Nati Harnik / AP

USPS Offers Early Retirement to 26,000 Employees

Postal Service looks to shed staff after slowly adding workers for four years.

The U.S. Postal Service is looking to shed thousands of employees in early 2018, offering early retirement incentives to 26,000 mail handlers and clerks.

All employees who accept the offer must separate from the agency by the end of March. Eligible workers can also choose to retire by the end of January or February. Employees began receiving the offers Monday, and USPS will continue to send them out throughout the week.  

Employees must have 20 years of experience and be at least 50 years old, or have 25 years of service and be any age, to qualify under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. The Postal Service has received permission from the Office of Personnel Management to offer the incentives. USPS said it has no plans to offer buyouts in conjunction with the VERA incentives.

Several agencies offered early retirement in 2017, including the Social Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department. That followed President Trump through executive order and the Office of Management and Budget through subsequent guidance directing agencies to develop plans to trim their workforces, using buyout and early retirement authority as one tool.

The eligibility letters from the Postal Service will include annuity estimates, which the agency encouraged employees to review. It also emphasized in a message to employees that voluntary early retirement “is just that—voluntary.”

The Postal Service shed 6,500 jobs in 2017, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency has cut nearly 300,000 career positions over the last three decades through separation incentives and natural attrition. USPS employs about 500,000 career workers and a little more than 600,000 total individuals. The cuts actually mark a reversal from a recent trend at the Postal Service. After years of cuts USPS attributed to the agency “right-sizing” its workforce to reduced mail volume, the Postal Service has actually beefed up its staff since 2013.

In 2017, however, mail volumes dropped at an even faster rate than USPS had expected, which prompted the agency to offer the early retirements. The Postal Service lost $2.7 billion last year and suffered a loss among “controllable” income for the first time in five years.

“This VERA action is part of ongoing efforts to right-size our workforce through attrition to match current and projected workload,” said Carl Walton, a Postal Service spokesman, “and in response to the recent acceleration of the declines in mail volume.”