By Jason Sethre
Fillmore County Journal
First, I want to say that my beef with the USPS has nothing to do with anyone at a local level.
Our local USPS postmasters, clerks and route drivers are absolutely wonderful to work with. They are dedicated, and they truly care about providing the best possible service.
My issues are with Postmaster General and CEO Louis DeJoy and the entire upper echelon of the USPS.
Since he took on this important leadership role as the 75th Postmaster General on June 16, 2020, I’ve seen the worst delays in mail delivery ever, overly aggressive rate increases, and poor decisions that negatively impact frontline postal employees and customers.
Something has to change.
Deliberately creating inefficiencies
This week’s newspaper comes to you with quite a few hurdles.
The USPS decided to eliminate the use of sacks for USPS Marketing Mail and Periodical Flats. They want everyone to utilize handling containers.
When our newspaper printer found out, they said they’d have to deliver our newspapers on two semi-trucks. That means two drivers, two tanks of gas, and two vehicles hauling product. We’d have to double up on resources to accomplish the same objective each week. Instead, we are palletizing all of the newspapers, which can fit on one semi-truck. In spite of the USPS decisions, we are trying to manage the costs as efficiently as possible.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
The newspapers used to arrive in a heavy-duty, transparent, reusable, recyclable synthetic sack. They’ve been using these for newspapers and other mailings for a very long time.
When we have unloaded a semi-truck full of 17,000 to 24,000 pounds of newspapers, we unload roughly 250 sacks that contain four or five newspaper bundles in each sack. That’s a total of 921 bundles condensed down to 250 sacks. With the elimination of sacks, we will be handling 921 individual bundles, transferred from each pallet into our newspaper vans to deliver to each USPS location. It’s much easier to handle 250 sacks instead of 921 individual bundles of newspapers.
And, the sacks are organized by zip code and postal route, so the system has worked just fine for everyone involved.
A study was done by mail preparing agencies on the elimination of sacks, and it was estimated that “the change would increase the number of handling unit containers used by varying percentages, ranging from 30% to 50%.” The report went on to state, “Sacks are flexible and conform to the pallet container, while tubs are more rigid, requiring a specific amount of space and cause an increase in the amount of empty space (air) being shipped in the container.” – federalregister.gov
So, this change will slow down the shipping process, but USPS leadership says it will make the process more efficient.
That’s like walking into a grocery store, and the store leadership decides that you can no longer carry your groceries out to your vehicle with the option of paper or plastic bags. Instead, you have to carry each individual food item from the checkout to your vehicle. Just imagine carrying eggs, watermelon, bananas, bread, milk, and hot dogs in one trip, but then going back four more times to get the rest of your groceries from the conveyor belt at the checkout. Talk about a bottleneck.
I’m sure glad the USPS leadership isn’t in charge of our local grocery stores.
Ridiculous rate increases
I hope you purchased postage stamps in advance of July 9, 2023. If not, I’m sorry – I should have warned you earlier.
Historically, the USPS initiated rate increases in the third week of January each year. The rate increase usually ranged from 2.7% to 3.1%. That’s been the norm up until 2021, when along came a second mid-year rate increase. So, now we absorb another heftier rate increase usually ranging between 7% and 8%.
For newspapers, those rates are even more aggressive, with an increase of 8.8% within county and 8.1% outside of county.
Interestingly, the USPS is making bank on newspapers, since so many of them have converted over from their own carrier delivery force to USPS mail delivery. The place where we print our newspaper in Madelia, Minn., processed over $6.5 million in postage for the delivery of newspapers in 2022. We spend more than nearly $300,000 per year on postage, so seeing rate increases in January and July each year for a combined 12% spike – that’s just ridiculous.
I speak with newspaper publishers on a regular basis, and we all agree that something has to change with the USPS.
We are looking at 12% rate hikes year after year. Since DeJoy took the reins in June 2020 (just three years ago), we’ve experienced a 20% increase in postage. This isn’t just impacting newspapers. This is impacting everyone. At the current rate of postal increases, postage will double every eight years. This isn’t inflation. This is absurd.
Amazon’s secret deal
Kudos to whomever earned a big bonus from Jeff Bezos for signing the “Deal of the Century” between the USPS and Amazon. I have sent a lot of e-mails and made a lot of phone calls to find out what sort of discount Amazon is getting when they mail packages, and nobody high up in the ranks of the USPS can give me answers. It’s a secret. All I know is that Amazon won on that deal.
Unfortunately, while we may feel like we are winning on the Amazon deal, we may be feeling the impact in different ways in small town America.
If you walk into the USPS to mail a package, you might pay $18.00 to mail the same package that Amazon will pay $6.00 to ship. The only way I found any answers on pricing was by asking around at local USPS locations what clerks knew about the pricing.
Some people may say, “Well, Amazon is getting a volume discount, so that’s understandable.”
But, who is paying for Amazon’s discount? The rest of us. We, as consumers, are paying the price.
We pay more for shipping packages than Amazon. But, even more interestingly is that our local businesses are competing with Amazon – the online juggernaut of a store.
It really boils down to “Main Street versus Wall Street.” Who are we supporting? Jeff Bezos or our local merchants?
From the beginning of October through the end of January each year – a four consecutive month span – the USPS is overwhelmed with Amazon package delivery.
That’s because in the fourth quarter of the year, like clockwork, consumers start making purchases for the holidays and hot deals. It’s like hooking up a fire hose to a garden hose. The system can’t handle the workload without consuming the lives of the local postmasters, clerks, and rural route drivers. I have spoken with many of our local USPS employees, and they are working seven days a week throughout the holidays. That’s the only way they can try to keep up.
The USPS, and specifically rural routes, are not set up to handle Amazon’s package delivery efficiently. Many of the packages are simply too big.
The leadership of the United States Postal Service needs to step down from their ivory tower and understand how the decisions they make impact the frontline employees and the end consumer.
At our office, we recently discussed how the USPS decisions were impacting all of us, and one of our team members said, “The USPS leadership needs to participate in that show ‘Undercover Boss.’”
USPS leadership seems to be going out of their way to make life harder for everyone involved.
I suggest that USPS leadership visit local post offices and work alongside the people who do the work every day. Work at the front counter with clerks. Ride along with rural route drivers delivering oversized packages. Ask questions about what needs to be improved to help better serve customers. Ask route drivers for ideas on how to reduce expenses and increase revenues. The frontline employees of any company are the heart and soul of the operation.
Leadership would be wise to listen.