Postal leadership has been all bark and no bite in recent years by failing to address the concerns of 500,000 overworked employees. In addition to enduring long hours, physical stress and dysfunctional labor relations, workers constantly fear being bitten by dogs.
According to recently released statistics, more than 5,300 postal workers were attacked by canines while delivering the mail in 2022. While dog bites have decreased in recent years, annual incidents have stubbornly hovered around 5,500 (with some notable outliers) over the last 15 years. Policymakers cannot accept the status quo of ruined lives and costly compensation claims. By unleashing the right reforms, postal leadership can hit “paws” on these deadly attacks.
Dog bites don’t come cheap for America’s mail carrier. The average cost per claim of dog bites is around $65,000, implying that the Postal Service spends “ruffly” $350 million annually on bite-related compensation claims. That amounts to about a fourth of the $1.31 billion in annual worker compensation doled out by the service and more than 10 percent of total federal compensation payouts.
However, sustained progress is challenging amid the surge in package deliveries. Unlike first-class mail, which can be dropped off at mailboxes, mail carriers typically go to consumers’ doors to deliver packages. Recipients opening their doors can easily lead to pets escaping and ensuing havoc.
One station manager said, “As package volumes are increasing, our carriers are going up the driveway now to deliver those packages. A lot of times, the customers don’t know that their dog will attack.”
The issue might be more manageable if packages were priced to reflect the risks of door-to-door activities. These additional resources could go toward procuring bite gloves, investing in additional training, and bolstering compensation payments. Yet, the systemic underpricing of parcels puts a tight leash on mitigation funding.
According to the agency’s fiscal year 2022 Annual Compliance Report, package revenues cover approximately 38 percent of all “institutional costs.” These costs are borne by the agency, irrespective of mail mix, and supposedly cannot be attributed to either regular mail or packages. The theory is that not all costs (worker compensation, inspector general audits, cybersecurity investments) can be assigned to different categories, and all is well if packages cover a certain percentage of these collective costs.
The service claims that the packages’ 38 percent cost contribution is more than enough because the percentage is “well in excess of either the previous required level of 5.5 percent or the 10 percent requirement derived from the (Postal Regulatory Commission’s) formula.”
The 38 percent figure seems low, considering that packages comprise more than half of the service’s total haul in weight. And virtually all the latest investments, including $10 billion for new boxy trucks and more than 100 new package sorting machines, are geared toward parcel deliveries.
The institutional cost figure is only as good as the service’s willingness to attribute expenses. One cost category called “network travel” shows how the agency muddies the waters on product coverage.
The USPS and Postal Regulatory Commission characterize “network travel” as the “time spent traveling between route sections” and claim that driving from one mailbox to another has no connection to any product category. But if mail carriers need to constantly go door-to-door and tango around a dozen dogs over the course of their route, mailbox-to-mailbox route costs will be higher due to factors such as overtime costs and the inevitable spillover into rush hour traffic. Package-related route delays absolutely affect “network travel” costs, whether postal officials and regulators care to acknowledge it.
Parcel costs must reflect reality. Only when postal leadership stops barking up the wrong tree, dog bite prevention efforts will continue to be toothless and underfunded. Postal workers deserve a safe work environment without the daily fear of life-threatening injuries.