Thursday, July 16, 2015
Amazon Gets what Amazon Wants - Will the Real Postmaster General Please Stand Up?
By Mel Carriere
Do any of you out there getting kind of long in the tooth, like me, remember that 70s game show called To Tell the Truth? I used to watch that show every afternoon. For you youngsters in attendance, the program consisted of three contestants pretending to be the same person noted for some famous or infamous distinction, but two of these contestants were impostors and one was the real deal. Three or four "celebrity" panelists on the show would ask the contestants questions and then try and guess who the real person was. Seems like Kitty Carlisle was always one of these celebrity panelists. I don't know what she was famous for to begin with, but she was a celebrity panelist on everything. Of course I digress, but after the questioning was over the host would say in very dramatic fashion "Will the real --- please stand up?"
Recent events in our little post office made me think of a Postal version of To Tell the Truth. I guess we would have to exhume Kitty Carlisle and Peggy Cass (another professional celebrity panelist) to do this, which could be problematic, but here's how the game will go. We'll get Megan Brennan, our current titular Postmaster, retired PMG Pat Donahoe, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - who doesn't have anything to do with the Postal Service but it sure seems like he does, to serve as contestants and then see if our distinguished panelists can figure out who the real Postmaster General of the United States is from among these three. Don't turn the channel - the answer isn't as obvious as it seems.
I include Pat Donahoe as one of the contestants because, judging from the way that Megan Brennan tenaciously clings to his misguided, boneheaded policies it seems like he's still in there running the organization, despite her vow to "keep mail relevant" and all that. And I threw Jeff Bezos into the mix because the obsequious urgency with which the USPS bends over backwards to make sure his Amazon packages get delivered and to the devil with everything else makes it look like he really could be the one calling the shots. Our panelists, in their various degrees of decay and mortification, are really going to have their work cut out for them.
My confusion over who the real PMG is began last Tuesday, when the Amazon shipment didn't show up on time. After we clocked in, the supervisor informed us that Amazon was not yet in the building, but she said that if they didn't make their 8 AM cutoff time we were just going to leave these packages for tomorrow. That sounded reasonable, everybody's got to play by the rules.
Guess what - As it turns out Amazon doesn't have a cutoff time! Amazon finally rolled in about 8:30, after most of us had already pulled down and were getting ready to hit the street. After some heated discussion around the telephone which probably included a good browbeating by some hot-shot upstairs, our supervisors instructed us to roll our parcel hampers back to their assigned places and punch onto 734 until the clerks finished throwing the Amazon.
Last year this time I don't think very many letter carriers would have been grumbling about this. At that time our organization was still emerging from a prolonged slump, and I think we were just happy to get business from wherever we could.
But over the course of the past year or so, it seems like Jeff Bezos has been wriggling his far reaching hands into the postal gears more and more, and it's starting to look now that our operations revolve exclusively around trying to keep him happy.
I had thought that the road toward complete Amazon appeasement culminated when Bezos got Sunday as his private delivery day. But just like Hitler kept going after England and France gave him Czechoslovakia, apparently Jeff now expects that all postal operations will be subordinated to the plastic wrapped Amazon shipment on the back dock, no matter what time it drops in.
Last time I checked, first class mail still represented the biggest chunk of postal revenue. I have the Q2 report on my computer, and if I'm reading it right, first class mail is still about 43% of total revenue. On the other hand, total "Competitive" Mail (meaning revenue from parcels), is roughly 22 percent, and priority mail brings in about half of that. I can't even find Amazon as an individual line item on the report. The point I'm making is that even though the first class product has declined it is still our exclusive bread and butter, the one revenue source that we and nobody else has a right to. In spite of this, first class mail is now routinely delayed, and overnight delivery of local first class mail may be nothing more than a curious relic in the postal museum, right next to the Pony Express exhibit.
So even though Jeff Bezos doesn't even command his own line item on the financial report, the organization literally grinds to a halt and carriers are dragged back in from the parking lot and put to twiddling their thumbs on 734 time to keep him happy, this despite his company not being much more than a floating log in our total revenue stream. Customer service suffers so Amazon can have first crack, and vital mail items that we are legally mandated to deliver in a timely manner, per the woefully neglected "Service" component of our organization's title, get stashed in a shadowy corner of the local P&DC so that "Prime" can land on the doorstep overnight.
I haven't counted how many times a supervisor told has us to take the late first class mail for a ride and hide it in the 3M case when we get back from the street, but you bring back one missed Amazon parcel back from the street and guess what? Your little blue butt is going back out again to deliver it.
So now we come to the defining moment of our Postal version of To Tell the Truth, the one that you the studio audience has anxiously awaited after listening to our dead panelists fire off their list of keenly articulated questions at our contestants; Mr. Donahoe, Ms. Brennan, and Mr. Bezos. In breathtaking fashion, our host now gives the famous command that is the signature moment of the program: "Will the real Postmaster General of the United States of America please stand up!" The audience takes a deep breath and oohs and aahs as the impostors deliberately heighten the emotion in the studio by falsely shifting and stirring in their chairs. Then the real PMG rises up.
I'll let you guess who that is. Thanks for tuning in.
Read Jeff Bezos' Mein Kampf
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Image a compilation of a photo of Megan Brennan from upi.com and a photo of Jeff Bezos from "Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh" by Steve Jurvetson - Flickr: Bezos’ Iconic Laugh. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jeff_Bezos%27_iconic_laugh.jpg#/media/File:Jeff_Bezos%27_iconic_laugh.jpg