The Associated Press is reporting today some good news for those conservative Republicans who have been hell-bent on killing the Constitution-authorized post office:
The U.S. Postal Service will stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to deliver packages six days a week under a plan aimed at saving about $2 billion annually, the financially struggling agency says.
In other words, the Postal Service will stop serving most of its customers on Saturday, a day in which about two-thirds of American business are actually open for, uh, business.
Taking Saturday service out of the Postal Service will allegedly “save” $2 billion a year (although the USPS has alternatively and falsely argued that it would save much, much more). I suppose if we then later took Monday through Friday service out of the Postal Service we would never again have to worry about its finances. But then all we’d have left would be a bunch of empty buildings and rusting vehicles and 650,000 folks without jobs—which, of course, is the goal of a lot of think-tank conservatives, who for years have wanted to privatize mail delivery.
Fred Rolando, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, issued a statement on this downsizing scheme that included this:
This misguided and counterproductive decision is in keeping with the Postmaster General’s slash-and-shrink approach to dealing with the Postal Service’s financial challenges. Instead of offering a real business plan to tap the full potential of this essential American institution, he is offering a plan that will doom USPS to failure.
To give just one example of how that failure might occur, consider the following items that I found on a page on the Postal Service website designed to explain what will happen if this 5-day delivery scheme is actually hatched:
No scheduled box collections Saturday/Sunday, except Express Mail collection boxes
No processing of outgoing mail on Saturday, except Express Mail
Mail accepted at Post Offices will be processed on Monday, except Express Mail
Let me interpret what these items mean: If, say, you drop a letter in a mailbox in Joplin (if you can find a drop box these days) on Friday, after mail has been collected for the day, it will sit in that box until Monday and won’t leave Joplin until Monday evening. That’s three days sitting in a box.
Then, on top of that, when the letter is collected and processed, it will take longer to get it to its destination. The Postal Service has already closed processing plants and has had to cut delivery service standards, and cutting Saturday delivery would, as the Postal Regulatory Commission found, “delay by two days delivery of 25% of first class and priority mail.”
So, drop a letter in a box on Friday and it may not get where you sent it until the next Friday. That kind of “service” may, as Fred Rolando said, doom the post office and, if nothing else, make it a ward of the government in the future.
Rolando finished his statement with an unusually blunt request:
America’s letter carriers condemn this reckless plan in the strongest terms. We call for the immediate removal of the postmaster general, who has lost the confidence of the men and women who deliver for America every day. And we urge Congress to develop a real reform plan that gives the Postal Service the freedom to grow and innovate in the digital era.
Speaking of Congress and the removal of the postmaster general, the AP story had this odd sentence in its reporting:
It was not immediately clear how the service could eliminate Saturday mail without congressional approval.
It’s not clear because, as NALC President Rolando pointed out,
This maneuver by Mr. Donahoe flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery, which remains in effect today. In the last Congress, which ended in January, a bi-partisan majority of Representatives co-sponsored legislation backing the continuation of Saturday delivery.
And the Postmaster General himself, Patrick Donahoe, knows he needs congressional approval to stop serving his customers six days a week. In 2011, he told PBS’s Gwen Ifill that he wanted Congress first to let the Postal Service take over its employee retirement system and “operate it just like a private business.” Then, he told her this:
The second thing we need Congress to do is give us the authorization to eliminate Saturday delivery.
So, as the AP pointed out, it is unclear how Donahoe can do what he claims he is going to do in six months, unless, of course, the little general is planning a coup d’état.
In the mean time, the main fix for the Postal Service’s financial problems would be rather easy, were it not for Republicans in Congress. From the AP story:
The agency’s biggest problem — and the majority of the red ink in 2012 — was not due to reduced mail flow but rather to mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits, which made up $11.1 billion of the losses. Without that and other related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion, lower than the previous year.
The health payments are a requirement imposed by Congress in 2006 that the post office set aside $55 billion in an account to cover future medical costs for retirees. The idea was to put $5.5 billion a year into the account for 10 years. That’s $5.5 billion the post office doesn’t have.
No other government agency is required to make such a payment for future medical benefits. Postal authorities wanted Congress to address the issue last year, but lawmakers finished their session without getting it done. So officials are moving ahead to accelerate their own plan for cost-cutting.
Not only did Republicans in 2006 saddle the USPS with the onerous pre-funding of health benefits (for workers who haven’t even been born yet!), but Republicans refused to move and fix it at the end of last year.
The strangest thing about all of this to me—a member of and former activist in the National Association of Letter Carriers—a substantial percentage of union members (I estimate more than 50% here in Southwest Missouri) actually voted for the Republican Party that is standing in the way of actually fixing the Postal Service without killing it.
And that is not only a problem for the Postal Service, but a problem for the letter carriers union and for unions in general.