I can’t ruminate on the United States Postal Service (USPS) without also conjuring up happy childhood memories. Having grown up in a small rural town in Wisconsin, the postman was more than a familiar face; he was friendly and generous. My own motivation for returning to the mailbox again and again was to keep in touch with my grandmother who lived on a farm a couple of hours away. It was pure magic. At the time, she didn’t even have a street name, yet the letters still found their way to “Rural Route 4.” No stamp? No problem. I would simply scotch tape two dimes to the empty place where a stamp should be. Somehow, my postman would perform a bit of postal alchemy and my envelope would safely find its way to Grandma’s farm.
On February 6th, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe made a startling announcement. The plan for “saving” the postal service was to close 200 additional processing plants (200 were closed total in the previous six years) and put a stop to Saturday delivery as of August 12th, 2013.
However, these plans were stymied. Currently, Saturday delivery cannot be stopped without an act of Congress. On March 21st, The House of Representatives approved a continuing resolution (CR) that maintains six day delivery. Amendment 68, proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) would have removed the six day delivery language from the CR. However, this did not come up for a vote. Some legislators claim that the wording in the current legislation is vague and, in spite of Congress’ resolution, are asking to move forward with a plan to limit or end Saturday deliveries.
Ironically, it was Congress that got us to this point in the first place. In 2006, Congress implemented a requirement for the postal service to set aside money to pay for the its retiree’s benefits for the next 75 years. This pre-funding of the benefits was to be done in the course of just ten years. Since 2007, this has cost the postal service $32 billion dollars.
In spite of this financial hardship, the post office has surplus funds available, but they are currently unable to access these funds to repay their debt. Between the years of 2007 and 2010, the operational profit of the USPS was $611 million. In fact, since 1982, the USPS had not directly accepted any tax payer dollars. The only exception to this is the subsidy that pays for the costs to send voting materials overseas or to voters with disabilities. The USPS has relied solely on the sale of stamps and services as its primary funding source.
These are services that many seem to take for granted, but that are accessible across this country. Many rural areas rely more heavily on the postal services for goods and services. The postal service does not discriminate; a 44 cent stamp can reach any household in the United States. Six days a week, the postal service delivers thank you notes, letters from loved ones overseas, and prescription medication. It does so at a price that is remarkable low compared to other non-subsidized postal services worldwide. According to a British study, the USPS is also rated first for efficiency. Remarkably, it successfully delivers 160 billion pieces of mail per year.
Dropping Saturday delivery and continuing to close processing plants could be the beginning of the end for the United States Postal Service. In addition to jobs being lost, this would also cause disruption to the system and a slowing of delivery. Good business people know that limiting services turns away customers. Slowing down our postal service is yet another push toward privatization of services, a push that has become all to familiar to workers in many different fields across the United States.
Citizens and legislators have begun pushing back. Bill H.R. 630 (S. 316), The Postal Service Protection Act of 2013, was recently introduced in an effort to preserve and strengthen the postal service. In this piece of legislation, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) goes a step beyond maintaining Saturday delivery and delves into criteria for closing postal facilities, authorizes use of the surplus funds for debt repayment, authorizes the expansion of services, and eliminates the criteria of pre-funding health benefits.
There has also been Solidarity found in supporting postal workers. This was evident on March 24th, the Postal Service Day of Action, when SCFL president, Kevin Gundlach, took the megaphone. The crowd cheered with him as he bellowed, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” Other area leaders such as John Nichols, U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (co-sponsor of H.R. 630), Brian Austin, and John ‘Sly’ Sylvester braved the cold to deliver stirring speeches about the importance of supporting and strengthening our postal service. From California to Tennessee, from Wisconsin to New Jersey, demonstrations of support took place across the country.
During the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising, the National Association of Letter Carriers stood alongside teachers, iron workers, electricians, police officers, and other private and public sector workers from all walks of life. Now, it is time to stand with them. Take action now to save six day delivery and in effect the United States Postal Service. And next time you turn on the computer to shoot out an email to your grandma, brother, sister, or friend, consider grabbing an envelope instead. Not only will that support the USPS, it will also make someone run to the mailbox and smile.