Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Deputy Postmaster General Calls It Quits

Ron Stroman
Two days after it announced its selection of a new chief executive, the U.S. Postal Service's #2 official submitted his resignation, the USPS revealed today.

"On May 8, 2020, Ronald A. Stroman informed the Chairman of the Board of Governors and the Postmaster General of his intention to resign from the Postal Service effective on June 1, 2020," the agency stated in a report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On May 6, the USPS's Board of Governors announced that it had unanimously chosen Louis DeJoy, a logistics-industry executive and supporter of President Trump, to become Postmaster General. He is slated to replace retiring PMG Megan Brennan on June 15.

Update: A few hours after this article was published, Brennan issued a letter announcing Stroman's resignation, noting that he is "the highest ranking African American in the history of the Postal Service" and that he spearheaded the service's vote-by mail and sustainability initiatives. (Was she praising him or explaining why the Trump Administration supposedly pushed him out?)

Stroman's resignation means he will no longer serve on the Board of Governors, which consists mostly of political appointees.

DeJoy's selection was announced less than a week after David Williams, a former USPS Inspector General, resigned as vice chairman of the Board of Governors -- reportedly because of Treasury Department meddling in what is supposed to be an apolitical agency. The Mailers Hub News newsletter recently referred to Williams as "one of the most qualified individuals ever to serve on the Board."

Stroman has been Deputy PMG since 2011. His more than 40 years of federal service include previous stints as an attorney and executive with the General Accounting Office, the House of Representatives staff, and the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Cashing in on USPS Overtime: Why Many Postal Workers Earn More Than Their Bosses

A U.S. Postal Service employee recently received triple the annual pay of fellow mail handlers by working 4,578 hours during a single year.

That’s the equivalent of clocking in for more than 12 ½ hours a day, 365 days a year. Or 11 eight-hours shift per week.

The hard-working mail handler was apparently the USPS’s highest-paid front-line employee during Fiscal Year 2018, earning $181,253, according to an Inspector General’s report released a few days ago.

The typical full-time career mail handler earned $26 an hour and averaged about 8 hours of overtime per week, according to USPS data.

Mr. or Ms. Eager Beaver Mail Handler clearly out-earned the boss: The highest-paid front-line postal supervisor that year earned a paltry $152,489 by working a mere 3,567 hours (averaging 69 hours per week) in Distribution Operations.

“The average pay of supervisors was higher than craft pay,” the report noted. “However, when comparing total pay (including base salary plus overtime), craft employees can earn more than their first-line supervisors.”

The average annual pay for supervisors was $69,631, 27% higher than the average for craft positions, according to the report. (I believe these numbers are base pay without overtime, not total pay, but the report doesn't make that clear.)

But 3,362 craft employees – including almost 1,000 carriers and nearly as many clerks and mail handlers – had total earnings that surpassed $100,000.

A postal expert and former USPS employee tells me that some of these $100,000-plus craft employees probably "involve situations where the employees filed grievances because they were improperly denied overtime opportunities. Unfortunately USPS (in my experience) doesn't provide supervisors and managers with the tools they need to manage OT. The end result is large grievance settlements."

(Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan's base pay that year was $290,565 FY2018. Tsk, tsk, if the Postal Service operated like "a real business," she would have made at least 20 times as much as the highest-paid front-line employees and supervisors.)

One reason craft employees can earn more than their supervisors is that they receive up to two times their normal hourly pay for overtime, “whereas first-line supervisors are paid straight time for hours worked above their normal schedule.”

Noting that postal supervisors have an annual attrition rate of only 1%, the OIG’s report didn’t recommend any changes in how supervisors are compensated.

But I suspect that attrition rate was calculated without including postal workers who switched from supervisor back to craft positions. I know of several people who gave up supervisor positions because they had been earning more as a letter carrier.

Or because the minimal extra pay for being a supervisor wasn’t worth the bureaucratic headaches.

For further reading:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Will Magazine Publishing Be Like in 2020? January 14

By a strange coincidence, four separate events on the same day pretty much tell you everything you need to know about magazine media in 2020.

Not un-undead yet
I could have just waited a few hours and let the events of the day do the talking.

Early the morning of January 14, when I submitted my 2020 magazine-publishing forecast to Publishing Executive, I had no idea the day would foretell what lies ahead for magazine media.

Within a few hours of me finishing that article, four different announcements provided glimpses into what’s in store for publishing this year. (PubExec added notes about two of the announcements before publishing my article.):

1) Change of Fortune
The New York Post revealed changes in store for Fortune magazine that checked off three boxes in my forecast: a “tiered paywall” on its web site, reduced frequency for its magazine, and upgrading of its paper. It didn’t take a crystal ball to see that those three trends from 2019 would continue into this year.

2) Chopping plants
LSC Communications, one of the two megaprinters that dominate U.S. magazine printing, announced the closure of three magazine and catalog printing plants, including one of the nation’s largest. My article noted that “heavily indebted LSC was left in a weakened state” and is “shaky,” but I wasn’t expecting such a swift, radical downsizing.

All three plants were noted for producing relatively large-circulation magazines, including some with print orders in the millions. Their closure underscores a theme that will continue to play out in 2020: Magazines are nearly dead as a mass medium; the future lies in niches.

3) Paper cuts 
Resource Recycling published an article pointing out that Verso Corp. had stepped up its plans to shift some production capacity at its Duluth mill from supercalendered papers to packaging papers.

Verso’s original plan was to start making 48,000 tons of packaging papers starting early this year, but in a recent financial filing it raised that number to 90,000. And it said that might be just the first step to a complete conversion that would eliminate production of printing papers.

Like LSC’s giant, doomed Mattoon plant, Duluth’s strong point is rotogravure products, which are typically used for publications and newspaper inserts having print orders in the millions. No wonder Verso would rather use the mill to make cardboard.

Duluth’s gradual conversion probably won’t rile the paper market. But, publishers beware: I believe other such machine conversions are likely to cause some sort of paper shortage this year, as explained in the PubExec article.

4) Zombie renaissance
Meredith Corporation had its struggles last year, but its zombie resurrection strategy wins my vote for New Business Model of the Year. It revealed a new twist in that strategy on (when else?) January 14 in announcing the new Rachael Ray In Season quarterly bookazines.

Just a few months ago, Meredith “zombified” Rachel Ray Every Day -- killing off the monthly magazine and transferring its subscribers to other Meredith titles, while keeping it undead with occasional newsstand-only issues.

Light my fire? No thanks
Last week’s announcement didn’t go full zombie resurrection, since there was no reference to subscriptions. However, the commitment to a quarterly publication schedule of seasonally themed issues and the emphasis on advertisers (bookazines usually contain few if any ads) suggest that the Princess of Perky may once again have a real magazine.

This time, though, it’s likely to be more of a niche effort, with a target circulation that’s only a fraction of the million-plus numbers of Rachael Ray Every Day's zenith. And, of course, it will have a higher price, more pages, lower frequency, and better paper than its predecessor.

Bonus prediction: Don't hold your breath waiting for Rach to start hawking vagina-scented candles. Goop is going to have the monopoly on that one.  
Other Dead Tree Edition commentaries on the "magazine media" industry include:

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Dawn of the Undead: A Recap of U.S. Magazine Publishing in 2019

If you think 2019 was a good year for magazine publishing, you're ignoring the many iconic publications that died or became "zombies."

And if you think 2019 was a bad year for magazine publishing, you're ignoring the many big-money mutant publishers who have joined the magazine world. Along with the zombie that's coming back from the undead.

These strange doings are covered in my recent article for Publishing Executive: Zombies, Mutants & Resurrection: Magazine Publishing in 2019.

(Editor's Note: If he had written the headline, Mr. Tree would have put a comma after "Mutants". He strongly believes in bringing the Oxford comma back from the dead.)