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APWU: Duplicitous Sales Practices Hurt Everyone

posted November 8, 2005

We are growing rather concerned about a Postal Service sales practice that management is imposing on window clerks that is fundamentally dishonest. What makes this practice doubly despicable is that Postal Service management denies the practice exists, even while a paper trail reveals that the policy is sanctioned, if not downright encouraged. Worse still, APWU members have been disciplined for violating the policy that the USPS disavows.

Ordering the ‘Up-Sell’

Basically, USPS management is aggressively ordering Sales and Service Associates to “up-sell.” The SSAs are being told to begin their sales pitch with the most expensive service (Express Mail) and only as a last resort offer Parcel Post — and only after describing all its pitfalls.

It’s no mystery to seasoned sales clerks how this might have come about: It’s an underlying theme in the Mystery Shopper Program. While program guidelines don’t exactly require managers to check whether SSAs are avoiding “selling” Parcel Post, many managers have followed their own interpretations.

Recently, an SSA was suspended for offering Parcel Post to a customer without first trying to encourage the use of a more expensive service. However, the clerk was merely trying to evaluate the customer’s needs, including possible economic restraints.

Isn’t that what true “customer service” demands? Unfortunately, the SSA was being observed by a manager during the transaction and the wheels of injustice began to roll.

About Parcel Post

We think it’s a very simple issue: The U.S. Postal Service has a form of service known as Parcel Post. The American public likes and even asks for this service; the Postal Rate Commission determines the cost of the service; and the U.S. Congress expects that this service will be offered to postal consumers.

When the APWU questions the Postal Service about the apparent field policy of preventing clerks from offering Parcel Post, we receive a quick disclaimer: It is not USPS policy to deny the public Parcel Post. “These are troubled financial times,” we are told. “We are simply trying to increase sales revenue.”

Yet, we have had numerous reports of SSAs being told that they should not offer this Parcel Post unless it is as a last resort. At the same time, headquarters-level managers refuse to instruct the field that postal policy requires postal workers to offer our customers all types of service. They also refuse to denounce field managers who demand that employees avoid selling Parcel Post.

Between the Lines

As proof of the Postal Service’s duplicitous position we offer excerpts from two e-mails distributed by a Manager of Post Office Operations who has the authority over numerous other managers in the central United States . Here are some verbatim remarks from the first message:

“I will NOT accept any more Mystery Shops with parcel post as an option. You as the Postmaster need to ensure this practice stops immediately. Parcel Post is not a part of the sales pitch nor is it on the yellow cards that you were supposed to give each clerk when you trained them. I will be following up with each of you individually if parcel post shows up on any more shops.”

The second message included this:

“Please see the attached listing for Mystery Shops where the SSA offered Parcel Post. As you are aware, we’ve messaged strongly for close to a year that the term “Parcel Post” not be offered by the Retail Associate. While we are doing better with offering Express and Priority Mail, we continue to throw in Parcel Post. Please remind your Managers/Postmasters that not offering Parcel Post will increase revenue and improve customer satisfaction.”

What we find ironic is that the Postal Service continues to tout Parcel Post to the business community as part of the “Parcel Select” program. We also know full well of the significant postage discounts offered to the big mailers. But when it comes to the average citizen, the USPS disdains affordable pricing and claims it increases customer satisfaction.

The APWU understands that this policy that can lead to increased revenue, but to insist it also increases customer satisfaction is unrealistic. We also understand that management either enforces national policy consistently or they are indeed duplicitous.

(source: November/December 2005 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

posted August 12, 2005   |

APCs - “Axing Postal Clerks”


USPS Plan to Cut Window Clerk Jobs


  An internal postal management memo, leaked to the APWU but legally obtainable, is hard evidence that Automated Postal Centers (APCs) will be used to try to cut clerk jobs, specifically those of Sales and Service Associates, or window clerks.  At a June 15th management teleconference, the “Pilot APC Project” was announced:

   “APCs will be deployed ‘in the counterline’ and will be utilized in much the same way as the automated check-in machines are used at the airport (two or three machines staffed with one person…). For counterlines with 6 retail stations, 2 APCs will be deployed and staffing adjusted accordingly (emphasis added). For these sites, the APC in the lobby will remain…(H)aving them in the counterline will encourage usage, reduce wait time in line, provide SSA assistance [note- HA!], and reduce SSA staffing (emphasis added).”


  In Seattle as elsewhere, station managers are being pushed hard by their bosses to raise their APC sales figures – with the ultimate goal of eliminating our jobs. Offices with low APC revenue may lose their machines – improved job security for the clerks there, and poor marks on the record of whatever manager allows that to happen. The managers, of course, are passing this pressure along – to their supervisors, rehab clerks, and window clerks (talk about being asked to “cut your own throat!”).


  How many jobs they can cut is the big question, as this pilot project will be followed by more efforts to force-feed the use of APCs by understaffing. Self-service counters have made a big impact on the grocery industry. I was in an Albertson’s that had only one checkout counter staffed by a retail clerk, while another was tending to five self-service lines. Doubtless that is the ideal that postal management is striving for, although the skills they are trying to automate are far more complex than those in a grocery store. They know their lackeys would do anything to get bigger raises or promotions, but at what cost? Degraded service to the public and the loss of that most precious asset - living-wage jobs!


  Of course, we have to fight this trend, and the mailing public is our most valuable ally. Customers don’t want reduced service or staffing, and by enlisting their help, postal workers have turned back some efforts to cut staffing in Seattle, Bellingham, Royal Oak (Michigan) and elsewhere. On a smaller scale, window clerks can help by giving friendly, helpful service – not enough by itself to prevent job loss, but it lays the basis for mobilizing the public when that time comes.


  Don’t forget the many drawbacks to the APC that our customers may not be aware of.. For starters, how many people would be comfortable with the fact that their picture is being taken with each transaction? The APC often produces poor results due to the many choices on many screens. I have seen a number of small items sent ”Parcel Post” at a much higher cost than faster First Class mail, which would not happen had a window clerk been involved.


  Shortpaid items are another problem that anyone pulling mail from an APC should watch for. First-class flats are frequently and improperly sent with Delivery Confirmation. Flat-rate postage is put on non-flat-rate containers. The surcharge for oversized one-ounce letters is ignored. Packages end up somehow weighing more than they did when the APC label was printed. Priority mailers are sent with First Class or Parcel Post postage labels affixed. All of these are required to be marked Postage Due, or in some cases returned (see the DMM rules), though it may inconvenience the sender and/or the recipient.


  Please read the article, “Management Overzealous In Efforts to Promote APCs” in the July/August issue of the APWU national magazine. It is also readable at – go to Departments and Divisions and click on Clerk Division. I’ll quote one line from it:” The purpose of APCs is to replace retail professionals.” It also notes that APC dates might not be considered legal postmarks, for example, by the IRS.


 While the concerns about APCs that I expressed on behalf of my co-workers were publicly and repeatedly scoffed at by an elected officer at the 2004 Clerk Division meeting, this magazine article makes it clear that in 2005 the Clerk Division is fully aware of the threat posed by APCs. Please ask your delegates for the latest information on this struggle when they return from the August 8-10 national Clerk Division Conference. Automation is a daunting foe, but education, organization, and mobilization can save our jobs!


Article by David Yao, Greater Seattle Area Local APWU

APCs to be Deployed at the Counter Line

by Dennis Enderson, President Denver Area APWU Local

The national APWU and management have given notice that the Postal Service will soon begin to install Automated Postal Centers (APCs) at the counter line in a number of offices around the country.  We have received specific notice that APCs will be installed on the counter line in Evergreen, Parker, and at University Park Station in Denver.  What does this mean for us?  As you will recall, APCs have existed in the lobbies of postal facilities for quite a while.  Now, we will have “Robo-Clerk” existing side-by-side with Window Clerks at the actual counter line.  Obviously, this is an effort to further encourage customers to use these machines in lieu of going to an actual person.  So far, we have been given assurances that there are no immediate plans to excess and abolish existing Window Clerks.  However, in the long term, there are no guarantees.  The ultimate success of APCs depends upon the willingness of customers to use these devices.  In the mean time, we strongly urge all window clerks to do your job to the very best of your ability.  We believe that  APCs are a very poor substitute for a highly trained and effective Window Clerk.  If you do your job well, postal customers will vote with their feet and the APCs should go away.  We will continue to carefully monitor this process to ensure that our contractual rights are protected to the maximum possible extent

Management Overzealous Efforts to Promote APCs

(This article was first published in the July/August 2005 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine.)

Due in large part to automation, the Clerk Division is engaged in a long and ceaseless struggle to preserve full-time jobs for our membership. In the process, we are striving to examine all the issues that directly affect clerks and that frequently eliminate the work that we perform.

For the past two years, the Postal Service has been deploying Automated Postal Centers nationwide. The USPS has been releasing APC financial information for each machine in each district since March 2003, and we have made the income data [PDF, 17 MB] available so that locals can evaluate the effectiveness of the machines in their areas.

Financial data notwithstanding, the USPS is deploying this equipment for one specific purpose: To reduce labor costs. The APCs are just another form of automation, and the thinking behind automation and mechanization has been the same for 40 years: The purpose of APCs is to replace retail professionals.

When the USPS first deployed the APCs, a “Customer Service Advisor” (CSA) position was established to be used for the first 90 days of the APC deployed in each office.

The CSA is intended to help customers with the new equipment. A manager or craft employee can be designated as a CSA for the first 90 days of APC deployment in a facility, but after that time period has concluded, the APWU maintains that only lobby directors and retail associates can be used. In management’s own “Lobby Director Training Program” instructions, it’s clear that lobby director is a clerical position.

Who’s Minding the Windows?

Using retail associates to explain the APC to customers presents problems. Throughout the country, the management practice has been to pull Sales and Service Associates from active windows to work at the APC. The result has been long lines at the windows, which essentially forces customers to try the APC.

One plain and simple fact is unchanged: The American public wants to interact with professional retail associates. Most citizens prefer a live person to a cold machine. They are willing to stand in line to meet with professional associates who are willing to take the time to explain how best to meet postal needs.

Management has become overzealous with the APCs. There are numerous reported examples of windows being short staffed because a Sales and Service Associate (SSA) is assisting customers at an APC. There are also examples of unrealistic revenue expectations for individual APCs, which places pressure on managers to get more out of each APC. Lines at the windows have grown longer, and the ensuing complaints place extra pressure on the SSAs.

There also are examples of postal managers taking the expectations to ridiculous extremes. A postmaster at a facility in Oregon asked a sales associate why he wasn’t assisting customers at the APC.When the SSA explained that the APC wasn’t working, the postmaster responded: “I don’t care if it is broken — tell the customer what it will do when it isn’t broken.” Strange as this may sound, it symbolizes the kind of pressure that USPS management places on local postmasters.

Other APC Issues

Other APC issues are of concern to our customer-service conscious members as well. One clear problem is whether the meter strip generated by the APC is a “legal” postmark.

This question came up, to no surprise, right around the middle of April. Some managers did the right thing and let their customers know that the postmark from an APC could not be considered a legal postmark for IRS purposes: Customers using an APC on April 15 weren’t necessarily mailing their tax returns by midnight that day.

Unfortunately, many managers didn’t inform their customers who were going to utilize the APC after hours on April 15 that the IRS may not recognize the meter strip as a legal postmark.