“Senators, Carper, Collins and Coburn hold the future of the United States Postal Service in their hands”
Part 4 – Will The Post Office Survive?
I have written this series to address the uncertainties of thousands of APWU members who are concerned about the long term survival of the Postal Service as a continuing place of employment. Postal employees of this generation have witnessed the demise of the manufacturing and auto industries and have legitimate concerns about the future of the Postal Service which has offered career employment to millions of families that have depended on postal wages and job security.
News reports are abundant, predicting a postal melt down for a variety of reasons with consequences that do not bode well for future employment. Most employees get bits and pieces of news but their lives are full of personal challenges and since there is little that they can do to influence events they listen with half an ear and hope for the best. This series is intended to put the different circumstances in context from the eyes of 53 years of postal experience and explain from my perspective, the challenges and the solutions.
Bulletin!!! The biggest threat to the long term survival of the United States Postal Service is not the decline of First Class single piece mail. It is not the internet, Facebook, the iPhone or the next generation of communication devices; and contrary to the belief of many employees it is not dumb management decisions. The biggest threat is not even the required payments for future health care liability or the final outcome of the request for refund of overpayments to the retirement fund.
The biggest threat to the termination of door to door mail services that were initiated in 1692 and have served the communication needs of the United States is Washington politicians, the United States Congress!
Senators, Carper, Collins and Coburn hold the future of the United States Postal Service in their hands. These are the legislators who were directly responsible for imposing the future health care payments and they will decide the issues of refunding or crediting the retirement overpayments. The Postal Service will face significant negative cash flow in the immediate future directly attributed to the billions of dollars already paid into the future health care fund but this failure to pay the 2011 health fund payment will not determine the future.
Favorable resolution of these issues will resolve the immediate problem of liquidity, but the Postmaster General has announced that if the health fund payment is not resolved, he cannot and will not make the payment in 2011; and unless volume returns it can be expected that he will not make future payments. Congress has within its power to hold the Postmaster General in contempt but that is not going to happen so we can have a Postal Service continuing to deliver six days a week while owing a debt to the US government.
The USPS’ motto of “neither wind nor snow, nor gloom of night” does not include meddling legislators who got us in this mess and are proposing to do even more damage. The pending Senate Bill S1010 would address in part the colossal mistakes that they made in 2006 with passage of the PAEA but instead of simply repealing bad law they seek to go back to the drawing board and do even more damage.
The proposed legislation S1010, if adopted would make it easier for the Postal Service to close Post Offices and reduce delivery from six days to five. At a time when the Postal Service is attempting to find its way in the new communications’ arena these are solutions designed to destroy. If reducing service is the recipe for growth, I guess that Wal-Mart didn’t get the Memo.
I have long maintained that the American public will demand delivery on every work day having come to grips with daily delivery, with the exception of Sunday for religious reasons, as days of national commerce and if the Postal Service refuses to deliver the public will demand alternate delivery. While UPS and Fed Ex have a long history of home delivery such delivery is “on call” totally unlike the non-requested delivery of many mail items. The public will insist that those items historically delivered by the Postal Service continue to be received timely and at a cost that is universal and reasonable.
Private entities will line up to perform the delivery tasks piece-meal, but it will require the relaxation of the Private Express Statutes to permit mailbox access and once the egg is broken, it will only be a matter of time before area and regional mail services spring up throughout the country and divert more messages to alternate sources.. These competing services will not be uniform and will add to the diversion of messages to electronic transmission and over a brief period of time, national mail service that is uniform and universal will become history. A reduction of delivery is a bad idea!
To those who favor privatization of mail services and justify the abandonment of uniformity and universality on the basis that there are consequences for decisions made; and those citizens who live in areas where mail services cannot be provided at modest cost and regular schedules should expect services consistent with the decision of their place of residence, they ignore the basic principle of civilization. Of course, human beings can exist in isolation but at a past period in human existence they elected to form communities for the common good.
There are many services that are more effective, if provided through group effort including: safety; security; health care; education; and many other social benefits that are more comprehensive and more evenly applied through collective effort. Can you imagine if we were forced to provide our own roads and traffic rules were left to individual discretion?
Mail services are included in the services that are more effectively provided through collective efforts. Some countries have privatized mail services for political reasons but any comparison to the United States falls within the category of “apples and oranges.” For starters, the United States mail service has the lowest rates in the world and delivers more mail pieces than all of the privatized systems combined.
There are clear advantages to collective activity and responsibility and the citizens of the United States have found the best balance among all civilizations to date. Certainly, defining the role of government is a work in progress but equal access to information is so fundamental to democracy that mail service should not be converted to “ability to pay.”
With the Congressional proposals to reduce the network and the days of delivery, the Postal Service will force tens of thousands of Americans, principally those of modest means, many of whom do not have private transportation, to dramatically increase the distance they will have to travel to and from their local postal facility. I believe reducing the delivery days is the absolute dumbest idea in the 300 year history of the Postal Service. These acts would force citizens to use electronic communications at a time when the Postal Service is struggling to compete.
Only government officials with an agenda of destroying the Postal Service would propose to reduce the number of delivery days and close offices in response to the loss of 30 billion pieces of mail. If one follows the logic, and volume continues to fall, we can expect four day delivery or perhaps every second day; Mon, Wed and Fri.
To balance these despicable proposals, these Senators also propose to require that when negotiations do not conclude with a negotiated agreement and the contract is referred to arbitration, as a matter of law the arbitrator must consider the financial health of the Postal Service in his/her award. Please understand this legislation is not intended to force the USPS to submit their financial position as justification for wage reductions as postal advocates have routinely done, but to force the arbitrators to conclude, by law, that if the Postal Service is losing money, the loss must be channeled to the employees for payment.
It was these same Senators who imposed on the Service the obligation to pay over five billion dollars per year into a fund for future health care payments. Now after the initial mistake that has destroyed the USPS’ liquidity, they propose that the arbitrator be required to fashion final awards that employees’ wages and benefits be reduced accordingly.
The impact of this proposal would be that postal employees upon retirement would not only be required to pay the required retiree share of health premiums but during their working career they would pre-pay the USPS’ share. To correct their previous 2006 effort to “save” the Postal Service by requiring payments not required of any other government or private entity, these Senators now propose that the government’s share of health care payments be paid by the employees before they retire.
Senators Carper, Collins and Coburn proposed these changes not out of ignorance of postal matters and the repercussions of their proposals but they knew what they proposed to do. One of the mistakes that the grownups in this debate conclude is that it is necessary to educate the legislators and once educated they will see the light. This assumption is wrong. They knew in 2006 that the obligation to pre-fund health care payments would strangle USPS finances and they did it. They knew that tying rates to the CPI would not be responsive to challenges the Postal Service would confront with electronic communications and they did it. And they know that requiring arbitrators to consider USPS finances will result in lower wages. This is not a matter of educating these law makers because they now know before they act. They have concluded in advance that the possible repercussions are not threatening at the ballot box so they proceed.
So postal employees writing letters and/or engaging in informational picketing will be helpful but this campaign must be “out of the box,” innovative, persistent and confrontational and even then success is not guaranteed.
The Postal Service can survive the changes in the communications’ arena and continue to fulfill its mission “to bind the nation together” but there are challenges. To succeed postal management must be innovative and determined, but there will be sufficient hard copy mail to justify a national network far into the future. Because mail is a physical object, it will require people to move from point A to point B that cannot be achieved with a conglomeration of private enterprises and Fed Ex and UPS business’ plans do not include delivery six days a week to every address receiving mail. Presently UPS deposits single piece parcels in the Postal system when it is not profitable for them to make delivery and Fed Ex’s business plan is to provide expedited delivery.
The greatest danger to the long term survival of universal mail services and the United States Postal Service is the trio of US Senators who should be petitioned aggressively to fix what they broke and get out of the way. It is their decisions that will determine the fate of the United States Postal Service and it will be deliberate.
source: Burrus Journal