The supporters of the PAEA are directly responsible for the precarious financial status of the Postal Service, not reduced mail volume caused by the slumping economy, not the migration of hard-copy mail to computer-driven messages, not the escalation of energy costs.
As president of the largest union of postal employees, my mission is to maximize the rights and benefits of APWU-represented employees. This responsibility creates a natural conflict with those whose mission is to bend postal policy to advance their institutional and corporate goals. Therefore, it is not surprising that postal unions, management, and large mailers often find ourselves on opposite sides of postal issues.
Through the years, my criticism of the USPS has been consistent: Top-level managers have converted the Postal Service — a public service — into an arm of commercial mailers. As a result, the natural tension between the union and the employer has been influenced by management’s bias towards its biggest and most powerful customers.
The cause of the Postal Service’s dire financial condition is the PAEA. Those responsible for its passage must accept responsibility for the current state of affairs.
It is not surprising that on many issues, postal management, large mailers, and postal unions espouse different positions on the state of the Postal Service and its prospects for the future. This is expected and welcome; after heated debate, consensus should settle somewhere between our competing positions.
But on occasion, one of the parties strays beyond the boundaries of civil debate. I was guilty of crossing the line shortly into my service as president of the union, when I compared large mailers to “vermin” for seeking to deny postal workers’ rights in their insatiable appetite for reduced rates. Since then, I have consciously toned down such rhetorical excesses, recognizing that they do a disservice to the debate. (I note that similar excesses have been directed in reverse — I have been accused of behavior like that of the Third Reich!)
This history of rhetorical excesses in the postal debate came into focus recently, when I read an article [PDF] by a leading spokesman for the mailing industry that bitterly protested USPS plans to seek a rate increase next year and defended the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). I read with amazement as facts were distorted and criticisms of postal management were presented as though the Postal Service is free to write its own ticket — as though Congress has no say over the Postal Service’s use of the mailbox monopoly, and as though the Postal Service’s competitors would stand idly by while the USPS launches new services and products.
The mailing industry spokesman apparently believes the imposition of a $65 billion obligation to pre-fund future retiree healthcare liabilities is a trivial matter that could have been overcome through better management. He implies that postage rates have always been limited to the rate of inflation — suggesting that the Postal Service’s intent to use the “exigency” exception in the PAEA to increase rates above the inflation rate would be historic. This is the stuff of fairy tales.
To accept this logic one must have an extremely short memory: As recently as 2005, postage rates were based on the Postal Service’s need for revenue. Prior to enactment of the PAEA, the USPS was required to “break even over time.” I guess the mailing industry spokesman believes he is entitled not only to his own opinion, but to his own facts.
All this obfuscation was in defense of legislation (the PAEA) that by any measure has been a colossal failure. No amount of posturing can change the reality that putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t fundamentally change the pig. Such was the PAEA, a pig with make-up, but still a pig.
The mailing industry spokesman chides the Postal Service for opposing the law, but, in fact, USPS opposition to the PAEA did not surface until very late in the legislative process. Throughout the debate leading up to enactment of the bill, postal management drank the postal “reform” Kool-Aid and encouraged Congress to embrace the legislative proposals that became the PAEA.
Only at the 11th hour did the USPS seem to realize that the pre-funding requirement and the restriction on rate increases outweighed any minimal improvements the bill offered. The elimination of the lengthy adversarial rate-making process and the provision that requires injured employees to use leave when on-the-job injuries force them to miss work paled in comparison to these onerous financial mandates.
The supporters of the PAEA are directly responsible for the precarious financial status of the Postal Service, not reduced mail volume caused by the slumping economy, not the migration of hard-copy mail to computer-driven messages, not the escalation of energy costs. The cause of the Postal Service’s dire financial condition is the PAEA. Those responsible for its passage must accept responsibility for the current state of affairs.
Yes, postal management could have taken many steps in response to the crippling new obligations of the PAEA, each of which would have been vigorously contested. The proponents of the misguided legislation also could have expended their energies in positive endeavors and spared the Postal Service the agony of being pushed to insolvency.
I repeat: A pig with lipstick is still a pig. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is a pig.