WASHINGTON - The US Postal Service, expecting about $9 billion in losses this year amid slumping mail volume, is still paying thousands of its workers millions of dollars each year to do nothing.
Longstanding 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 instructed to sit in a break room or cafeteria and do nothing.
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.
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.
Members of the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers are eligible for standby time payments, but the option was rarely exercised by supervisors until 2009, when mail volume began to plummet.
The Postal Service said it would require new monthly monitoring of standby payments by the end of September.