Want to get paid to do nothing? Go work for the US Postal Service. According to a new report and subsequent story in the Washington Post, in the first six months of 2011, the USPS paid $4.3 million in compensation to workers on “standby time” – work hours where, due to low mail volume, employees show up to work but just sit in the break room. In 2009, $30.9 million was paid in “standby” salary.
As if that wasn’t enough, audits have shown that employees took advantage of poor oversight to report overly high “standby” hours.
This ludicrous waste is the result of longstanding agreements with two postal service unions. With a severe decline in traditional snail mail, postal workers have less to do. But the power of the unions keeps them employed, and paid, at great cost to the government.
In spite of the unions, cuts are coming to the USPS: the Service wants to cut as many as 20 percent of employees and withdraw from federal health plans in order to save money.
It’s hard to decide who to be angrier at. Management should have resisted counterproductive demands like this even at the cost of a strike. And union leaders should have come up with something more creative and useful to ask for. The USPS has been clearly heading for the elephants’ graveyard ever since those newfangled email and internet things caught on. Workers didn’t need temporary featherbedding; they needed to work with the Postal Service to try to make it relevant in the new world and they also needed education and training opportunities to prepare many workers for the inevitable layoffs. More of that, less nonsense like no-work work, and both labor and management would be much better off.
Thousands more postal workers will be losing their jobs. With smarter union leadership fewer of them would be leaving — and those who did would be better prepared.