Conner stays busy as Jasper postmaster

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 11/26/17

Jasper Postmaster Greg D. Conner said that while letters and bills are not coming through post offices like they once did, those Christmas packages are not out of norm throughout the year, thanks to Amazon and other online companies that mail direct to customers.

“Our package volume has grown upwards of 25 percent,” he said recently — although he noted the peak season being during the Christmas season.

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Conner stays busy as Jasper postmaster

Posted

Jasper Postmaster Greg D. Conner said that while letters and bills are not coming through post offices like they once did, those Christmas packages are not out of norm throughout the year, thanks to Amazon and other online companies that mail direct to customers.

“Our package volume has grown upwards of 25 percent,” he said recently — although he noted the peak season being during the Christmas season.

Still, Conner is seeing not only where the Jasper Post Office is viable in the internet age, he also sees the growing pains of accommodating the delivery of more and more packages on shrinking budgets.

Conner — who has worked in and out of the Jasper Post Office for years in various capacities — is approaching his one-year anniversary as the Jasper postmaster, as he started as postmaster since Jan. 2. He lives in Jasper, adding that while postmasters are no long required to live in the town they work in, he thinks it is still a good idea for the postmaster to be involved in the local community.

He said when he arrived, he told the staff he wanted a family-oriented work environment where no one dreaded coming to work. “If you’re dreading coming to work, I already have issues because you’re not going to want to be here,” he said. “But I feel like we’ve done a good job. I’ve got two great supervisors who tow the line. I’m happy to be back in Jasper.” 

The Jasper Post Office, handling 20 rural routes and nine city routes, has a staff of 71 people, with about 42 of those being full-time. He said Jasper’s area is wide enough that it gets close to Parrish, Townley, Carbon Hill, Nauvoo and Double Springs.

A normal day of operation for the post office is that trucks start arriving at 1:30 a.m., so clerks have to be on hand. More come in at 3 a.m., with multiple trucks coming in during the morning and multiple trucks leaving in the evening. “It’s from 1:30 until about 8 o’clock at night,” at night, Conner said.

The trucks leave about 6 a.m. and carriers come in about 7 a.m., and the mail starts to be sorted out.

“When we get through sorting mail to the carriers, then we hop up to the box section and open up the windows. That’s where some of the clerks go at that time,” he said. “I think the box section time is 9:30 or 10. By 10:30 is starting to die down. It is mostly just the window and you may have some issues on the route with the carriers. But there is always something to keep you busy.

Automation has come to the local post offices, he said.

“We have what we call DPS letter mail, which means the letters the carriers used to stand in front of and case into their configuration to deliver that day,” he said. “When I was a city carrier, probably 60 percent of it was worked manually. Today, probably 10 percent is worked manually. The Postal Service has done a good job of capturing all they can.” 

If a letter is sent from Jasper across town, and it was handed in at the window, it can be postmarked to send across town directly without going to Birmingham.

“But if you put it in the blue box or the inside drop, it is going to come to Birmingham and come back. Usually it is the next day,” he said.

“Any parcels they hand across the window, a customer doesn’t even have to ask us,” he said. “If they take it across the window and it is for Jasper, we don’t even send it out. We just keep it here and work it the next morning to where it is going.”

Asked what has been the most enjoyable part about working for the U.S. Postal Service, Conner said it was helping the customers.

“When they’re anxious or looking for a piece of mail, or they were worried about some mail getting somewhere else and you can help them, and relieve that anxiety, I would say that has been the most beneficial — just knowing a customer when they walk away you have satisfied them in some way,” he said.

Asked the most difficult part of the job, he said it would be trying to satisfy everyone.

“You just can’t do it,” he said. “Some may need to be coached. Some may need to be disciplined. Some may need positive reinforcement. You just need to learn how to get the most out of your employees. The main thing I’ve learned in my career is you treat everyone fair in the same way, you can’t go wrong.” 

Conner said he has tried to have a laid back, open door policy with employees and to try to be more personal with the employees, not requiring an appointment to see him. He also felt coming in not much was broke, so there was no need to fix anything, saying the previous postmaster did well and the Jasper employers are the best he has seen.

“They sacrifice for the operation. They get paid by the hour, but they act like they own part of the operation. That means a lot,” he said.

He said packages are important to the future of the U.S. Postal Service. He noted in his former regional Postal Service job, he had to meet with 42 offices. An eight-hour office like Goodsprings, due to the revenue they took in, the USPS determines whether that office is open a smaller number of hours.

“The thinking behind all that is that the Postal Service and the U.S. government didn’t want to just shut the post offices down,” he said. “When a post office shuts down, the community kind of loses its identity. They wanted to offer a service, but they wanted to give a service equal to what the needs were.”

In telling some offices their hours would be cut, he would have to tell the offices that mail volume was down 45 percent on letter mail, likening it to one business making money and nine which are not.

He said the internet has cut business for the post office, especially in terms of paper billing statements.

“I can remember working here and certain days of the months, for two days, we would have an entire container of bank statements. Well, banks no longer send bank statements anymore, unless you request it,” Conner said. He also pointed out Social Security has gone to direct deposit.

At the same time, the saving grace for post offices has been with packages.

“It’s tough in terms of what we were known for, such as letters, but our upper management has done a good job in trying to sign contracts with UPS and FedEx. We deliver a lot of UPS packages. They will bring them here to us because they look at it like, ‘The post office is already going by the house. Why not get them to deliver it and we just pay them a little bit?’” he said. FexEx packages are delivered the same way.

The Postal Service has also become a heavy user of the internet. One can go online to order stamps and order pickup of a package. Holding mail, tracking packages and address changes can be made online.

A new advertised service, called Informed Delivery, even sends snapshots of mail being delivered to one’s home that day, so that one can see the mail delivered while at work.

Also, the window area is stocked with greeting cards, mailing packages and the like, so that all the mailing needs can be met in one stop, he said.

Passports are also offered at the Jasper Post Office between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays or make an appointment on Saturday. Passport photos are available to be made at the post office.

Contract post offices, such as at English Plaza Pharmacy, are also set up, which the postmaster monitors for training. Village post offices are also available, where any business can allow one to go in and mail their packages. “Essentially all (the village post offices) do is send what they have got to the local post office every day. It is up to them to do their accounting,” he said.

Conner stressed the post office receives no tax money for any of its operations, even as the budget is tightened every year.

“Our whole operating expense, we rely totally on the sales of the products and the postage and the services we render to the public,” he said. “We have people call up here all the time and say, ‘Well, we pay y’all’s salary.’ Well, no you don’t. No really. You pay our salaries from what you buy through us.” 

He said people might not understand that when gas prices go up 1 cent across the nation, the post office nationwide loses $1 million. He said people sometimes request delivery in places the carriers should probably not be going to. “They need to understand wear and tear on a vehicle, and gas, and all that comes into play,” he said.

Conner advised to have mail available where carriers don’t have to wait, and to have good communication with a carrier so they will know what to expect.

He said it is more difficult to be a carrier than even 10 years ago, because Amazon Prime and the free shipping allowed sometimes by online retailers increase the number of packages. “We’re not arguing, because that is money,” he said.

However, 14 packages might be sent on a route maybe 10 years ago or earlier. While Jasper routes are not as heavy as ones in Birmingham, “I’ve seen our routes have 65 packages. I’ve seen a route in Birmingham have more than 270 packages in a day,” he said.

Also, packages are not supposed to be 70 pounds or 180 inches in length, he said.

“We had a bed headboard come in the other day,” he said, adding some of those packages indicate to get extra help to lift them. “I would rather let the customer know we have it down here,” as it is hard to get in the vehicle. They can arrange with the postmaster on a way to deliver it to them if need be, but he would prefer that than to make the carrier trying to pick it up by themselves and hurt their back.

With the extra number of packages, route examinations are made every few years to see how many packages are being sent on the average. Any increase could mean routes are altered to another driver for some places to compensate, he said, noting the Curry area has seen a large number of packages.

As for the post office facility in Jasper, he said he would like in time to do more landscaping around the facility, which will mark its 50th anniversary next year. He said the Parrish delivery routes are in the Jasper office, getting the mail in Jasper to deliver in Parrish. The post office in Parrish is open eight hours a day, but it has once been looked at for reduced hours. “it is a good possibility they might be moved back (to Parrish) in the future,” he said.

The heating and cooling at the Jasper facility was overhauled about five years ago, and it has overgrown its parking. “Other than that, it has held up really well,” he said.