Planned 2015 plant closings threaten further service cuts

November 3, 2014

Use NNA-won safeguards to  maximize delivery

By Max Heath
Postal Tips

The U.S. Postal Service, frustrated with lack of congressional action to improve its financial position, announced this summer that it would implement the next round of 80-plus plant consolidations.

Unless the National Newspaper Association and its coalition partners are able to move a reform bill in the lame-duck session, USPS will proceed with closing more plants closer to members’ mail and merging mail into bigger, less efficient plants from January thru October 2015.

That makes it timely to review the safeguards NNA has in place to maximize delivery service in the local office, the county/market area, the secondary market area, and distant areas.

1. Next-day delivery for DDU drops. When current service-standard “business rules” were being hammered out between USPS and mailers, NNA was at the table over months of discussion. First priority was to ensure that mail entered at the office of delivery kept one-day service. That means next day for mail dropped before CET, or Critical Entry Time. 

Another NNA-won rules change allows copies of Periodicals dropped at the delivery office under items 1-3 of this column to be dropped in bundles only, no containers required. Avoiding containers also avoids the container charge for Periodicals outside-county. Bundles of Standard Mail shoppers can also be dropped, though there is no container charge, but not necessarily for next-day delivery.

2. Overnight Drop Policy at primary entry office. Since November 2009, USPS Business Mail Entry has operated under a policy obtained by NNA in negotiations with USPS headquarters to protect newspapers, which historically dropped their mail off in the middle of the night, or otherwise could not meet the CET referenced above. The current policy applies to community newspapers that mail no more than 500,000 copies per year and meet certain other conditions (more than 50 percent in-county, etc.).

The interpretation of the policy was clarified later to include not only mail dropped after CET, but also before operating hours in the morning. It is also interpreted to apply to situations where CETs were moved earlier or operating hours started later, reducing the window of time to drop the newspaper to as little as 1.5 hours in some offices. Such occurrences have been widespread as USPS sought to cut expenses according to size of office rather than close them.

The policy is undergoing rework as BME shifts from one large handbook to “Job Aids.” NNA has also asked for two changes, one to expand the in-county definition to allow newspapers under 10,000 circulation to be eligible as well as those with 50 percent in-county mail, and the other to lift the annual mailing cap. The policy is alive and well, just in the shop for some tinkering between NNA and USPS. Future approval may come from District BME managers rather than headquarters. It is not in the DMM.

3. Exceptional Dispatch to other offices in-county or out. This policy in DMM 207.28.3 has long existed, but NNA worked to broaden it more than a decade ago to include SCFs. It consists of a simple letter request to your local postmaster, who must approve it. The newspaper can then take copies directly to other post offices in the area, even dropping after hours as needed, without taking them to the local office first. No verification is required on these copies. Some postmasters confuse this with Plant-Verified Drop Shipment copies and require PS Form 8125s. These do not apply to Periodicals dropped under Exceptional Dispatch. NNA suggests that newspapers resend their requests annually because there are so many changes at the postmaster level.

4. Hubs dispatch “Direct” containers within old SCF. This helps protect delivery to mail in areas just outside a newspaper’s primary market covered by items 1-3. NNA worked long and hard to get the “Hub Policy” in effect earlier this year. As USPS closed smaller SCFs, it made sense for them to keep mail that didn’t have to be opened and worked upstream to be cross-docked or distributed. USPS agreed to a formal policy designating that certain containers entered at the old SCF or at post offices served by it will be sent direct to their destinations in other towns within the territory served. Direct containers are defined as 5-digit, carrier-route, or a mix of the two (M5D for merger of both sortations to same ZIP). Only “working” containers sorted to either 3-digit or SCF must be sent to the new distant sorting plant.

5. Use Flats Trays (tubs) to improve distant delivery. NNA has worked with USPS headquarters since 2005 on this policy change, for Periodicals only, allowing newspapers to get out of costly, harder-to-spot generic sacks and into what is essentially a First-Class container so that Periodicals move on the same trucks. Although they currently require a green lid, identical to First-Class Mail, NNA is working with headquarters on removing lids for mail within the origin SCF. Some plants and post offices already encourage unlidded trays, which allows nesting in trucks for better space utilization, and instant recognition of newspapers in mail processing plants.

Sacks are costly to process, driving up Periodicals prices. NNA will seek lower prices for tray users when it can prove widespread use. A new sortation created in late 2005, Origin Mixed ADC removes pieces from Mixed ADC to create delivery via First-Class truck trips for destinations available from the origin processing plant, often 1,500 to 2,000 miles. It is a mandatory sort for PAVE-certified software vendors, which newspapers should use to be in compliance with continual changes in USPS labeling lists. DMM 207.20.1.1 shows flats trays as option.

6. Electronic subscriptions to distant locations. NNA worked five years to gain approval of paid/requester subscriptions to count on the annual PS Form 3526, Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation. This legitimizes non-postal subscribers to advertisers. Those subscribers willing to read the newspaper electronically should be encouraged to take this route for problem deliveries far outside the newspaper market.

7. Tips from publishers: Many newspaper publishers try creative solutions to solve their delivery problems, from putting notices on the front page about whom in USPS to contact with complaints to a reminder of day of mailing and “deliver by” dates.

Joe Moss of the Carroll County Comet in Flora, IN, recently had problems with tubs going through SCF 479 Lafayette, IN, back to his county. He slapped a note on the tray stating “DO NOT SEND TO INDY, SORT AT 479.” It worked. But that plant is set for 2015 closure and he may need to use Exceptional Dispatch on in-county copies going through 479.

The Ellsworth American, featured in the May Pub Aux, runs a boxed notice atop its front page stating the date entered, an 800 number to call if the paper does not arrive on time, and lists the expected delivery times by location. © Max Heath 2014

 

Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group, publisher of Athlon Sports magazine, Parade, American Profile, Relish, Dash, and Spry newspaper supplements, and Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. E-mail maxheath@lcni.com.

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