No new buyouts on Postal Service horizon

Wednesday - 11/7/2012, 1:16pm EST

Nov. 7, 2012 - Agency of the Month

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By Julia Ziegler
Federal News Radio

After three separate buyouts in 2012, the U.S. Postal Service says it has no plans for any new offers in the foreseeable future.

"Right now, we have all our plans in place," Anthony Vegliante, the agency's chief human resources officer, told Federal News Radio. "So I don't see anything other than to focus on completing, making the transition, and getting our employees in the right place."

In an exclusive interview on Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month show, Vegliante said he expects the number of buyouts taken by Postal Service employees to total 23,000 - 27,000 by the end of January.

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He said 4,200 postmasters accepted buyouts after an offer released in May, while 3,000 were accepted by mail handlers under an agreement with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. In October, USPS put another buyout on the table for approximately 115,000 members of the American Postal Workers Union. Vegliante said he expects 16,000 - 20,000 employees to take that offer.

If the projections hold, the Postal Service's career workforce will drop to about 500,000 employees by the beginning of 2013 — its lowest level since 1966.

While the agency has no more plans for buyouts in the near future, it does plan to continue shrinking the size of its workforce. The agency has said it would like to have closer to 400,000 employees by 2016. In addition to the 25,000 - 30,000 people who retire each year due to normal attrition, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said he expects to lose another 35,000 - 40,000 employees if the agency moves to five-day delivery. Congress, however, has yet to pass the legislation needed to allow that.

Vegliante said the number of buyouts has allowed the Postal Service to avoid reductions in force, known as RIFs, for the most part.

"The fact that we've RIF'd very few people is because we have a rigorous RIF- avoidance process, meaning we offer voluntary early retirements, we offer incentives, we offer the opportunity for people to move to other jobs and other locations. ... When you get voluntary participation versus forced participation things go a lot smoother. People get choice, which we're fine with people having choices."

While jobs are being cut due to consolidation throughout the agency, Vegliante said USPS is doing everything it can to take care of its employees who aren't ready to leave the Postal Service.

"In our collective bargaining process, we have a provision, which we implement, which allows us to reassign people to other facilities doing the same work or to other crafts doing different work within their own and other facilities. So, we have a pretty well-established process where we move people around to where the work is."

Despite the significant drop in the size of its workforce, Vegliante said the Postal Service is still getting its job done.

"I don't really have a concern about work falling between the cracks. And the reason I say that is because the Postal Service is probably at an all-time high of delivery service to its customers," Vegliante said. "Our customer satisfaction measurements are all increasing. Our productivity has been solid for the last decade. ... I believe we have the management team in place, the processes which keep us focused on what's important. Obviously, at the end of the day, service to the customers and the indicators are what tell you whether you're doing good or bad."

Employee Reaction

Vegliante said employees understand USPS needs to make changes in order to deal with declining mail volume and how Americans are now utilizing the Postal Service.

"People are telling us, 'We understand what's going on. We understand the need to do certain things. We need to do it.' I can appreciate that because if you're the one that's subject to change, once you understand it, once you accept it, you want it to happen."

However, Vegliante said, he also recognizes that change isn't easy.

"Any time you change, people perceive it to be unnecessary. There's an old adage, 'The only person who likes change is the one who thought of it.' You have to overcome that."

That's especially true if that change means a job reassignment in a new location with different work hours.

"It's not going to make [me] happy if I work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. four blocks from where I live and now I have to work 3:30 p.m. to 12 a.m., 20 miles away. I don't have a fix for that. But, the one thing I'm very comfortable with, we always have been able to find jobs for our employees."

Priorities

In addition to overseeing the consolidation of the Postal Service's workforce and keeping an eye on labor costs, Vegliante said he is also focused on the agency's succession planning initiatives.

"One of my most important tasks this past year and going forward into the future is leadership, talent and development," Vegliante said. "We have a lot of people in higher-level positions that are closer to the end of their career than they are the beginning of their career. Not that any particular person is going to leave, but you want a strong bench, you want people ready to step up."

Vegliante, himself, has been with the Postal Service for more than 30 years. He began his career as a distribution clerk in New Haven, Conn., in 1978. In 2010, he was named a fellow at the National Academy of Human Resources — the first public sector employee ever to be given the distinction. According to the organization's website, fellows are those who "have made sustained and exemplary contributions to the broad field of human resources and to their organizations and communities" and "have played a substantial role in shaping human resource management thinking and policy."