The U.S. Postal Service, expecting about $9 billion in losses this year amid slumping mail volume, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, now pays thousands of its workers millions of dollars each year to do nothing.
That's right. Nothing.
The Washington Post reported last week that long-standing labor agreements with the largest postal unions prohibit the Postal Service from laying off or reassigning workers because of broken equipment or periods of low mail volume. Instead, some idled employees report for work and are simply instructed to sit in a break room or cafeteria and do nothing.
Such "standby time" totaled 170,666 hours in the first six months of 2011, costing the Postal Service $4.3 million, according to an audit by the Postal Service inspector general's office. (That's $25 an hour -- nice work if you can get it.)
Yes, the hours are a mere fraction of the hundreds of millions worked by postal employees each year, as union bosses insist. And standby time is down considerably this year from 2009, when workers billed 1.2 million such hours at a cost of $30.9 million, according to the report.
But can you imagine a modern private-sector employer tolerating such a situation -- or their customers continuing to pay for it?
Jim Sauber, chief of staff for the National Association of Letter Carriers, says idle time is inevitable: "This is a network industry, and workers sometimes have to wait for trucks that are stuck in traffic to arrive with deliveries," he told The Post. "Worker productivity is at an historic high, as are on-time deliveries. ..."
Yeah, that must be it: the trucks are just running late.
A similar contract has long required the New York City public school system to similarly assign "surplus, idled" teachers to sit in empty rooms, doing nothing, sometimes all day. In a system where no one can be fired, their supervisors have presumably determined such people do less harm there than sitting at the front of a room full of children.
Only in unionized government employment could such nonsense be rationalized as something normal -- even as "an improvement over last year"!
No wonder both operations fear free-market competition the way a vampire fears the stake and the bright, illuminating rays of the rising sun.