New Bill Puts Focus on Improving Postal Workforce Morale
Legislation is part of effort to provide better service to rural customers.
Whenever the U.S. Postal Service faces a crisis, it turns to a specific part of its business to make the requisite cuts: delivery to rural areas.
So says a group of senators representing rural states. The senators introduced legislation on Thursday to reverse that pattern. The cuts, the lawmakers said, have led to failures in USPS’ ability to meet its own standards in rural services.
Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., put forward the Rural Postal Act to force the Postal Service to reinstitute service standards the agency redefined to help consolidate its network. Another major part of the lawmakers’ push is to improve morale among postal employees.
The bill would create a “chief morale officer” tasked with overseeing working conditions, staffing, communication and training efforts.
Morale among Postal Service employees has been dropping “not because postal workers are in any way less diligent,” Heitkamp said on Thursday. “The problem is they’re not being well managed.” She added USPS is an important provider of jobs, and lawmakers must ensure it is a “good place to work.”
The bill would also make permanent six-day mail delivery. The Postal Service has attempted to do away with Saturday mail delivery, saying it would save $2 billion annually, but a rider included in each spending bill since 1983 has prevented the agency from making the change. The provision in the new legislation would provide certainty that six-day mail delivery will continue, Heitkamp said, rather than the ambiguity created by the current year-by-year process. She added that delivering mail six days each week gives the Postal Service a competitive advantage.
The lawmakers are also seeking to protect rural post offices from closures and further reductions in hours, and to create a process to undo reductions that have already taken place. Their bill would place a two-year moratorium on the closure of additional mail processing plants, which they say has disproportionately affected rural areas.
The Postal Service delivered just 63 percent of its non-local mail on time in the second quarter of fiscal 2015, more than 30 percent behind the agency’s own expectations. USPS canceled most of the second phase of its network consolidation scheduled to take place in 2015, which postal management attributed to ensuring “prompt, reliable and predictable service consistent with the published service standards.”
The bill would establish a pilot program to implement WiFi at rural post offices, as part of an effort to make the buildings a “community gathering center.”
Heitkamp said she spoke to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s ranking member and the Democrats’ postal point man, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., prior to introducing the bill, and she is working with him to move forward on postal issues.
Heitkamp and other senators representing rural states have butted heads with Carper in the past over postal issues, especially in relation to preserving delivery standards. The first-term lawmaker said last Congress she opted not to introduce a postal bill specifically on rural issues, instead allowing for Carper’s preferred comprehensive approach to run its course.
That process “did not move forward the way I thought it would,” Heitkamp said, adding that this time around she has learned her lesson. She vowed not to “engage in a discussion” on a postal overhaul bill until she and her rural-state colleagues receive a commitment their issues will be dealt with.