USPS delays rollout of new pay system after data shows major cuts for rural carriers

The Postal Service is delaying the implementation of a new pay system that would currently lead to many rural carriers seeing significant pay cuts.

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association announced last Friday it reached an agreement with USPS to postpone the new pay system, the Rural Route Evaluated Compensation System (RRECS).

Deputy Postmaster General Doug Tulino told the union in a memo last Friday that USPS now plans to push the launch of RRECS from April 22 to May 6.

Tulino told NRLCA that USPS will use this time to review initial rural route evaluations and “ensure that errors and/or missing data entries are corrected, as appropriate.”

“The parties are agreeing to this delay to allow further review of the data underlying these new rural route evaluations,” Tulino wrote. “The parties will also use this time to finalize an alternate dispute resolution process specific to the rural evaluation data.”

Many carriers are warning that if the RRECS system went into effect now, they would receive thousands of dollars less per year. Others are considering leaving USPS and finding work elsewhere.

Rural carriers and NRLCA are pushing for more transparency from USPS on the data used to make pay determinations under RRECS, a system both parties agreed to implement more than a decade ago.

Alicia Riley-Lucas, a rural carrier in La Plata, Maryland, said her route under RRECS would pay her $8,000 less annually compared to what she currently earns.

“It’s just disappearing from my paycheck, and I don’t have any say in that. What am I supposed to do?” Riley-Lucas said.

Riley-Lucas said the new pay system, if implemented now, would make it significantly harder for USPS to retain experienced rural carriers or recruit new ones.

“They’ve been with the Post Office for years and years. They thought it was a stable job [and] they were planning on doing it. We’re already having issues with getting people hired across the board and getting them to stay,” she said.  “Somehow the Post Office seems to think that it’s fair that they get to pay us whatever they want.”

The NRLCA and USPS, in a July 2012 memo, agreed to work together on launching the new RRECS system.

Unlike letter carriers and city carrier assistants, rural carriers work under an evaluated pay system, and most mail routes get an annual evaluation based on how long it takes to complete and how much mail it receives.

Rural carriers, however, complained they weren’t getting any additional pay at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns led to a surge in USPS package volume.

Riley-Lucas said a new pay system for rural carriers has been long overdue, but added that USPS hasn’t been forthcoming about why carriers would see a reduction in pay under the new system.

“I do agree that we needed to find another solution to make sure that everybody is properly being paid across the board,” she said. “However, the Post Office is not being transparent with us. They’re not telling us where these numbers are coming from.”

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said in a statement last Friday that the compensation system for rural letter carriers “is a nationally negotiated pay system codified in the parties’ National Agreement.”

“The current modifications to the compensation system were the result of a previous interest arbitration proceeding and mandated by an interest arbitrator,” Partenheimer said. “The parties worked jointly for years to implement these new provisions and will continue to share data and information throughout the implementation process.”

Jennifer Brooks, a former city carrier in West Grove, Pennsylvania, said a recent “mail count” led to an undercount of machine-sorted mail like letters, as well as “flats,” including large envelopes, newsletters and magazines that are usually sorted by hand.

“Because of that, a lot of the [rural] carriers went from one pay grade down to a lower pay grade,” Brooks said. “Nobody is listening to anybody. And a lot of times, these postmasters and the managers and supervisors, they don’t know how to count a lot of that stuff.”

Riley-Lucas said supervisors haven’t adequately trained staff to scan mail and packages, and that those scans are vital data points under RRECS.

“Nobody’s willing to train us properly to know what kinds of scans we’re supposed to be doing on a daily basis that might pertain to our particular route. Nobody knows. And when you trying to figure it out, you have to do it on your own time,” Riley-Lucas said.

Carriers said the pay proposed pay cut would be particularly harmful, given higher prices for essential goods through increased inflation.

Brooks said that some carriers recently bought cars, since some rural carriers aren’t provided a USPS delivery vehicle, and must use their own vehicle for deliveries.

“How are they going to pay for that gas? How are they going to pay for their car payment?” Brooks said.

Riley-Lucas said communication from the NRLCA on this pay issue has been “very vague.”

“It’s not really giving us any answers. We don’t feel supported from the union, because they’re not telling us what’s going on. It’s very frustrating,” she said.

“A lot of carriers are asking, ‘OK, now that I’ve gone down this amount of money, let me see the paperwork or documentation showing me why I went down.’ And there’s no transparency. Nobody’s getting any documentation [and] the union is just being pushed off to the side,” Brooks said.

While many rural carriers are worried they’ll see a significant pay cut under RRECS, Riley-Lucas said she’s heard some carriers may see a boost in pay under the new system.

“They deserve their pay, because obviously, they’re doing something that some of us are not. They definitely need to come across and get us properly trained on every aspect of what this new system is,” she said.

NRLCA told bargaining units employees earlier this month that its legal counsel is “exploring our options.”

“We understand that mail volume is down, and many routes will lose in evaluation. However, we must be assured that the data is correct and transparent to the carriers,” the union wrote.

USPS Director of Delivery Strategy and Policy Tim Haney told the union earlier this month that management will provide “more information as soon as possible.”

“We understand there will be a need to adjust rural routes due to routes being overburdened or substandard. However, we have yet to develop an adjustment process for the RRECS environment,” Haney said.

NRLA said it has filed a step-4 grievance and is requesting additional data from USPS.

“The USPS has refused our request. We know and the USPS knows that there are errors that need to be corrected. The USPS’s position was to implement and correct the errors later. That was never the intent of the parties!” the union rote.

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