Blogger Steve Hutkins fights Postal Service’s move to close 4,300 post offices

Eighty percent of U.S. Post Offices lose money. Can you say mismanagement?

There’s a guy fighting the U.S. Postal Service’s move to close about 4,300 post offices in the next year, and he doesn’t work for the agency.

He’s a new blogger named Steve Hutkins, and he teaches literature at New York University. He lives in a hamlet in the Hudson Valley north of Manhattan called Rhinecliff, pop. 685. There is no mail delivery in Rhinecliff. Residents pick up their mail at the local post office.

Hutkins started getting mad in April, when he heard his post office might be on the to-be-shuttered list, which is targeting many unprofitable post offices in rural corners. Rhinecliff was safe, for the moment. But that didn’t stop Hutkins from starting a crusade to save post offices all across the country.

Save the Post Office” reports on closures, consolidations and suspensions going on in the mail world. It is full of analysis and opinions. And Hutkins’s opinion is not hard to discern. He’s left-leaning, pro-union and believes the Postal Service is outsourcing itself to greedy corporations.

“I live in a very small town with a very small post office,” Hutkins said in an interview Tuesday. “My goal is to save all of these post offices.”

Here’s a sample of a recent week’s headlines: “Robber Barons Plunder the Post Office.” “Ben rolls over in this grave: B Free Franklin post office on the chopping block,” a reference to the post office at Franklin Square in Philadelphia’s Independence Mall area. It’s the only post office that doesn’t fly a U.S. flag because the area pre-dates the American Revolution.

His self-described obsession with the Postal Service’s downsizing strategy has led him to request a leave from teaching to focus on his blog. His academic interests dovetail with his postal ones, though. His most popular course at NYU is called “A Sense of Place,” a melange of literature, architecture and planning to understand the meaning of community.

“My students have not been subjected to my postal mania,” he said, chuckling.

One of the most popular features of his site involves a new, interactive map showing the 3,600 post offices under review for closure as of last week, plus another 700 or so that the Postal Service began studying for closure last fall. The last batch was made public only days ago.

Savethepostoffice.com gets about 2,000 to 3,000 hits a day; its best day — with 10,000 hits — was July 26, the day of the closing announcement.

The U.S.P.S. would have you believe their incompetent management played no role in this.

Closing post offices is not popular with many customers and members of Congress for the same reasons Hutkins is fighting the effort. But the Postal Service is on track to lose $8 billion this fiscal year. The post offices on the list are unprofitable; closing them could save $200 million a year, the agency says.

Hutkins calls this savings “minuscule.” He’s focused on what he says is the biggest unstated reason why the Postal Service is hemorrhaging money: It is unnecessarily outsourcing its services to greedy corporations, he says.

“All you hear is how postal revenues are declining and no one uses the post office anymore,” he wrote in a post Tuesday. “But somehow the Postal Service was still able to outsource $12 billion in 2010.”

He wrote: “The Robber Barons are stealing the post office from the American people,” referring to Postal Service contracts with companies such as FedEx and Northrop Grumman, some to transport mail.

The Postal Service is familiar with the site, agency spokeswoman Sue Brennan said in an e-mail last week. Asked about the blog’s criticism of the efforts at consolidation, she wrote:

“For decades this organization expanded with the nation and with the mail volume. We are now in a position we’ve never been in before: We have to shrink our infrastructure.”

I myself don’t inherently disagree with this sentiment. I do, however, know from personal experience that the vast majority of the Postal Services financial woes come from gross negligence on the part of management.

I walked both sides of the fence in my time there.

I was recruited into the “204B Program” for management & served as an officer in the National Association of Letter Carriers for years.

I watched in dismay as Manager’s at all levels refused to recognize the obvious, cringed as the few who had the guts to push for much needed change were pushed aside by those above them that “didn’t want to hear it” and eventually left in 2007 before things got worse.

In these dire economic times we are going to be hard-pressed to convince people to simply foot the bill for the U.S.P.S.‘s systemic ineptitude that’s running rampant in every level of their management.

In March, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warned that the USPS would default on $5.5 billion in future retiree healthcare costs unless Congress comes to the rescue.

After all, how can we ask those in need to sit back and watch as vital social programs are stripped bare as we insist that the Federal Government throw big bags of money at the Post Office because they can’t carry their weight?

But if we do feel that the Post Office is worth saving, then we must push those making these decisions to force those in charge to answer some tough questions.

And when they (once again) don’t have any suitable answers we need to do what they are trying to do to many of the smaller Post Office’s around the nation.

Forcibly retire them. Immediately.

 

Source:  Lisa Rein@ The Washington Post

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