The Post Office: “A Network That Binds Us All”

When I started my career in the Postal Service in 1979, in Fort Scott, Kansas, there were still Railway Post Office Clerks working, even though sorting mail on train cars while the trains moved between cities—a practice started in the  middle of the 19th century—had passed away, and those remaining clerks were required to sort mail inside the post office like the rest of us.railway clerks

To show how the post office has always adapted to changing times and technology, and has always had an effect on the commerce of our country, here is something from Wikipedia on how winding down the Railway Post Office impacted the railroad industry:

In September 1967 the POD [the old “Post Office Department”] cancelled all “rail by mail” contracts, electing to move all First Class mail via air and other classes by road (truck) transport. This announcement had a devastating effect on passenger train revenues; the Santa Fe, for example, lost $35 million (US) in annual business [about $244 million in today’s dollars], and led directly to the ending of many passenger rail routes.

In the Fort Scott post office in 1979 we were still sorting by hand all outgoing mail generated in all of southeast Kansas, as automation had not yet taken over most of the sortation process as it has today. Now, machines process most of the mail and send it on its way to the tune of about 160 billion pieces a year, to 151 million (and growing) addresses, all of which supports a $1 trillion industry that employs close to 9 million workers.

Thanks to a commenter who sent me a link to an article on Esquire.com, I discovered the most enlightening view of what the Postal Service does that you will ever read. If you really want to know what we stand to lose as a country should we lose the Postal Service, if you really want to know how the massive operation works, you should follow the link and take the time to read the rather lengthy article, well-researched and well-written by Jesse Lichtenstein and titled,

Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?

If we are going to allow it to die, or as some of us believe, if we are going to allow its enemies to kill it, we at least should know what it is that is dying.

The modern post office is a complicated but highly efficient system, mostly operated by productive employees who are dedicated to doing their jobs, providing a service, uniting the country unlike any other government entity can do.

In the Esquire article you will discover not only how the Postal Service operates and its value to us as a nation, but you will find that far from being the problem, at least one postal union, the National Association of Letter Carriers—an organization for whom I served several years—has offered workable solutions, “shared sacrifice and growth,” to the USPS’ troubles.

Please carve out some time to read the Esquire piece, if you care to know something about an overwhelmingly successful agency of government and why its success may not be enough to save it.

5 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  February 11, 2013

    I will read the Esquire article, probably one showing why we have always before and in the future need a USPS. No way do I want to “destroy the post office”. Any country, modern or otherwise needs mail delivery available to every citizen.

    The point in previous discussions however has been over how to SAVE the USPS, as it is currently constructed, constitutionally directed and constructed by federal law. In both cases Congress has a role to play in passing such laws and the Executive branch, through the USPS agency must comply with such laws.

    Is the USPS a “business” or it is in a federal “service”. I don’t choose to argue that distinction. Maybe it should be a “business that produces only a service”. But in any case, as currently mandated by law the USPS is a “go as you earn” business or service, use whichever word you choose. The USPS is supposed to function solely on the fees that it charges for the services provided. As far as I can tell Congress has mandated such “go as you get paid” operations on the part of USPS. Thus USPS is suppose to, by law, do exactly that. But today they lose a ton of money each year.

    Lossing $15 Billion a year falls far short of such a “suppose to do”, does it not. So then the question becomes, who makes up the difference, between revenues and costs of any federal agency.

    I suggest “China” should bear no role in funding such services, in other words federal debt. Instead I would expect the federal agency to be restructured to function as an agency that does not have to “borrow money” for anyone. Call it a pay as you go service. Raise fees or lower costs seems to me to be the appropriate solution for that agency.

    As with many private businesses today, the cost of pension plans and healthcare, even the ones that are very carefully mangaged, is extraordinary. Many, many businesses have simply stopped altogether funding large pension funds for example and only contribute to individual 401Ks today. Try pulling off that trick on the USPS only for an example.

    I would suggest we all stop arguing that someone is out to get USPS and stick to good reasons to convince Congress how USPS can be returned to a revenue equals cost basis of operations with no taxpayer support demanded, now or later on.

    For sure if I was a union member I would get off the “fire the current managers of USPS” unless they can really show cause for such actions and convince the public to do so. But my guess if you fire the current PMG you will only get another one that will fail as well.

    Now does NALC really want to take on such responsibility, to RUN (manage) the entire USPS. Then when it fails to prosper as a “go as you are paid” concern, who next will you blame? Oh, I know, it will be Congress, right?

    Anson

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    • Jennifer beck

       /  February 12, 2013

      AB, this will be my last effort on this, but a few points need to be made here:

      1) Over 11 B of the 15 B that gets repeated often as a “loss” is from the past 2 years of the USPS neglecting to pay the insane pension payment mandated by Congress. I have to say this, I cannot let you repeat the same misinformation. If I convince one person SW Mo, I have succeeded!

      2) The USPS could pull off the hat trick if the pension fund was more realistic. Maybe it scares private businesses that would have to compete with this!🙂

      3) Congress demands that USPS perform like a business until someone gets their toes stepped on. As an example, lets say USPS took bids to sell greeting cards in its lobbies. A perfect connection. Suppose Hallmark won this right, being the largest in their market. Now every other greeting card company goes to their Congressman crying foul and guess what? The deal is stopped, regardless of whomever is running the USPS. And the result is all card manufacturers continue to fall along with the USPS.

      4) At the NALC Convention this past summer a motion was raised to ask for the removal of the PMG. NALC leaders at that time convinced the members to not go down this road. It was wasted effort in their view because there were much more important issues and he would only be replaced with someone else from within. I tended to agree, at that time. I like when the USPS brought in outsider Marvin Runyan from the TVA in the 90s. I recall giddy local managers at my last office- until he tried to oust 30,000 positions that did not touch the mail. Of course the Supervisors and Post Masters “Association”, (do not dare call it a union!) cried foul! We for sure need someone from the outside at this critical time in my opinion.

      Kabe

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  2. LisaF

     /  February 12, 2013

    The Esquire article made me nostalgic for a time when we gratefully gave out mailmen Christmas gifts, now we begrudge them a middle class wage and pension. What happened to America? Did it really start it’s decline with Reagan’s “Government isn’t the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

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    • Lisa,

      I know what you mean. But let’s hope that the two terms of Barack Obama represent the ascent of America, one focused on building a strong and prosperous middle class.

      Duane

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    • King Beauregard

       /  February 14, 2013

      I gave my mailman a box of spekulatius cookies the size of a carton of cigarettes. Now that’s love, baby.

      (By the way, I am still trying to perfect the spekulatius spice mix, and if anyone happens to know what works, I’m all ears. Seems to be 2 Tbsp cinnamon mixed with a fraction of a teaspoon of some or all of the following: nutmeg, allspice, coriander, anise, fennel seed, cloves, ginger, cardamom. Said spice mix, once it is completed, will go well on anything from apple pie to vanilla ice cream to German spice cookies — if I can only get the chemistry right on this.)

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