What it really means for customers nationwide
By Mike Bruton
Wednesday’s announcement by the U.S. Postal Service that Saturday mail deliveries will be discontinued in August due to financial shortfalls caused by technological advances such as email was nothing more than sleight of hand.
The USPS’s move had Houdini’s fingerprints all over it or it would have if that iconic magician could reach beyond the grave.
This drum beat that the USPS is out of date and in decline has been steadily and skillfully rumbling in the background for years, an attempt by Republicans to drown out the real reason for the agency’s shortage of cash.
The reason the USPS is struggling to pay its bills stems from the passage of The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.
That legislation, contained a poison pill, left by disgruntled GOP House members during the lame duck session right before the Speaker’s gavel was handed over to Democrat Nancy Pelosi. The bill was designed to bleed the Postal Office dry and in doing so kill the American Postal Workers Union (which represent over 220,000 workers and retirees) and privatize the USPS. Fed Ex and United Parcel Service, among others, are waiting in the wings to get their hands on the $65 billion industry.
The law requires the USPS to pay close to $60 billion over 10 years for health and pension benefits of employes to be hired for the next 75 years. Yes, Congress is making the Post Office pay benefits for workers who have yet to be born.
That, however isn’t the way it’s being reported by major news outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times and the nation ‘s largest news wire service The Associated Press.
Those outlets and the mainstream news in general are putting emphasis on the annual $2.7 billion pricetag that Saturday mail delivery commands. The 2006 law is mentioned only in passing and not as the prime cause of the USPS’s cash flow problems.
“Countless public opinion polls show Americans do not mind going to a five-day delivery schedule,” USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told the Post last week. “There simply is no longer enough mail to sustain six days of delivery.”
Truthfully, email and other technological advances have slowed mail traffic but Congress, particularly the Republican-controlled House, refuses to let the USPS adapt to the market and compete. Plus, the losses incurred by the Post Office due to technology doesn’t come close to the doing the damage that the $5.5 billion a year the agency prepays into the accelerated benefits plan.
It is estimated that USPS would have a surplus of $1.6 billion if the 2006 law had never been passed.
Yet the USPS has announced a five-year plan to save $20 billion by 2015. If Congress fails to act to remove pre-funding of employe benefits veterans, Blacks and other minorities, which make up a considerable percentage of postal workers, will be hit hard as layoffs swell.
“The A.P.W.U condemns the Postal Service’s decision to eliminate Saturday mail delivery,” said Cliff Guffey, president of the union, “which will only deepen the agency’s congressionally manufactured financial crisis.”
The Philadelphia A.P.W.U. leadership, headed by president Gwen Ivey, declined comment on the USPS announcement.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee which oversees the USPS, has urged Congress to take action on postal reform to relieve the Post Office of an onerous burden that no other business in America carries.
Sen. Bob Casey (D.Pa.) made it plan last June in a letter to the USPS Inspector General he wanted jobs protected in the planned Post Office center closures and consolidation in Pennsylvania.
Over 200 postal sorting centers and post offices are scheduled for closure and the biggest problem lies in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA-02), a strong supporter of the mission of the U.S. Postal Service, said there is a path through Congress to strengthen and maintain the Postal Service.
“We have the finest postal service in the world. The Post Office is the only agency actually listed in the Constitution, and the first post office in our new nation was in Philadelphia,” Fattah said.
“History aside, the idea that we as a country can make do with less is not in our national interest. The Postal Service carries an unnecessary financial burden that is forcing these cutbacks, and which can be rectified. Right now the Postal Service is losing $25 million a day because it is the only institution, public or private, required by Congress to pre-pay its pension obligation. It is an obligation that turns an otherwise healthy and vital service for all Americans into one that appears deeply in debt.
“In the last Congress I offered legislation to relieve that financial burden. I will continue that effort, and connect it to preserving six-day service. Congress needs to give the Postal Service the freedom to fund its obligations and operate in the same manner as other organizations.”
Congressman Fattah was a co-sponsor of H.R. 1351, the United States Postal Service Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act of 2011, in the previous Congress, which unfortunately never made it out of committee despite wide support, especially in the Democratic caucus.
Congressman Bob Brady could not be reached for comment.
Though six-day delivery of parcels and to Post Office boxes will continue, dropping Saturday’s for regular mail will cause the biggest problems those who live in rural areas but also to some major corporations like Hallmark Cards.
“Solving budget shortfalls through price increases and reduction of service not only won’t work,” said Don Hall Jr., CEO of Hallmark, to the Post “it will make matters worse. I am concerned that going down this path does not address the critical issues and we will soon be talking about four-day or three-day delivery.”
As long as lawmakers like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) continue to harp on the national debt angle and in doing so include the USPS – despite the fact that the Post Offices receives no funds from taxpayers – the people’s post office, the brainchild of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, is in jeopardy.
“It’s a little unclear to us,” said Rafe Morrisey, senior vice president of EnGage, a firm which lobbys for Hallmark, “what the game plan will be in the new year.”
Lawmakers who had fighting to keep things as they are now are also doing their version of Houdini.
They call every move in Congress to fix the problem a bailout. That’s ridiculous considering that the fix isn’t to spend money it is to quit forcing the USPS to spend money on pre-funding of benefits.
One A.P.W.U. leaders said, “eighty percent of the debt problem is directly a result of The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.”
Postal Workers Union officials and members are asking the public to call their elected representatives and let them know that they see through the GOP ruse and is against it.
“We won’t be able to stop the closing of Staten Island facility,” said retired postal worker John Dennie to Workers.org, speaking of a Feb. 9 rally to be held at the sorting facility, “but we need to raise the alarm to tell the public or dire consequences from ongoing efforts to privatize the people’s post office.”