Sunday, April 08, 2001

Patrons ponder no-mail Saturdays

Budget proposals could cut jobs, delivery

By Dan Horn and Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Carol Chance was planting flowers in the front yard of her Green Township home Saturday morning when Dave Rebholz approached with the day's mail.

        What if Saturday mail delivery was done away with? Ms. Chance was asked.

        “If it's all trash mail, you can stay home,” she told Mr. Rebholz, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier for nearly 21 years. “Unless it's going to affect your paycheck. I can count on you, come hail, sleet, snow or whatever.”

        The news was bad enough last month, when U.S. Postal Service employees found out that budget cuts will delay construction of their new offices and facilities in Greater Cincinnati.

        But when word of more cuts came last week, postal employees learned their pay, their annual bonuses and even their jobs could be in jeopardy.

[photo] Mail carrier Dave Rebholz passes two dogs on his route. “Big business wants it on Saturdays, residential wants it on Saturdays,” Mr. Rebholz says of mail delivery.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        The budget cuts are under consideration because of rising costs that could mean losses of $2 billion to $3 billion for the Postal Service this fiscal year.

        After several years in the black, the Postal Service lost $199 million last year.

        The Postal Service's governing board has asked management to come up with a proposal to cut costs within 90 days.

        The cost-cutting could have a significant impact on the 10,000 employees in the Cincinnati district, which stretches from southern Ohio to northern Kentucky to southeast Indiana.

        Of greatest concern are the 400 jobs directly connected to Saturday mail delivery, which could be eliminated under one budget proposal. Those full-time positions are Saturday shift carriers who also work on other routes during the week.

        “We don't know what's going to happen,” said Bonni Manies, Postal Service spokeswoman in Cincinnati. “We hope to achieve cuts through attrition, so people are not out of jobs.”

        Mr. Rebholz said this is not the first time the elimination of Saturday mail delivery has been talked about.

        “I know guys who have been doing this for 30 years and they say it'll never happen,” Mr. Rebholz said. “Big business wants it on Saturdays, residential wants it on Saturdays.”

A "horrible' loss
        Mr. Rebholz opened the back of his mail truck and began stuffing mail into his sack. Seven trays, each 2 feet long, bulged with mail. Fourteen feet of mail and at least 15 packages filled the back of the truck — all to be delivered Saturday just on this one route in Green Township.

        “I think that would be horrible,” said Carol Beeson of the prospect of no Saturday mail delivery. She was washing her car when Mr. Rebholz handed her the mail.

        Customers who visited Cincinnati's postal stations Saturday morning said they love the convenience of weekend hours. But they would have no major objections if the service was lost if it meant the Postal Service could save money and keep down the price of their services and the cost of postage stamps, they said.

        Kathy Perry visited the Price Hill postal station about 8:30 a.m. Saturday to mail a catalog purchase that had to be returned. She often takes advantage of the Saturday service to send care packages to her son, now a sophomore at Ohio State University.

        The weekend service saves her from rushing to the post office during the workweek and waiting in long lines. However, she's willing to adjust if postal offices were no longer open on Saturdays — just as she did as the cost of postage stamps rose.

        “It's not the end of the world,” she said. “Sure it would affect me, but we adjust.”

        Ms. Perry said the U.S. Postal Service has lost business as people began to use e-mail. It was bound to catch up with the Postal Service's daily operations, she said.

        But it doesn't feel that way to Mr. Rebholz. The mail hasn't gotten any lighter, as far as he can tell.

        “I don't think the job has gotten any easier,” he said.

        There are catalogs to deliver, bills that have to go out. The holidays haven't changed — Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day still generate a lot of mail.

Jobs could be lost
        Ms. Manies said the agency's goal is to reduce administrative costs by about 25 percent. That could mean cuts in staff through layoffs, attrition, lower pay rates or some combination of those options.

        “We're looking at everything,” said Bob Anderson, a Postal Service spokesman in Washington, D.C.

        He said closing or eliminating facilities is an option, as is cutting jobs. He said it's unclear what effect, if any, the cuts would have on the agency's bonus system, which rewards employees with annual bonuses instead of set pay increases.

        Mr. Anderson said the system, which last year paid out $197 million to employees, is part of the salary structure for managers. Instead of annual pay hikes, he said, managers are paid with “bonuses” based on their performance.

        “It's not automatic,” Mr. Anderson said. “If you don't meet goals and objectives, you don't get it.”

        In addition to possible cuts in staff and pay, the Cincinnati district already is facing a construction freeze on new offices and facilities.

        The freeze, announced last month, put new offices on hold in DeMossville, Ky., and Van Buren, Ohio. It also indefinitely delayed a half-dozen future projects from Western Hills to Dry Ridge, Ky.

        Work on the biggest project, a $116 million distribution center in Roselawn, still is scheduled to begin in 2004.

        Postal officials describe the existing distribution center in Queensgate as “grossly outdated” and say they are optimistic the new facility will be built, despite the budget cuts.

        “We don't anticipate any changes there,” Ms. Manies said.

        Enquirer reporter Susan Vela contributed to this report.


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