OIG finds maintenance, safety and security issues in post offices leased by USPS

SteveBlog

OIG facilities report

The USPS Office of Inspector General has issued a report about the condition of post office buildings in the Capitol Metro Area.  In its review of twenty facilities leased by the Postal Service, the OIG found:

  • Eleven (55 percent) had lighting issues;
  • Ten (50 percent) had building appearance issues;
  • Eighteen (90 percent) had potential OSHA violations related to building safety and security;
  • Eighteen (90 percent) did not maintain a customer complaint log or monitor how promptly complaints were resolved;
  • Sixteen (80 percent) did not display posters informing employees what to do when injured at work;
  • Six (30 percent) did not display posters related to proper conduct on Postal Service property;
  • Eight (40 percent) had security issues; and
  • All 20 complied with handicap accessibility requirements.
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According to the OIG,  “These conditions were due, in part, to landlords failing to perform or adequately complete requested repairs. Also, because of competing priorities, local management did not focus on cleaning and general maintenance and repairs; concerns for health, safety, and security; local customer complaints; and ensuring required posters were displayed at facilities.  Additionally, some repairs were not a priority due to budget constraints.

“Finally, although the Postal Service periodically inspects building safety and maintenance, it does not assess building appearance and other important factors that impact the overall retail experience, such as cleanliness and needed repairs.

“Attention to these areas will reduce the Postal Service’s exposure to OSHA fines and penalties; poor employee morale and increased turnover; risk of injuries to customers and employees; and related costs such as workers’ compensation claims, loss of work and productivity, and lawsuits. Poorly maintained and unappealing lobbies can also reduce brand loyalty, which impacts revenue.”

Read the report.

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Historic New Deal Post Office in Santa Barbara, CA, headed for sale

SteveBlog

Santa Monica PO

Santa Barbara Post Office Front (2007)

Santa Barbara Post Office Front Entrance (1983)

Santa Barbara Post Office Front, SW elevation (1983)

Santa Barbara Post Office Lobby

Santa Barbara Post Office Lobby, PO Boxes, Mural

Santa Barbara Post Office, "Transportation of the Mail"

Santa Barbara Post Office, "Transportation of the Mail"

Santa Barbara Post Office, "Transportation of the Mail"

Santa Barbara Post Office, "Transportation of the Mail"

 

The Postal Service is making plans to sell the historic New Deal post office on Acapata Street in downtown Santa Barbara, California, according to a report in Noozhawk.com.

Meiko Patton, the USPS communications programs specialist for the Sacramento and Sierra Coastal districts, says the building has become too large for the agency’s needs.

The Postal Service “would like to keep” a retail presence in the building through a leaseback with the new owner, says Patton.  That would eventually depend on what the buyer wants to do with the building, but such arrangements have been negotiated as part of other sales, such as the Bronx General Post Office in New York City.

The Santa Barbara post office was designed by architect Reginald Johnson. Completed in 1937, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.  According to the NRHP nomination form, “Johnson combined decorative elements derived from the Art Deco of the 1920s with archi­tectural forms based on the Spanish Colonial Revival.”

The interior of the building is adorned with a set of sunken plaster relief murals done by William Atkinson in 1937. They depict “The Transportation of the Mail.”

Most of the building remains as it was originally back in the 1930s, but one major change took place in the 1970s when the bank-teller type windows were replaced with larger open counters and personal mailboxes.

The building is part of a group of historically significant structures in the Presidio Neighborhood in the historic core of Santa Barbara. They include the Lobero Theater (designed in 1924 by George Washington Smith); the El Paseo complex of shops and restaurants (designed by James Osborn Craig and built in 1922-23); and the El Presidio complex of shops and restaurants (designed by J.J. Plunkett in 1942).

As the article in Noozhawk.com notes, the sales of historic post offices like the one in Santa Barbara have met with opposition from local residents and elected officials.  Members of Congress have put forward bills that would restrict the sales, and at least two federal agencies, the USPS Office of Inspector General and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, have issued reports critical of how the Postal Service manages and disposes of its historic properties.

While the pace of the sales of historic post offices has diminished, perhaps as a result of all this criticism and opposition, the Postal Service apparently remains committed to disposing of its historic assets.  The Santa Barbara post office will soon be listed on the USPS-CBRE Properties for Sale website.

Update, 7/18/16: Apparently the Postal Service decided to sell the Santa Barbara post office several months ago.  According to an article in edhat.com, a public notice was posted inside the post office’s bulletin board in April.  The notice states, “This property has been designated by the Postal Service to be sold.”  The notice, which also invites comments, was removed in May.

(Photo sources: Santa Barbara post office, Sam Goldman, Noozhawk; front entrance, Wikipedia; black-and-white photos, National Register; Bas relief murals and lobby, Living New Deal, Seth Gaines; vintage postcard)

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Voting by mail and the next election meltdown

SteveStory

Bush-Gore-protests-846x538

Votingbymail.com: Polls released this week indicate that the November presidential election could be very close, much closer than previously expected.  In most elections, the margin of victory is large enough to avoid questions about how the votes were cast and counted, but when elections are close and contested, things like how the voting machines function and what constitutes a valid ballot can become very significant.

With voting by mail  becoming increasingly common — according to a recent study by PEW Trusts, more than 20 percent of votes are now cast by mail nationwide — the possibility of a major controversy involving mail ballots is also increasing.

Like other voting methods, voting by mail is not perfect.  Sometimes ballots are lost in the mail, sometimes they arrive at election centers after the deadline.  Mail voting is susceptible to fraud, there can be disagreements over whether a ballot is valid due to a postmark issue, and it may take days or weeks to count all the ballots, which can mean long delays without a clear victor.

A new report issued last week by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) entitled “The New Realities of Voting by Mail in 2016” discusses several key issues, such as the challenges facing the Postal Service in delivering and tracking ballots and ensuring that voters know the deadlines for requesting and casting a ballot.  The report also makes a number of recommendations that would help avoid some of the problems with voting by mail, but implementing them will take time, perhaps more time than we have before the next election.

If the November election is close in even just a couple of battleground states or Congressional contests, the results may hinge on votes cast by mail and how they get counted.  Topics like the Postal Service’s service standards for on-time delivery and its postmarking practices may end up in the news the same way the hanging chads did in Florida in 2000.  Problems with the count could lead to an election meltdown similar to Gore-Bush in 2000.  It could get ugly.   Read more.

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Underwood, Iowa post office suspended over lease issue

SteveBlog

Underwood IA post office

The Daily Nonpareil: The Underwood, Iowa, Post Office will close at the end of the week for an emergency suspension. On Tuesday, the Postal Service announced postal service for the town would move to Neola after the agency and the post office building’s owner failed to extend a lease agreement.  The Underwood office will serve the area until Friday.

“There’s a real urgent need to find an alternate location quickly,” Wes Gronemyer, manager of post office operations for western Iowa, eastern Nebraska and eastern Kansas, said from his office in Omaha.  Gronemyer said the owners and the Postal Service were unable to come to terms on a new lease agreement. Asked for details on the negotiation, Gronemyer said he was unable to further discuss the matter.  Read more.

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USPS-APWU arbitration decision puts moratorium on plant consolidations and outsourcing retail

SteveStory

contract postal unit
The Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union have a new contract.  Last week, the arbitrator on the case, Stephen Goldberg, issued his decision and award, thus ending a two-year dispute.

The new contract provides protections against layoffs for all career employees (who were on the rolls as of July 8), puts limits on more subcontracting, and converts many noncareer employees in maintenance and motor vehicle crafts to career status.  Employees will have to pay higher health insurance premiums, and career employees will receive a 3.8 percent wage increase over the life of the contract.

APWU members will be interested in the entire contract, with its provisions on wages, hours, and conditions of employment, but there are also two sections in the decision that directly affect postal customers.  One provision puts a one-year moratorium on creating new private retail outlets for postal services, and the other section prevents the Postal Service from closing more processing plants until April 2017, which should help with delivery-time performance.

A summary of the contract provisions is on the APWU website here. The full text of the arbitration decision is here.

 

Moratorium on outsourcing to private retailers

For a minimum of the first year of the contract, the arbitration decision puts a moratorium on creating new contract postal units, Village Post Offices (VPOs), and approved shipper outlets. The new union contract, however, does not prevent further protests over the approve shipper counters in over a thousand Staples stores.

The arbitrator notes that “during the term of the 2010 Agreement, Postal Service efforts to outsource retail operations led to widespread conflict. Placing a temporary moratorium on these initiatives will create a climate more likely to lead to a mutually satisfactory resolution than will be present if new disputes are constantly arising.”  During the moratorium, the Postal Service and the APWU will have discussions over the “future of retail” in the Postal Service.  Read More

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