Despite the U.S. Postal Service's string of multibillion-dollar deficits and plans to shed more than 100,000 jobs, people are still lining up for a chance to work at the nation's mail service.
"We're in the process right now where we're hiring noncareer postal employees into clerical positions — I mean, thousands if not tens of thousands of applications out there," U.S. Postmaster Patrick Donahoe said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Thursday "It's still, in my opinion, for a blue-collar job, if you're a letter carrier or a clerk, the best job in America."
Meanwhile, morale among the more than half-million current postal employees, who hear a daily drumbeat of discouraging news about declining mail, deficits and downsizing, is split.
"Right now, there are two things going on out there," Mr. Donahoe said, a day after lawmakers introduced legislation to halt what they called the Postal Service's "financial death spiral."
"You've got people who are saying, 'Thank God I have a job,' and you've got people who are saying, 'Oh, man, what's going to happen with all of these changes?'" Mr. Donahoe said, adding that more than 150,000 postal workers are already eligible to retire.
But he said those sentiments aren't unique to the Postal Service.
"If you would talk to our people, whether they were letter carriers or clerks or postmasters, you'd find a lot of the same anxiety you'd find in American society just about what's going to happen to my company," he said.
More than 100,000 postal jobs would be cut through buyouts under a key provision in a legislative package introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. The plan calls for reducing the workforce by using some of the roughly $8 billion the Postal Service has overpaid into a retirement system to pay postal employees up to $25,000 each as buyouts if they agree to retire.
Mr. Donahoe said the Postal Service has about 557,000 career employees, down from a high of 804,000 workers in 2000.
Another provision in the legislative plan delays by two years a proposal, which Mr. Donahoe has pushed hard, to reduce home mail delivery from six to five days per week.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, and a sponsor of the rescue bill, said on Wednesday that eliminating Saturday mail delivery should only be done as a "last resort."
Mr. Donahoe said he's still pushing for a five-day delivery plan.
"It would help us to move faster, every day of delay on our finances puts us deeper in the hole," he said, adding that polling shows most Americans would prefer the move over closures and big stamp-price increases.
"If you look around and see what happens, it's the lightest day of the week," Mr. Donahoe said of Saturday delivery. "Most people don't look at their mail on Saturdays, from a lot of the marketing studies we've done. They look at it Monday through Friday."
Not everyone agrees.
The National Association of Letter Carriers has opposed such a move. Asked about the plan, the union's president, Fredric Rolando, on Thursday said Saturday delivery is important for small businesses, the elderly and residents in rural communities.
"It's an irrational business formula," he said, "to give up 17 percent of your service to save 2 percent of your budget. Someone will fill the vacuum, and your market share and revenues will decline."
During the interview, Mr. Donahoe said he's had a good relationship with postal unions, adding that organized labor understood the realities of the Postal Service's financial crisis. He said he's also had discussions about the Postal Service with Ron Bloom, who advised President Obama on restructuring the auto industry and was recently hired as a consultant by the National Association of Letter Carriers.
"I think what Ron Bloom will do for the letter carriers is pretty much what Ron Bloom has done in other businesses — provide a realistic assessment of what things look like," Mr. Donahoe said. "Ron Bloom, whether its GM or Chrysler and they're probably the most recent examples, made recommendations that tried to keep the company healthy."
The Postal Service has a big deadline looming. Congress passed a resolution in September that extends to Nov. 18 when the Postal Service needs to make a $5.5 billion payment to prefund retiree health benefits, and Mr. Donahoe said legislation is need to avoid default.
Among other measures, Mr. Donahoe also said the Postal Service could save billions of dollars by restructuring its health care system to make it independent of the federal system.
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