The USPS’ Radical Plan
Postmaster General William Henderson once bragged to Harry Quadracci, the founder of Quad/Graphics, that the U.S. Postal Service had increased its productivity by 6 percent in the previous decade.
That's nothing, Quadracci responded, Quad achieved a 6 percent productivity improvement every year.
I don't think Harry Q was exaggerating. While the U.S. Postal Service whines about its annual rate increases being too small, publication printers like Quad have been enduring price reductions of roughly 3 percent or more per year for more than a decade, not to mention declining demand and inflationary pressures. They've had to improve productivity constantly just to survive.
Now it's the postal service's turn to try real productivity improvement. Facing multi-billion-dollar losses and declining demand, postal officials in August released a radical plan to downsize the workforce by about 30 percent in four years. After factoring in a switch to five-day delivery and adjusting for declining volumes, the USPS would need to achieve productivity improvements of—guess what?—about 6 percent annually during those four years if it is to get by with such a drastic reduction in the number of employees.
The reaction from publishers and other mail-dependent industries can generally be summarized as, "It's about time!"
"The postal service, like all industries, will have to continue to find ways to do more with less," Ellen Levine of Hearst Magazines recently told a Congressional hearing. "Magazine production has been revolutionized over the past years and decades, from the days of glue and line-by-line layout to the high-tech digital world in which we now operate. If our magazines were being produced today the way they were when they were launched, we'd probably be out of business."
The Problems With "The Plan"
Quite true. But be careful what you wish for. If the postal service tries to carry out its plan, publishers are likely to be unhappy with the chaos that results.