Overhaul of the pay structure for rural employees was a process that was years in the making and subject to a series of delays.

Overhaul of the pay structure for rural employees was a process that was years in the making and subject to a series of delays. Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Pay Cuts Have Rural Letter Carriers ‘Scared’ and ‘Outraged’

DeJoy says the situation is “unfortunate” but wasn't his decision and “it is what it is.”

Thousands of letter carriers at the U.S. Postal Service are starting to see new schedules that have reduced their hours and cut their pay, causing significant anxiety within the workforce. 

The changes are part of a revamping of the pay structure for rural employees, a process that has been years in the making and subject to a series of delays. The new work schedules were slated to go into effect last month, but were repeatedly pushed back as the Postal Service sought to iron out kinks. 

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association has filed a national grievance on the plan, saying USPS has withheld details on the data that underlies the new hour and pay calculations. The new system was developed in conjunction with the union after an arbitrator in 2012 said the two sides should come together to create a structure that better adapts to the mailing agency’s evolving business conditions. 

The Rural Route Evaluated Compensation System, or RRECS, required USPS to electronically track the volume of mail and packages rural letter carriers deliver on a daily basis. The system was designed to capture all of the work activities the employees carry out, down to the level of how long it takes them to walk from their delivery trucks to mailboxes and back. After a lengthy process that required employees to input every step of their work days into a scanner—and a second effort after USPS required a new survey—about 66% of rural letter carriers are now seeing their pay reduced, according to a union estimate. 

In addition to the union, lawmakers and individual employees—on social media and at rallies—are speaking out about the changes. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently told reporters the decision predated him and the matter was out of his hands. 

“That was a negotiated process, an arbitrated process,” DeJoy said. “That was done a long time before I got here. And it's you know, it's unfortunate, but, I mean, it is what it is and I didn't decide it.” 

Unlike rural letter carriers, their city-based counterparts are paid on a flat, hourly basis that is not dependent on how much mail they deliver. USPS has historically conducted occasional hand counts of the mail to determine the hours and pay for employees in rural locations, but the 2012 arbitration decision upended that process. The rural letter carriers union and postal management worked for years on developing the electronic replacement before finally deploying it last year. Several letter carriers who spoke to Government Executive said they received little training on how to properly log their work and criticized management for a lack of transparency. 

Initially, employees praised the new system as USPS had conducted manual counts “irregularly and at a time of USPS' choosing when mail volumes were low,” one letter carrier who asked to remain anonymous said. Due to the ensuing confusion and the agency’s reluctance to turn over the underlying data that resulted, many employees have now lost faith in the process. 

David Rodriguez, another rural letter carrier, said his post office employs 12 mail men and women, and 11 of them have lost hours under the new system. Some employees had their hours reduced so severely they will only be conducting auxiliary routes, which further reduces pay. Others, such as Rodriguez, will keep his 45 hours per week but will now have to work six days instead of five to achieve that. On an hourly basis, he said, he will be making far less money, while also losing a day off per week. 

Rodriguez acknowledged there is an overall decline in the volume he is delivering. In 2011, he said, he was averaging between 4,000 and 5,000 mail pieces per day. Now it can be as low as 2,000 or range up to 3,500. The route still takes the same amount of time, he said, particularly as packages are slower to deliver. Rodriguez said he previously turned down other job offers because he likes being a rural letter carrier and his route in particular. The new system has completely changed the mood for him and his colleagues, however. 

“It’s hurting a lot of us,” he said. “We’re all pretty scared.”

The aforementioned rural letter carrier who requested anonymity said she now expects many of her colleagues to find new jobs. 

“I think the route values will have fallen so far that there will be an exodus of people who feel they cannot survive on their new calculations,” she said. “I think there will be confusion, tears, outrage and rejection.” 

Earlier this month, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to DeJoy asking him to delay RRECS implementation, pointing to its “serious flaws.” Nearly 14,000 employees are set to lose more than eight hours of pay per week, they said, based on unreliable data. 

“Implementing RRECS in its current form will arbitrarily enact a pay cut for tens of thousands of rural postal workers who still lack a formal dispute process and have a history of delayed back pay from the postal service,” the senators said. “Furthermore, USPS has withheld information about how RRECS has made its initial route evaluations.” 

They requested that USPS share the data that led to the new route calculations, create a process for employees to dispute changes to their routes, explain how management decided to shorten the expected time to complete certain tasks and ensure the rural letter carrier workforce capacity does not diminish. 

“At a time when USPS is struggling to deliver mail to rural areas, due in part to an inability to recruit rural letter carriers, we fear that RRECS’ impact on working conditions and pay will further deteriorate a vital service to our rural communities,” the senators said. 

Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, said the new process was jointly negotiated by the agency and the union.

“The current modifications to the compensation system were the result of a previous interest arbitration proceeding and mandated by an interest arbitrator,” Partenheimer said. “The parties worked jointly for years to implement these new provisions and will continue to share data and information throughout the implementation process.”

A third rural letter carrier told Government Executive the changes demonstrated a lack of appreciation for what the workforce has endured in recent years. 

“We were even on the front line during the last two years during Covid delivering everyday, exposing ourselves, risking our lives and our families’ lives,” the employee said, comparing that experience to some in management who were able to work remotely. “And we, the delivering employees, got absolutely nothing in return for our hard work but a pay cut.”

In April, Doug Tulino, the deputy postmaster general and USPS’ chief human resources officer, told the rural letter carriers union the new system would go into effect in early May after a delay to allow for a “further review of the data underlying these new route evaluations.” Tulino also vowed to finalize an “alternate dispute resolution process” for employees. USPS acknowledged it may have to adjust some routes that become “overburdened or substandard,” but it will not do that until after it has some time to conduct analysis of the implementation.