Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Targeting the Post Office

by MOSHE ADLER

On Labor Day The New York Times ran a front page article that, through the lens of the United States Postal Service, simultaneously addressed two of our most burning issues: the condition of workers and our underfinanced government.  The Post Office has a deficit, and on its front page the paper of record listed the main reasons why: labor costs are 80% of total cost in the post office but only 53% and 32% at UPS and Fed Ex; health benefits are more generous at the post office than those offered to most other federal employees; and the USPS union contracts contain no layoff clauses.

A chill must have gone down the spine of post office workers upon reading that they are overpaid; they know firsthand that they are actually underpaid and they also know why the labor cost components in the various mail delivery services are different.  First class postal mail is delivered by foot, while UPS parcels are delivered by trucks and Fed Ex letters are often delivered by trucks (and airplanes) that travel great distances to deliver, in some cases, a single item.   The only meaningful comparison is of the actual wages themselves. According to the Federal Daily, a UPS delivery driver earns 15% more in wages and 59% more in benefits than a postal service letter carrier. Obviously it is not the low wages or low benefits that the USPS pays that explain why its labor component is so much higher than it is at UPS.  The pay of Fed Ex delivery drivers is lower than even that of postal service letter carriers, but that only means that Fed Ex workers are even more grossly underpaid and an article about these workers and the anti-unionization activities that Fed Ex engages in against them would have been both more interesting and more fitting for Labor Day.

The rest of the New York Times article continues from the front page to the Business Section, and those who bothered to keep reading would have found some of the real reasons for the deficit at the Post Office.  By law the post office cannot raise its prices beyond the consumer price index even though the increases in the components of its costs far exceed the increases in the consumer price index.  The post office often operates branches in suburban or rural communities where the number of customers is very small.  In addition, while because of the internet the volume of the mail has been decreasing, the number of addresses that it delivers to has nevertheless been increasing because of the growing number of households.  Neither of these increases in average costs is related to the consumer price index. And as we all know, the increases in the cost of health insurance far exceed the increases in the consumer prices index as well.  Yet in spite of these increases in costs, the post office has not raised the price of first class mail since May of 2009.  UPS and Fed Ex, on the other hand, have both raised their prices by 4.9% in 2011, though this comparison was not to be found in The New York Times.

And what about those no layoff clauses in the union contracts that the paper told us about on the front page?   Toward the end of the article readers learned, parenthetically, that over the last decade the number of workers in the post office decreased by more than 25%.  Thus no layoff clauses at most slow, rather than prevent, downsizing.

The attack on the USPS workers in The New York Times — by none other than their labor reporter — is a sad example of just how deeply the media has internalized the linked attacks on government services and labor.  The very discussion of a post office deficit is spurious because there is no reason why the post office should be profitable in the first place. Subsidies are an integral part of the post office.  Unlike UPS or Fed Ex, the post office charges the same rate for the delivery of mail regardless of distance or ease of access, and this means that when the post office is not subsidized by taxpayers, residents of high density places subsidize residents of smaller and more remote places. Without these subsidies there would be no post office. But subsidies should not be paid according to place of residence but according to ability to pay.  They should therefore come from taxes, as they did until 1982, and not solely from the price of postage.  And even though USPS workers are actually underpaid compared to workers who are doing similar jobs in the private market, we must still note that this comparison is also spurious. Why should the benchmark be other workers’ wages and not the compensation (for what?) of stock and bond traders or, for that matter, of CEOs?

The only immediate solution to the current crisis that our economy faces is to raise taxes and to use them to pay for what only the government can guarantee:  The provision of necessary goods and services and jobs that pay decent wages.  The United States Post Office is not the problem; the post office is part of the solution.

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (The New Press, 2010).

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (The New Press, 2010),  which is available in paperback and as an e-book and in Chinese (2013) and Korean (2015) editions.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]