Protesters outside a post office in Berkeley, California, on July 31, 2013. (Courtesy of Flickr)
For two weeks, protesters have been living in a tent city outside a post office in Berkeley, California. The participants are staging the sleep-in to save the post office from closing, one of many closures facing post offices all across the country.
The United States Postal Service last week reported a net loss of $740 million in the third quarter—hemorrhaging many conservative leaders claim bolsters their argument that the USPS is antiquated and post offices should be closed.
It makes sense that the postal service has proven to be a popular target for conservatives. The USPS is the second-largest employer in the United States (second only to Walmart), except the USPS is also home to one of the strongest unions in the country, employing over 574,000 members.
The USPS is also required, bizarrely, to fully fund future retirees’ health benefits, a tall order that has unsurprisingly contributed to the service’s going broke.
In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, which forced the USPS to fully fund future humans’ retiree health benefits for the next seventy-five years, and they had to do so within a ten-year window.
It was an impossible order, and now we’re witnessing the consequences of Congress’s actions.
In order to save money, USPS cut the hours of its employees, which further fueled criticism that post offices are frequently understaffed and wait times are too long. Many pundits (conservative and liberal) have joined in on the USPS-bashing because these people aren’t generally the ones using the Postal Service—instead opting for privatized (and more expensive) services like FedEx and UPS, or e-mail for many of their communications.
USPS reduced hours at 13,000 small rural post offices, and many larger urban offices have been relocated to inconveniently located annexes. In 2012, 237 post offices were discontinued, according to information released by the USPS. Many areas losing post offices are poor communities of color—a patterned deprivation of public services similar to school closings in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia.
Map of Post Offices Closed in 2012