La Jolla postal workers feeling pinch of cuts, automation

By Dave Schwab

Budget issues with the U.S. Postal Service and automation are filtering down to La Jolla in the form of mail route reductions and staff layoffs and transfers.

“Revenues are down so much they’ve been going through reductions in routes the past couple years,” said William Morris, a La Jolla mail carrier who resigned because of downsizing Sept. 8.

Morris had worked for six and a half years, delivering at some point to every single one of La Jolla’s 56 routes. “Now that’s down to about 42,” he said.

Route reductions are being accompanied by staff reductions, in the form of “involuntary transfers” to what Morris called undesirable locales for him and other several longtime La Jolla mail handlers. He decided instead to try and go from Main Street to Wall Street in moving to Florida and training to become a financial consultant.

“My options were El Centro, Adalanto and Cathedral City (all desert),” he said.

He and other postal workers were faced with uprooting and moving their families to an undesirable place hoping to eventually transfer back, or to cut back to part time or leave altogether, he added.

And there may be more postal downsizing yet to come at the local level. The postal service, which lost an estimated $7 billion in 2010, is considering more radical service curtailments such as eliminating Saturday mail delivery and raising the cost of postage further.

Don Smeraldi, manager of corporate communications for USPS Pacific area which includes California and Hawaii, said personnel cutbacks being experienced in La Jolla are happening nationwide as a response to changing marketplace realities.

“People tend to forget that even though our mail volume is declining rapidly, especially first-class letters, we’re adding (lots of) addresses every year which is increasing our costs because of those deliveries,” he said. “Our first-class mail — letters, greeting cards and single-pieces — have dropped 35 percent and continues to decline. That’s a big deal because it takes four pieces of advertising mail to make up for the revenue brought in for one piece of first-class mail. When you lose first-class volume, it’s very hard to make up for it with other products, advertising or packaging.”

Noting postal employee productivity is “way up,” Smeraldi said the need for labor is declining nonetheless due to automation. He cited one example.

“We have a flat sequencing system now that takes all the flats — magazines, large letters, etc. — and sorts them in delivery sequence, which used to be done manually.”

But Morris said the system as presently configured is flawed.

“Magazines are coming out ripped and are not getting delivered on time,” he said adding, “People are being replaced by technology, but the technology hasn’t been working that well.”

The bottom line, said Morris, is that cutting staff, routes and hours is depleting customer service, which is going to hurt them competitively in the long run.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “We’re trying to sell people on the USPS, and it’s tough because they’re not dependable.”

Smeraldi said the notion behind all the downsizing and scaling back with the service is to change to a business model that is “much smaller and much more nimble.”

“There’s far fewer people now using the brick-and-mortar post office,” he said. “You can do almost everything now you can do at a post office on our website,