Would you believe the U.S. Postal Service, which lost a whopping $8.5 billion in 2010, spends millions of dollars a year paying thousands of employees to do absolutely nothing? It's the truth.
"This is called standby time, and occurs when workers are idled but paid due to reassignments and reorganization efforts," according to the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General.
Where else could you get paid a decent salary for sitting in an empty room, doing absolutely nothing?
Cost of Standby Time
Standby time cost the Postal Service about $30.9 million in 2009, the equivalent of some 1.2 million hours. The semi-independent government agency paid out $22 million in 2010 in standby time, according to the Office of Inspector General.
Standby time represents a relatively small portion of the overall work done by the Postal Service. Still, it's about the same as having more than 1,000 workers on the clock but not having anything for them to do.
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"Although reducing standby hours remains a top management priority, it is small relative to overall work hours and does not take away from the substantial progress made in reducing work hours," the Inspector General's Office said in a 2011 report.
In 2010, for example, the 1.4 million hours of standby time represented less than 1 percent of the 1.18 billion work hours put in by Postal Service employees.
How Standby Time Works
The Postal Service cannot simply lay off employees because of declining mail volume under its contracts with the major labor unions.
So workers impacted by such slowdowns report to work, but sit around in conference rooms, break rooms and occasionally 12-foot-by-8-foot storage closets, according to a 2009 report by Federal Times. The Postal Service reportedly calls those rooms "resource rooms." Employees who resent being bored refer to them derisively as "holding pens."
"The Postal Service records standby hours for career bargaining unit employees who are guaranteed work hours, as required by applicable national labor agreements, when there is insufficient work available," according to the Office of Inspector General.
"Standby time is used for unplanned impacts that effect employee complement, unplanned, low-work-volume periods on a particular day or days; or other unplanned events such as equipment breakdown."
Standby Time Policies
Nonetheless, Postal Service managers have said their hands are tied when it comes to standby time. "Volume has dropped, we don't get the same mail receipts we used to get, and our overtime is already pretty much nil," Edward Jackson, the plant manager at the mail processing facility in Washington, D.C., told Federal Times. "But we still have to keep them in a pay status. So we put them in the standby rooms."