USPS has historically been staffed by long-serving employees, but currently 103,000-plus employees -- one of every six active postal workers -- has been with the agency less than a year. That's triple the newbie rate of just four years ago.
In those same four years, despite cost-of-living adjustments and other pay raises for most employees, average base pay for the Postal Service has actually declined 4%.
Eat your young
The lower average pay rate was made possible by what some have called “eat your young” labor contracts – where current union members are well taken care of in exchange for concessions regarding future hires.
For example, USPS has more than 37,000 city carrier assistants, a non-career position that emerged from a 2013 labor contract. Their duties are similar to those of career letter carriers – but without most of the benefits and at barely half the pay.
“We hired over 80,000 non-career employees in FY2014 including PSEs [Postal Support Employees], CCAs [City Carriers Assistants] and MHAs [Mail Handler Assistants],” says the Postal Service's Annual Report to Congress. “In addition to trying to hire up to our contractual limits of non-careers, we also experienced a high turnover rate (in excess of 40 percent) for CCAs.”
With savings come new costs
“The non-career employees are generating significant rate savings, but are costing additional hours in hiring and training them, as well as in developing needed delivery experience.”
A major reason the Flats Sequencing System’s productivity dropped during FY2014, according to a recent USPS filing, was high turnover among supervisors and front-line employees. USPS recently responded with stepped-up training for supervisors in FSS operations.
Across the agency last year, other new training programs were rolled out, and the amount of time employees spent in e-learning programs nearly doubled. Now the Postal Service is scaling up its new-employee orientation program, with plans to “engage employees before their first day of work.”
A 12% increase in work-related injuries last year is causing USPS to “increase focus on at-risk employees and those who are new to the organization and less familiar with safe work practices,” says the Report to Congress.
The report also cites “the hiring, training and replacement (due to turnover) of many new employees” as a major reason it has missed its service (day-of-delivery) targets for First-Class Mail several years in a row.
In general, recent USPS communications indicate the agency was caught off guard by, but is now trying to come to grips with, the challenges of relying more heavily on non-career employees.
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