Save our post offices from service cuts

The proposed service cuts now being debated in Congress, supported by the U.S. Postal Service headquarters, will slowly deplete our postal system of needed resources, allowing private interests to swoop in and take over what is now one of the great components of America’s public infrastructure. If that happens, there will be no stopping private corporations from jacking up postal rates and jeopardizing the services that tens of millions of Americans use.

Today, more than 650,000 active and retired mail handlers, city and rural letter carriers and postal workers stand united against Congress’s self-defeating service cuts. Together, we represent employees at hundreds of mail processing facilities and thousands of post offices at risk of being closed. As a result of the proposed cuts, more than 100,000 Americans could lose their jobs.

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While still in need of reform, the USPS’s financial outlook is better than it has been in years. Despite increased use of email and e-commerce, operating profits were $623 million in 2013 and are projected to be above $1 billion this year. The main reason for recent deficits has been a mandate, passed under former President George W. Bush, to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits in just a 10-year period. 

 Pre-funding future retiree health benefits in this manner is unfair and unnecessary. No private company or government agency in America faces such an unreasonable burden. If the $47 billion already in the fund was invested in a mix of stocks and bonds, instead of low-yielding Treasury bills, that would produce enough earnings to cover all future costs. Yet, the Senate committee passed a bill that fails to permanently eliminate this burden.

Some members of Congress are buying into the relentless push to end Saturday delivery and door-to-door service for tens of millions of businesses and households. At a time when the demand for date-specific marketing and same or next-day delivery is growing, slower delivery times would only turn off more customers.

As post offices continue to cut back services and close their doors, vulnerable communities will be forced to pay more for less. Closing 3,000 more post offices could cost the average household at least $40 more per year in wasted time and travel. In other countries with privatization schemes, private postal companies have abandoned traditional services in favor of drop-centers that are only open two or three days a week, charging higher rates for standard mail.

“Politics” is no excuse for bad policy. Some people might be fine with ending Saturday mail processing and delivery, but those who oppose such cuts still see a need for universal service. They represent the small businesses, rural residents and the elderly who could be hurt by needless delays. In fact, pharmacies like CVS and Medco warn that eliminating Saturday delivery would delay orders for prescription drugs, creating difficulties for patients.

Without resorting to these damaging proposals, there are plenty of innovative ideas that offer a brighter future for mail processing plants and post offices. Even if Washington doesn’t get it, major companies do. Staples seems eager to make money off a new Postal Service pilot program that puts knock-off post offices in their stores. Staples obviously understands that many customers could come in to handle their mail and make additional purchases during the same visit. The problem is that Staples still expects a cut of postal revenue after replacing dedicated career employees with minimum wage, untrained and inexperienced workers.

There is no reason that the Postal Service should give up a dime of profit. Instead of selling off parts of the business and slashing service, the Postal Service should be looking for ways to generate additional revenue. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) points out, Congress could allow post offices to offer a wider variety of services. That could mean giving customers the option of getting documents notarized, cashing checks or shipping wine and beer. A USPS inspector general report suggests that expanding financial services could generate almost $9 billion in extra revenue each year.

To keep our postal facilities open and our mail delivered, Congress needs to consider the needs of the customers. Postal employees are already issuing money orders, have a deal with American Express to sell prepaid debit cards and have started delivering packages on Sundays for Amazon. So by using America’s great network of hardworking postal employees to provide more services, it will be the customers, not the taxpayers, who are able to help save our Postal Service.  

Hegarty has served as the national president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a division of the Laborers International Union of North America, since 2002.