“More Periodicals mail is manually processed than ever, and manual productivity continues to decline,” wrote O’Brien, widely recognized as a leading expert on the U.S. Postal Service's handling of Periodicals mail.
Magazine publishers have put lots of energy and resources into making our publications more suited to the Postal Service’s sorting equipment. We’ve participated in co-mail to create more carrier-route bundles, moved mail from sacks to pallets, turned our addresses upside down in preparation for the Flats Sequencing System, and are converting our tabloids to other formats to comply with the “droop” test.
But more than ever, according to O’Brien, postal facilities are letting the machines sit idle while employees handle newspapers and magazines (and, presumably, catalogs) manually. These employees are "automation refugees" – whom O'Brien describes as “mail processing employees who were assigned to manual operations when automation eliminated the work they had been doing.” So much for using automation to decrease the Postal Service's costs.
Rather than addressing the problem, postal officials complain that they're losing so much money on Periodicals that they need to jack up our rates. How about acknowledging that there are too many mail-processing employees and offering them a decent incentive to retire early?
“How can the Postal Service continue to imply that Periodicals mailers are responsible for the cost coverage problem when mailers have substantially and consistently increased Periodicals worksharing?” O’Brien wrote in the blog published yesterday. “The Postal Service should NOT be permitted to continue using Periodicals class mail processing as a dumping ground for its excess labor and the associated costs.”
The Postal Regulatory Commission also indicated yesterday that it might finally realize something is fishy about the Postal Service’s cost accounting for Periodicals. Rather than ruling on whether Periodicals rates are out of compliance with a law that requires each class of mail to break even, it held off doing anything until it receives the in-progress "Joint Report" on Periodicals cost coverage. (But it also hinted that major increases in Periodicals bundle and container rates are in order.)
For further information on the matter of automation refugees and how the USPS’s flawed accounting methods might lead to big rate increases for magazines, newspapers (and perhaps catalogs), please see:
- Audience Development's excellent interview with Jim O'Brien about automation refugees. He also left an interesting comment on this article.
- Increased Efficiency Led to Higher Periodicals and Catalog Costs, Goldway Says
- Postal Service Preparing Double Whammy for Publishers
- Postal Service Inefficiency Drives Up Periodicals Costs
- For Periodicals, The Postal Service’s Math Doesn’t Add Up