headlines Is Defamatory?




Takes one to know one.

After American Media Inc. complained that the original headline was "defamatory," Folio: magazine today tweaked the headline on an article about AMI's Star magazine publishing SlimFast ads that masqueraded as articles.

Folio: also published AMI's statement about the article, in which the publisher of National Enquirer and other scholarly journals huffed, "We are very concerned about the defamatory headline and implication in your article, [sic] that falsely states AMI 'pulled' SlimFast ads after a challenge from the Better Business Bureau."

You see, when Star headlined an article about the long friendship of John Travolta and Tom Cruise with "30 Year Gay Secret" even though the article had nothing more than vague references to "gay rumors," that's not defamatory. It's poetic license. (Citing the "bait-and-switch" cover, Gossip Cop gave the article a zero on its accuracy scale.)

Or when the Enquirer ran one hideously Photoshopped cover image after another during the Presidential campaign to "prove" that Hillary Clinton was about to die from brain cancer, that's free speech.

(As Politico's Jack Shafer wrote, "You don’t have to be a Hillary lover to be repulsed by the Enquirer’s coverage of her; the sicknesses the Enquirer has attached to Clinton would fill a medical encyclopedia—muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, endometriosis and brain damage from her concussion. She suffers from obesity (289 pounds), brain cancer and mental disorders, and has had two strokes, the Enquirer claims.)

But when Folio:, a magazine that covers the U.S. magazine industry, writes "Pulls" instead of "Discontinues," that's a DEFAMATION SHOCKER!, as the Enquirer's headline writers would say. Time to call the lawyers and shoot the messenger.

What Folio: didn't alter was its description and depiction of how AMI's round-heeled business ethics were on display in the SlimFast campaign -- including the factoid that "a number of dubious articles, purportedly written by editorial staffers but almost certainly part of a paid SlimFast campaign, proliferate throughout AMI's portfolio of websites."

But Folio: did add some comic relief to the updated version by publishing AMI's shoot-yourself-in-the-foot statement verbatim, including the comment that the company doesn't think it did anything wrong.