I was too quick yesterday to praise the U.S. Postal Service’s new eRetire system, which seems to be just a faster and more convenient way for potential retirees to get inaccurate information.
“eRetire isn’t better. The only improvement I see is you can download some documents as PDFs rather than waiting for hard copies in the mail,” responded Don Cheney, an APWU leader from Auburn, WA and an expert on USPS retirement issues, in reaction to my article Postal Service Steps Up Communications With Potential Retirees.
The new website “provides only two annuity estimates: optional and disability retirement,” he said. “There are no annuity estimates available online for Voluntary Early Retirements. They still don’t include the FERS annuity supplement in annuity estimates for eligible employees in FERS.”
He has also learned of at least one bug in eRetire: “When a city carrier downloaded his disability retirement packet yesterday, it had the job description for an Information Systems Specialist, EAS-21, rather than a city carrier.”
Cheney has been trying for seven years to educate postal employees about all of their retirement benefits and to get USPS to issue accurate and complete retirement estimates to employees. He recently wrote an article that asked, “Does the Postal Service Really Want Early Retirements?" And he has two grievances pending on the Postal Service’s failure to obey the Office of Personnel Management’s rules regarding annuity estimates.
Sign a blank check?
“USPS refuses to provide retirement counseling in a VER until AFTER the employee has signed an ‘Acknowledgement of Irrevocability.’ This form is not required for other types of retirements. Would you sign a blank check that is irrevocable?”
“The demise of Personnel Services in the districts has meant union reps like me have had to step in to assist employees with their retirement applications,” Cheney said
“Lack of retirement counseling is especially bad for veterans, who make up about half of the workforce. Their paperwork takes about four to six months to process. Veterans are forced to sign an 'Acknowledgement of Irrevocability' without knowing how much money they will owe for their military service or how much annuity they will get. I’ve seen the USPS demand as much as $10,000 from a veteran at the last minute. This is a major reason for complaints and long delays in a non-pay status.”
Think about any of the recent scandals involving the Postal Service: Bernstock. Payment of health premiums for top executives. Using retired executives as consultants.
I contend that the amount of money wasted in those incidents is a drop in the bucket compared with what the Postal Service is paying excess employees who would retire if they only knew what their retirement benefits would be.
Not at all business-like
I keep hearing USPS executives talk about how they’re running the Postal Service in a more business-like manner. But I know of no business – even ones that aren’t trying to downsize -- that puts its employees through such a runaround to get retirement projections.
Postal officials keep pointing out how much cost they have taken out of the system the past few years. But it’s hard for me (or, more importantly, Congress) to get excited about those efforts when I see how much money could be saved simply by providing employees accurate information.
I still haven’t heard an answer to the question I asked two months ago as the Postal Service was trying unsuccessfully to impose emergency price increases: “Why Does USPS Make Retiring Difficult When It Has So Many Excess Employees?