• The Post Office's "Standby Rooms"

      The union representing postal supervisors was upset by President Obama’s crack last month that compared the Post Office to companies like FedEx and UPS: “It's the post office that's always having problems.”

      The union’s president complained that Obama “chose the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example of inefficiency.”

      How can they deny it? The Federal Times reports that:

      The U.S. Postal Service, struggling with a massive deficit caused by plummeting mail volume, spends more than a million dollars each week to pay thousands of employees to sit in empty rooms and do nothing...

      (T)hey sit — some for a few hours, others for entire shifts. Postal union officials estimate some 15,000 employees have spent time on standby this year. They spend their days holed up in rooms — conference rooms, break rooms, occasionally 12-foot-by-8-foot storage closets — that the Postal Service dubs “resource rooms.” Postal employees use more colorful names, like “holding pens” and “blue rooms.”

      “It’s just a small, empty room. … It’s awful,” said one mail processing clerk who has spent four weeks on standby time this summer. “Most of us bring books, word puzzles. Sometimes we just sleep.”

      Wow. It could be a Freakonomics chapter: “How is a postal worker like a NYC school teacher?”

      Normally, when a company has more employees than work , employees are laid off. But the Post Office, like the NYC school system, is a union shop.

      (T)he American Postal Workers Union (APWU)... represents roughly 220,000 full-time postal employees…

      The Postal Service’s collective bargaining agreement with APWU includes a no-layoff clause for employees with more than six years on the job.

      Some idle workers were asked to use their down time to improve their job skills.

      One mail handler in Pennsylvania said a supervisor used to force employees on standby time to read postal manuals.

      “The local union shop filed a grievance against the Postal Service,” said the employee… “We’re on standby time, not training time. ... You can’t make people read training materials on standby time.”

      Newman, Jerry’s nemesis on Seinfeld, couldn’t have said it any better.

      Pre-October 2009