Express mail forms and priority mailboxes sit on display at the Capitol Station, Monday, December 5, 2011, in Springfield, Illinois. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
There are many appropriate targets for Occupy Wall Street protests. But the OWS protesters hit a bull’s-eye when they invaded a National Press Club briefing where Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe—who likes to make like a corporate executive and refer to himself as “Chief Operating Officer of the US Postal Service”—was giving a speech about the need to close local post offices, layoff workers and, though this was unspoken, take the steps that will lead to the privatization of the one of the country’s greatest public assets.
“Stop closing post offices,” chanted the activists who occupied the press club. “Don’t privatize the post office. It’s a public service. It’s not a profit center for FedEx and UPS to rip off the people.”
Postmasters general do not usually become the targets of passionate opposition. But the protesters were chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donahoe has got to go.”
And rightly so.
On Monday, Donahue laid out a plan that, if implemented, would destroy the postal service as most Americans know it.
And the destruction would come not out of necessity but to perpetuate an austerity lie.
The supposed financial crisis facing the US Postal Service is actually a fiscal fantasy, The USPS, which continues to provide vital services to 150 million households and business each day, which sustains rural communities and urban neighborhoods across he country as a Main Street mainstay, which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and which has a history of being in the forefront of technological and societal progress, is not in trouble because of competition from the Internet or changing letter-writing patterns. It is in crisis because Congress forced the the postal service to pay roughly $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. The USPS inspector general says the postal service has overfunded pension obligations by $75 billion—something no other federal agency is required to do. In addition, the postal service has been slapped with other charges and obligations that make it appear to be headed for bankruptcy. Simply treating the USPS fairly when it comes to the prepayment of pensions would ease most of the burden facing the postal service.
But Congress is dithering, the for-profit mail services that want to carve up the USPS are salivating, and the postmaster general is surrendering—proposing to end next-day delivery of letters, postcards and other First Class mail.
That postmaster general surrender was signaled Monday by a brutal proposal for deep cost cutting that could:
1. So diminish and slow down first-class mail delivery that the changes will create an opening for private carriers; indeed, Americans are almost being pushed into the arms of UPS and FedEx.
2. Ultimately cause as many as 100,000 job losses is the biggest single blow to employment by any employer in the country, Postal service job cuts hit people of color, women and veterans hardest, as the USPS has a long history of hiring staffs that “look like America.” The proposed closing of more than 250 of 561 postal sorting centers is the equivalent of a wave of factory closings like nothing the country saw even in the depths of the recent recession.
3. Have a devastating impact on thousands of rural communities, where post offices are slated for closure. This is really a case of Washington abandoning rural areas and hard-hit urban neighborhoods at precisely the time they need the support of an engaged federal government.
4. So delay delivery that it would create a nine-day lag time for periodical. This would be devastating for the print press and for the public discourse. Weekly newspapers and magazines might not even arrive until after their next editions were published .
5. Wreck havoc with absentee voting and military voting processes that are already a mess in many states. Hardest hit will be states that have gone to vote-by-mai systemsl, such as Oregon. At a time when Voter ID laws are making it harder to vast ballots at the polls, this makes absentee voting.
By every reasonable measure, the postal service is proposing suicide in the form of not-so-slow cuts. “The Postal Service plan will hasten the demise of the USPS,” American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey said with regard to the agency’s announcement that it would seek an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission on plans to eliminate next-day delivery of first-class mail and periodicals. “The USPS should be modernizing and striving to remain relevant in the digital age, not reducing service to the American people.”
Under what the postmaster general’s “cost-cutting plan,” the postal service would shutter almost half the nation’s mail-processing centers and shed tens of thousands of jobs—at a time when even the most optimistic observers say the country faces a steep climb to address widespread unemployment. The changes would make it impossible for the postal service to reconstitute itself in better times. As such, they an open invitation to private carriers to take over lucrative routes and services—while leaving the great mass of Americans with diminished and substandard services.
The cuts proposed by the postmaster general go way beyond cost-cutting. This is the sounding of the death knell for a postal service that traces its roots to the nation’s first days and that remains an essential service for isolated rural communities and neglected urban neighborhoods.
“The so-called Postmaster General is going to announce details that will lead to the end of the United States Postal Service and universal postal delivery in this country,” said Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, who highlighted the damage the postal service will do to the broader economy.
“This would be an incredible blow to our economy. With real unemployment at 16 percent we cannot afford another 100,000 people laid off,” explained DeFazio. “I’ve already heard from small business owners that rely on USPS and are concerned that the plan would kill their businesses. Some rural Oregonians would have to drive 15 to 20 miles to access their mail. Subscribers of small rural weekly newspapers would have to wait 7-9 days for their papers to be delivered. This is a short-sighted proposal that fails to address the serious long-term issues facing USPS.“