Monday, October 10, 2011

Open Letter to the USPS: "Just Drop that First S"

When I see and hear all the news about our vainglorious United States Postal Service having screwed up all its finances and over-expanded to the point it needs to drastically and radically 'downsize', and all the internal hub-bub and protesting going on, all I can think is that they deserve it, and we've always deserved better.

The United Parcel Service has never had such problems, and, despite its astounding workload, has readily and quickly adapted to fill its daily obligation to its customers.  They've also been handling regular envelope mail (if slightly over-size) for years without incident, and their track record--as long as you don't count their ill-fated hand-off partnerships with the USPS--is sterling, as far as corporations can ever be.

So, we should just let them handle the USPS's business.  Not necessarily clean up their messes, and definitely hire some of the better workers from them, but mainly, just allow them to benefit from the USPS's internal screwed-up, well-deserved bad reputation resulting from its just horrible poor service (always bad in a service industry, BTW).

Despite all the crying, protesting, and squirming of local USPS employees, I can think of nothing that would better serve the public once again.  When I see all the national protests, I'm always too busy thinking of how much mail sits in transit, undelivered, to even listen.  It's been a bad ride for the last, oh, my whole life, to even stay on the channel and tolerate this anymore.  You'd think they were all raising 15 kids, the way they talk about supporting their families, and the guilty looks they toss at passerby.

We should all realize how much we've been misled by the public spin given this 'story' by the media.  These aren't people without training, skills, and opportunities.  They are instead a highly-trained group of skilled workers who were hired for their often-blind, quietly-passive, following and instruction-taking skills--except that hiring sessions were, over the last decade, often tainted by open assurances by the USPS that hirees would make tons of money themselves.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!
In 1996, I myself responded to a local newspaper ad to take the 'Postal Exam' test at our local university; I showed up, took the test, and was called to 'try out' at the local Encoding Facility.  The original print ad had stated only that the exam was for postal workers, so I'd wanted to be out delivering the mail itself, not--as things turned out--confined in a cubicle at a terminal dedicated to 'helping' their internal optical character recognition system sort mail to local regions.  During the 'try-outs' I tired of the boring and tedious nature of this work, which reminded me glaringly of old psychological films of chickens trained to play tick-tack-toe for feed (for the record, there were never any thin chickens in those films--they ended up nervous, fat peckers).

Happier, Liberated Chicken
Worse, I tired of hearing the carny-style verbal pitches by all the organizers of the hiring 'event' (most of whom you could easily tell had never worked daily jobs for the USPS themselves), touting the financial glories all workers would achieve should they proceed into the final stages of the selection process and be hired.  You'd think these fattened-chickens were working toward a degree in WWE; or the Nazi party.  It was ridiculous, and by the third day, not only were the nerves in my hands destroyed, but also my image of the Postal Service as well.  They were greedy, misleading thugs operating a ponderous, inefficient, and now over-glamorized circus-style sweatshop.

You Do Want that Integra, Yes?  Then Get To Pecking!
I realized not only that this wasn't the job I'd applied for, it was a work-place I'd hate, and further, that it just wouldn't last, as the jobs at the site were only in existence to correct the millions of mistakes made per-hour by their terribly over-automated, and ridiculously dumb, computerized-sorting system.  Again, the people working their were like chickens; pecking meaningless codes into their otherwise useless terminals, all day (and night) long, driven by incentives that were even more ridiculous.  For example: one 'hiring team member' constantly raved about how much money employees were going to be making, even though this was an entirely new facility, and one of only around six in the entire nation.  It was like being in the middle of an indoctrination, rather than a legitimate hiring process.  I think I remember one other person questioning this reason, but all reason was lost after the 'hiring team member' yelled out "You know that Acura Integra you've been wanting?  Well, this is the job that will get you that car!"  It was like watching an Oprah episode where they found keys under their seats (except in this case, only one winner with 'real keys'!).  As people 'got on board', I recognized I'd never be delivering the mail in this job--I'd just be getting fatter, lazier, and insanely dumber--so I got out; I intentionally fouled up during the last week of the process, got paid for wasting my (and their, apparently) time, and took another job locally, ruining my vehicles delivering newspapers.
To this?  'Thanks', boss!

From this...
I often use that experience to sift through the various USPS media releases, and even the smaller local protests and stories, for any indication things have gotten any better, and made the USPS an organization worth having, much less funding.  After all, they seem to intentionally allow their status as a lifelong icon with heritage to cross the line as an image with a federal economic anchor, even though any ambitions as such have long been lost to other carriers--some of whom took away from the USPS then failed themselves (DHL).  Doubtless, the USPS Company has oft-used any kind of federal manipulations it can to undermine their competition, even while providing much less real service than their competitor.

More 'Things that make you go Hmmm'.
There are some real reasons the USPS deserves an absolute buyout by their major competition, UPS.  It's like the difference between Ford and either GM, or Chevy, in that Ford didn't accept government billions in a down market--instead, they waited for it to play out, made their own business even better, and even played the 'donor card' in a recent ad--which was immediately yanked after pressure from no less than the White House itself (yay, liberty and democracy!).  See this article from the Detroit News for reference.

I was right about the confining nature of the job; but even more right about my observation that, despite what the hiring team was told to say (and gleefully reporting all along the process), this was a temporary opportunity--a temp job--until the USPS got some better software and tech toys to sort the mail automatically.  This was only alluded to occasionally by the hiring team--all very motivated people in the most anonymous, fly-by-nighter, high-pressurecarnival-barking style.  The area's RCE (Remote Encoding Center) was closed in under five years, and now those people drive their Hyandais to work at AFNI, Community College, or maybe just walk to Walmart to shop sometimes, if they're lucky.

The data online for a search on 'USPS Remote Encoding Facility closures' is so profligate that I'm just putting a Google search result link here.

The whole thing seemed scandalous to me, but done under the auspices of the USPS, it was almost as if the younger folks they were indoctrinating were just along for the ride, a perfect flush during a perfect quail hunt, if you will.  Once the inductees were flushed from their own lifestyles, they were made into the perfect fools for this temp hiring process.

Some bigger indicators of the USPS's failings have been there for decades, while some have come more recently.

Here are a few notables, in my opinion:

'Going Postal'
Memorial of the 1986 post office
shooting incident at Edmond, OK

Ever wonder where the phrase came from?  Not if you're over 25, hopefully, because here is one uniquely-American phrase we should never forget (or allow to bear repetition).  This nefarious, negative phrase originated in the United States during the mid-eighties, and was popularized by the media until it found its way into regular usage  by anyone wanting to make a case that someone else is 'nuts for no apparent reason'.

The various uses of the phrase today rarely ever pause to relate its origin, but often still come followed by a dreadful melancholic pause, because it was never funny--but instead, pathetic, dreadful, and psychologically-tinged with pathos, as in the more common modern uses of the words apathetic (when describing our declining national outlook), and the use of the word pathos (when describing a sickly-engaging movie).

For those born after the mid-80's, the phrase originally was coined by the media to refer to a (likely dead)  person who, seemingly without warning, snaps, and goes on some kind of killing rampage, often after raging silently for years at an increasingly oppressive, over-demanding, and unrewarding job (as in the USPS jobs that--even then--lacked any redeeming qualities).  Many times this unfortunate incident killed off innocent bystanders, even hapless customers already made to wait in line at the post office.  Worse yet, many of the incidents that gave rise to this sinister phrase were preceded by the killer's desperate pleas to his supervisor, or even higher-ups, begging for better working conditions.  Most often, with the USPS, the 'condition' requested--even begged-and-pleaded-for--have been mere better pay.

For years, the United States Post Office has seemed to foster and promote it's own corporate image, while apparently, internally failing to the point of absolute bleakness from within.

From 1986 to 1997, over twenty incidents occurred, involving more than 40 people murdered by American postal workers.  Following every incident, details emerged later that involved severe stresses being forced on the worker, mostly in the way of an over-demanding job, in an 'unfeeling' environment (my words--most involved cases where workers had filed formal grievances over work conditions, which had been ignored and worsened).

See this wikipedia article for more info. (Be ready to be depressed).

The 'Forever' Stamps

Let's go buy grandma some stamps (before she does).
Everybody recognized the 'necessity' of the 'Forever Stamp' from the start.  It was the USPS saying, "We're going to raise the rates indefinitely, so we're putting out a stamp now that'll give you the opportunity to pay a higher fee now", with the unwritten, malingering thought "and yes, we're worried we won't last 'til next year" left wide open.

The media was reporting postal service office closures all over the United States.  The prevailing consumer attitude was, generally-speaking, 'Quick--call grandma and stop her before she goes out and buys a lot of these things'.

I mean, how long could they last?  The cloudy fortune of the USPS had already made the mainstream media, and most everyone not working for them was unhappy with almost every aspect of their service as well.  So, why would people go out and buy a stamp that was an open declaration of a failing company's last stand--an act of desperation made worse by the USPS attempts to make this a 'saving throw' to their own crippled infrastructure.  They released emotional press statements encouraging people to buy the new 'Forever Stamps' in order to save the good ol' Postal Service from extinction, basically--but they'd been driven out of business by their own greed, first, and, all throughout, their own incompetence (in failing to compete with the better-run, better-managed UPS).

Blaming eBay for Insufficient Postage

It's become a real pain to have to scan for eBay auctions that avoid the USPS's messed-up 'at-home' label printing system.  Sellers often send you an item only to surprise you with insufficient funds, and if you're not available (IF your postal delivery-person has the time to go to your front door) to pay the extra fee, you get a notice in your mailbox saying you will now have to bring the ticket down to your local post office and pay the unpaid postage before you can receive your package.

Many times, this is cause by eBay sellers who intentionally get around the official USPS postage system by printing their own labels at home until they get enough complaints to eBay that their accounts are closed.

Your postal worker, and the postal service, is right to blame the seller, but one thing has been missing in this blame-game from the start--an improvement in the USPS online label system in general.

They could stop all this by just restricting labels printed at home to those running actual businesses at home; or, they could have merely placed more restrictions on certain eBay account-holders who have made this a habit (eBay would stand to benefit from this, too).

If the Postal Service was really in the black, and doing well, on their own ledgers, we'd have seen dedicated little scales offered by them years ago, which, for a miniscule fee (due to the sheer volume of eBay business coming their way), could prevent people from underestimating the weight of their sold items, and end all this right away.

But, it hasn't happened--and this is a characteristic of a business solely run for profit--as in the local car lot that sells used cars without a mechanic's shop inside, or the cell phone company concentrating more on overage fee policies without restricting the phone's actual functionality during overage times.

As a small businessman who often 'relents' and buys computer parts from eBay which can't be purchased locally, or even regionally, at retail parts vendors, this situation has haunted me more than a dozen times in the last two years alone--especially when I've promised a local customer their computer by a certain time depending on the tracking number's report of the location of their item, only to find a note in my mailbox reporting the eBay vendor did this....and especially on a Friday, or Saturday!

"Please Leave Your Complaint at the Beep"

Over the past five years I have noticed a decline in the local post office's ability to deal with local calls, regardless of their nature.  Whether you are dealing with a terrible delivery-person, previous resident's mail coming to your box, or even someone stealing your mail, you won't be talking to a local, real person, it seems, ever again, if the current USPS policies stay in effect.

Not that there isn't a local telephone number listed for them--there is here, anyway--but you will never be able to use it to talk with a human being, much less any kind of supervisor, again.  Your call will be routed to a mailbox that reports that it is 'Full', and you will then be hung up on., what, then?  Wouldn't it seem ridiculous to call some national 'hotline'?  Even worse--imagine the defunct state of things if and when you finally broke down and related your story/needs to a national online form of some kind?

Well, that's what you're getting--unless your town is a town, anyway.  When your town 'grows up' and becomes a 'city', then you'll feel the big-city pain of anonymity in this new, profoundly ridiculous, way.  Get used to it--it's not a good thing, but it's been propounded by a USPS that is unwilling to make changes to get better, and instead seeks to constantly get you to throw money at it in the way of unearned, higher fees.

That's what's wrong with the USPS--more demands should mean a balanced budget paying higher salaries and increasing the quality of services, not necessarily the sheer number of them.  It has become a ponderous, bureau of mindless, robotic corporate decisions based on that bottom line, with no attention to 'how' along the way, at all.  It's hit rock-bottom.

Not UPS, which has continued to make strong headway in the area of steady growth.  Rather than make idealized projections, the seem to have stayed busy by making their service better, which has paid with realistic earnings steadily.

Pardon my sarcasm, but this is incredible in the modern US market, especially the 'needy' corporate environment we've let creep into the automotive industry through the years.

Considering their industry, size and potential, UPS stands to gain from USPSs loss, anytime.  The only hold-back has been the USPS's delivery service type (or more accurately, the type of deliveries they...deliver).  The USPS origin as the Pony Express involved primarily paper, envelope mail, and still does today.  If they ruin that, it's their mess, and the corporate big-wig idiots capitalizing on this failed infrastructure should be left holding the bag while UPS strides in valiantly and offers all the stressed-out postal workers better jobs and better pay.  That's what it's all about for now, especially.

If the USPS grandstands (and it would), and begins over-valuing their own local offices, they should be reminded every step of the way that a) they're not an official government office, at any point; b) they drove themselves to their own extinction solely by their own incompetence (even while driving out DHL and other mail carriers out of business Monopoly-style); c) they never treated their own very well at all; and d) many of their supervisors now protesting local office closures could be working at UPS very quickly, and so also offer up whole lists of their own best employees for hire there.  Hopefully this would end any stand-offs, delays while the entire USPS stepped-out of their own offices and merely changed the logo while their corporate heads changed into something more efficient and successful.  Everybody would benefit--especially us, their customers.

If it was possible to change only the company logo while changing out the entire corporate oligarchy that preceded their problems, and dragging demise, I'd say 'to it!', but it's not.  Unfortunately, there are enough ridiculous people working for the USPS in the form of scores of attorneys who would inevitably be contacted ASAP, to somehow 'revive their' tarnished image once again, as they've focused on doing for the last two decades or more.  They've gotten used to spitting into the wind, likely due to all the sweet-talk they've been spouting about themselves for years, anyway.  That spit got to the point it actually tasted pretty good to them.

But all along the way, they crapped on their employees and customers.  That will never get better.

As you can see by their stock page on '' here, their dividends have continued solid growth as well.  This is striking considering their sheer size and potential pitfalls (all of which they now have the USPS as a model for).

additional online sources: