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Letter to the Postmaster General on Post Office Employment Policies.

October 06, 1930

[Released October 6, 1930. Dated September 25, 1930]

My dear Mr. Postmaster General:

There seems to be general acceptance throughout the country that the Post office has been reducing its force in these times of difficulty when we are urging manufacturers to stagger their work in such fashion as to use all their employees. I know this is not true and that you are endeavoring to hold on to regular employees by at least giving them part-time work. I think, however, that it might be desirable to make some explanation on the subject.

Yours faithfully,


[The Honorable, The Postmaster General, Washington, D.C.]

Note: Acting Postmaster General Coleman's reply, dated October 4, 1930, and released with the President's letter, follows:

My dear Mr. President:

I have given attention to your note of September 25, in which you refer to the impression prevalent in some quarters that in these times of difficulty the Post Office Department is not cooperating fully with the Administration's efforts to encourage employers to stagger their work in such a way as to give employment to the largest numbers possible. I am glad to say that there is no basis for this impression. In fact, the Department, so far as is consistent with the law and the volume of business to be done, is doing its full part along with other large employers in meeting the present emergency.

There has been in recent months a substantial failing off in the volume of the mail, amounting, in some cities, to as much as from 7 to 15 per cent. But in the same cities, pay roll expenditures for employees of all classes have been reduced less than one per cent. No regular clerk or carrier has been dropped since the business depression began. It has been the policy of the Department, however, as vacancies have occurred in the larger post offices from ordinary causes, such as death or retirement, not to fill such vacancies.

There has, however, been a lessened need for the services of substitutes in many cities, due to the diminished volume of work to be done; and certain of the senior substitute clerks and carriers who in normal times would have been appointed to vacancies in the regular force have been continued as substitutes. Where this condition prevails, it goes without saying that no new men are appointed for substitute duties. While this policy has worked some hardship on the senior substitutes-who are for the present deprived of an opportunity to become regular employees, with full-time work--the effect is a wider and more equitable distribution of work, or, in other words, the part-time employment of a larger number of men. This is obviously in accord with the policy of the Administration. In carrying out this policy, the Department has not stopped with an effort to make as wide a distribution as possible of its substitute work. A large number of substitutes have employment outside the postal service; and it is a fixed policy, in calling substitutes for work, to favor those who have no other employment.

An outline of the recruiting system of the Postal Service will be helpful to an accurate understanding of the situation.

Inherently, the postal business is a fluctuating business, the volume of mail following very closely the seasonal trends of trade. In the weeks immediately before Christmas, for instance, a tremendous additional load is put upon the post-office personnel in connection with Christmas mailings. To a limited extent, the same thing is true at other holiday times. There are also wide fluctuations in the volume of business at particular offices, due to special and temporary conditions which are entirely local in their effect. The post-office organization is built up and conducted with a view of meeting these business peaks without undue cost. There is a complement of regular full-time employees--clerks, carriers, and laborers--limited at each post office to the force which is needed to handle the regular, continuous flow of business. Supplementing this complement of regular employees is a reserve of substitute or auxiliary workers, who may be called to service for particular hours of the day, or for particular weeks of the year, as may be necessary to take care of peak loads. They are also called to take the place of regular employees who are sick or on leave of absence.

All carriers and clerks originally enter the service as substitutes, and are transferred in the order of their seniority to fill vacancies in the regular force. When they secure their appointments as substitutes, they understand that their employment, especially in the earlier years, will be irregular and intermittent, and will depend upon the volume of business at the offices to which they are assigned. Frequently, new appointees are encouraged to retain their positions outside the Postal Service, being given their substitute assignments after regular business hours. Even in normal years, the work for substitutes is limited, except at the holiday seasons. All substitute and auxiliary employees will, of course, be called upon for full service during the forthcoming Christmas season.

The extent to which substitutes can be employed is not simply a matter of the Department's discretion. It depends upon the amount of work which there is to do. And the reduction in the employment given to this reserve force under present conditions is almost altogether the natural and inevitable consequence of the lessened volume of the mails. Like other businesses, the Postal Service, so far as the law and the volume of the mails will permit, is doing its full share toward spreading employment among the largest possible number of people, by assigning as many of these reserve employees to duty as possible.

Some misapprehension has arisen with regard to recent changes in collection and delivery service in a few cities. Post offices are inspected and surveyed regularly by experienced inspectors for the purpose of seeing that certain standards of efficiency are maintained; and some mention should be made of changes in procedure and methods of business which lately have been put into effect at the larger offices as the result of current surveys and studies conducted by these post-office inspectors in cooperation with the local postal officials. Specifically, the object of these 'periodic surveys is to insure that the service in different cities shall be uniform and standard; to improve the methods of collecting, distributing, and dispatching the mails; to extend delivery service to sections not previously served, and where justified to increase the frequency of service; and to eliminate unnecessary expense. An outstanding example of the changes in practice which have been instituted as the result of the recent surveys is the rearrangement of collection and delivery service in some of the larger cities.

It is true that some complaints have been made regarding this changed service. To an extent, any consolidation or rearrangement of carrier routes temporarily disturbs the smooth functioning of the post-office machinery until the clerical and carrier personnel acquires familiarity with the new arrangement, and for a time there is an abnormally high percentage of mistakes in distribution and delivery. Also, under any new schedule there is a change in the hours of carrier service for many patrons, some receiving deliveries earlier and some later than under the old schedule. Although on the whole there has been no slowing down of deliveries as the result of the Department's recent surveys, naturally patrons whose mail reaches them at somewhat later hours have occasionally registered complaints, from which the suggestion may have come that there has been a general impairment of service. As clerks and carriers and the public have become familiar with the new arrangements, however, the complaints have diminished in number and there is no reason to believe that finally there will remain any dissatisfaction with the present service.
Very respectfully,

Acting Postmaster General

[The President, The White House]

Herbert Hoover, Letter to the Postmaster General on Post Office Employment Policies. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211887

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