The early numbers are in and it appears that as many as 7,400 postmasters and full-time mail handlers could be headed for the exits under separate buyout/early retirement offers from the U.S. Postal Service.
For both groups, the sign-up deadline was Monday. Although applicants can still back out, the Postal Service anticipates that between 3,800 to 4,200 postmasters could resign or retire in response to the $20,000 buyout incentive, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said today. The Postal Service is offering full-time mail handlers $15,000 to take the money and run; between 2,800 and 3,200 may go, Saunders said.
One thing is clear: Proportionately, the early-out option has been a much better sell among the nation’s 21,000 postmasters than its roughly full-time 43,000 mail handlers.
FedLine can only speculate on the reasons, but a couple of factors may be in play. This is the first buyout offer for postmasters since 1992, while mail handlers went through a similar drill just three years ago. The postmaster incentive package is obviously a better deal, besides which many postmasters risk losing their jobs by late 2014 under the Postal Service’s plan to cut customer service hours at thousands of post offices.
Officials at the National League of Postmasters and the National Association of Postmasters of the United States did not respond to requests for comment.
Keep in mind, too, that the potential takers represent less than two percent of the Postal Service’s career workforce, currently around 541,000 employees.
While any kind of buyout is better than what employees in many troubled industries receive, there’s nonetheless a human toll here. Retirement is retirement, and that usually means a big drop in income. One postmaster opting not to take the buyout is Tony Sampson, who runs a P.O. in a struggling corner of southern Ohio. As Sampson told Federal Times last month, good-paying jobs there are scarce and his pension–if he chose to retire at age 53–would barely cover his house payment.
“I’ve got to hang on,” Sampson said in a phone interview today. “I don’t have any choice but try to last two years and try to find a job somewhere.”
Still no word from either the the Postal Service or the American Postal Workers Union on when (or if) a buyout offer is coming for clerks. The APWU has confirmed informal talks on the subject, but the word is that a formal offer has become entangled in a dispute over whether the Postal Service is abiding by provisions in last year’s contract to bring some work now done by contractors back in house.