FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Saving the Postal Service (and Union Jobs)

by JACK A. SMITH

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to reduce mail service to five days a week and shut 3,830 post offices is meeting opposition in Congress, from sectors of the public, and the several major postal unions. Some closings of mail processing plants could begin in late May, while layoffs at post offices are set to begin in the fall.

The unions claim that the closings are mainly a conservative move to privatize mail and package delivery. Evidently right wing political opposition to “big government” is a factor in the downsizing. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader thinks privatization advocates have exaggerated the money and other problems to create a “manufactured crisis.”

One way the USPS plans to compensate for some of the closed offices is to open about 2,500 so-called “village post offices” sometime next year. These are to be small private operations housed in local businesses — gas stations, groceries and the like — that would handle limited services such as stamp sales and flat-rate shipping and few extras. It is to be assumed other private ventures will spring up across the country to supplement the immediate and longer term shrinkage of postal services.

On Feb. 13, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), joined by 110 other House members, called on Donahoe to institute a moratorium on U.S. Postal Service closure plans. According to the Postal News, “In a letter signed by the bipartisan group, Hinchey cited a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) report that points to deep flaws with the data used by the USPS to determine which postal facilities should be considered for closure.”

The Mid-Hudson Valley Congressman declared: “The data the USPS used to select which post offices it would consider for closure was incomplete, inaccurate and inappropriately targeted rural post offices. I’m calling on the Postmaster General to halt all discontinuance studies. Unless they start operating with better information, they could do more harm than good.”

In addition to the post offices, USPS announced Feb. 23 it seeks to close or consolidate more than 223 mail processing plants in the next 18 months, at a cost of 35,000 jobs. “This plan makes no sense at all and should be abandoned,” argued Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is from a state where a mail processing plant is slated to close. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Donahoe “should focus on common sense solutions that improve its fiscal solvency” instead of putting eight Ohio facilities out of business.

How did this all come about? The original Post Office agency was launched by Ben Franklin and the rebellious Second Continental Congress in 1775, before the Declaration of Independence, and Franklin was the first postmaster general. Postal delivery became a cabinet-level department after national independence when George Washington was president, and New Yorker Samuel Osgood was the first postmaster to serve under the Constitution in 1789.

The USPS was reorganized in 1970 to become a semi-independent business though it remained a government entity. It no longer receives funding from Washington but raises its own monies — one of only two governments in the world that does not fund its post office system (the other is dysfunctional Somalia with practically no government services whatever). Postal rates are set by the Postal Rate Commission according to the recommendations of the 11-member Postal Board of Governors, which also selects the postmaster general. Nine of the board’s members are chosen by the President and, with Senate approval, serve for nine years each (though if selected after 2006 new members serve for seven years).

President Obama and Congress have circumscribed authority, but are far from powerless. For instance, the Board of Governors may implement certain changes without government approval, but on important matters such as moving to five-day delivery or postage rates both the White House and Congress have a big say. On the delivery question, however, Obama sides with Postmaster Donahoe, not the over half million postal workers and their many unions.

Postal unions staged concerted  nationwide demonstrations a few months ago against the planned downsizing and privatizing of the USPS. Some unions have “been working to win support for amendments to the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789), which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate soon,” says the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). On Feb. 14, 27 Senators signed a letter asking bill sponsors “to maintain current service standards, protect rural post offices, maintain six-day delivery, and establish a blue-ribbon panel to examine how the Postal Service can earn additional revenue by offering new services.”

The APWU and the National Postal Mail Handlers have collected over 300,000 signatures so far on a petition to Congress. Several other postal unions are also actively fighting the closures, including support for bills in the House.

Among the labor organizations leading the campaign for the postal workers are the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC, representing city letter carriers), the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Obama has largely stayed in the background on some but not all Donahoe’s plans. The White House budget for FY 2013, released Feb. 13, includes authority for the USPS to end Saturday delivery next year. Of this Donahoe said: “The President continued to recognize the urgent need for postal reform.”

The unions didn’t see it that way. Responding to the budget proposal, NALC President Fredric V. Rolando declared: “Eliminating Saturday delivery is a counter-productive proposal that would degrade services to the public and to businesses, threaten the viability of the Postal Service itself, and begin to dismantle the universal network that has served the country well for 200 years….

“Among those who would be most affected are residents of rural communities, the elderly, those who need medicines or other goods on weekends, not to mention small businesses, which are open weekends and need to send and receive financial documents…. Eliminating Saturday delivery would pose additional costs on all who are compelled to contract with expensive carriers. Taxpayers wouldn’t save a penny, because they don’t fund the Postal Service; USPS earns its own money by selling stamps and services.”

The big postal unions point out that the 2006 postal “reform” law during the Bush Administration “requires the USPS to pre-fund 75 years’ worth of future retiree health benefits within just 10 years…. No other federal agency or private enterprise is forced to pre-fund similar benefits like this, especially on such an aggressive schedule. This postal-only mandate costs the USPS $5.5 billion per year. It accounts for 100% of the Postal Service’s $20 billion in losses over the past four or years. It also accounts for 100% of the rise in the Postal Service’s debt in recent years.”

Donahoe, who took office 13 months ago after 35 years in the Postal Service, pledges to make the USPS into a “profitable, market-responsive organization.” He claims that USPS has accumulated an $8.3 billion budget deficit for FY 2012. He supports ending the pre-funding measure, but also insists on the closings and other cutbacks.

According to the citizen-run website SaveThePostOffice.com on Feb. 21: “The Postal Service juggernaut keeps rolling on with its downsizing plans, and it seems prepared to crush whatever stands in its way — postal workers, post offices, communities, history.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything that can stop it — not Congress, not the unions, not the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Perhaps it’s time for the people of the United States to take the U.S. Postal Service to court.”

The Washington Post reported Feb. 18 that post office closings may increase rural isolation and economic disparity: “Nearly 80% of the 3,830 post offices under consideration are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average.”

The great majority of the regions targeted for closing are where “UPS and FedEx charge more for delivery,” the Post continued. “Town mayors and chambers of commerce also worry about the broader economic impact of losing a post office. With small populations, remote locations and a lack of reliable Internet, many towns are already a tough sell to new businesses….

“Despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Postal Service declined to provide data on revenue for individual post offices. But it did provide expense data for all post offices. The statistics show that closing all the post offices under consideration would save about $295 million a year, about four-tenths of 1% of the Postal Service’s annual expenses of $70 billion.”

Former Clinton Administration Postmaster General William told the press “that’s not even a drop in the bucket. The bucket won’t ripple.”

The Postal Service, which employs 575,000 workers at 32,000 facilities, says the growth of the Internet has cut volume way down, which is true in part, but many local people tell the Activist Newsletter that while they may e-mail most letters these days, their mail box seems as full as ever with bills, magazines, cards, packages and the like. “There are too many catalogs at Christmas, but we just recycle them,” said one local resident. “Otherwise, we count on our Monday-Saturday mail delivery.”

Dean Granholm, a USPS vice president, said in February that the personnel reductions could begin by October. At this stage, the jobs of some 3,000 postmasters, 500 station managers and up to 1,000 postal clerks are on the chopping block.

In addition to closing the post offices, Donahoe wants to (1) cut payrolls through attrition, (2) end the agency’s health plan for older employees, moving them to taxpayer-funded Medicare, and (3) eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

Ironically, one of the facilities scheduled for elimination and sale to an “appropriate retailer” is Philadelphia’s small but historically significant Ben Franklin post office on Market St. in the Independence Mall area attached next door to the U.S. Postal Service Museum. Tourist and news outlets report that it is on the location of Ben Franklin’s house and is the only post office that doesn’t fly a U.S. flag — because the colonial period facility pre-dates the existence of the national standard.

If the Franklin office closes, it might be fitting for the Postal Museum to dip its own flag in ceremonial regret — not just for the loss of an historic post office located in a pre-revolutionary three-story brick building that once housed the first postmaster general, but perhaps for the uncertain future of the USPS and its many workers as well.

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and is former editor of the
(U.S.) Guardian Newsweekly. He may be reached at jacdon@earthlink.net or
http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/

Jack A. Smith edits the Activist Newsletter.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail