The United States Postal Service delivers for Americans all year round. But the vital role that the Postal Service plays in all of our lives is especially notable during the holiday season. Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, postal workers will deliver roughly 15 billion pieces of mail and 900 million packages with a level of efficiency and good cheer that could never be recreated by the private sector.
Unfortunately, as the Washington Post noted this fall, the Trump administration is plotting “to privatize and diminish the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).” Government Executive magazine explained in September: “The White House made the proposal in its wide-ranging plan to reorganize the federal government. Privatizing the Postal Service was among 32 distinct ideas it said would help agencies run more efficiently. It first called for reforms to the Postal Service that would create a more sustainable business model, but those changes would be made only for leverage to then sell the entire agency to the private sector.”
Donald Trump has had a lot of bad ideas in his first two years as president. But this is one of the worst.
The unions representing postal workers — the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, and the National Postal Mailhandlers Association — have made a powerful case against the administration’s approach, explaining that privatizing USPS would harm:
• American businesses, especially millions of small- and medium-sized businesses that send and receive products, invoices, payments and advertisements through the mail.
• American consumers, who increasingly rely on e-commerce to satisfy their essential needs, such as prescription drugs, weekly newspapers and magazines, and other mail order and online purchases. Those in rural and lower-income urban areas would face soaring delivery costs on these items.
• Jobs and the economy. USPS is the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector, many of them in our state. Postal jobs would be at stake, including the one in four employees who is a military veteran.
• The U.S. election system. A public USPS is vital to the nation’s election system, with tens of millions of people voting through absentee ballots or in vote-by-mail elections. Privatization is not the answer.
Privatization schemes are a “ridiculous” response to the challenges facing the Postal Service, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chair Mark Pocan, a town of Vermont Democrat who has been a leading advocate for measures that “keep post offices open, keep mail delivery timely, and save the jobs of tens of thousands of workers." Pocan’s a co-sponsor, along with two other Democratic U.S. House members from Wisconsin, Gwen Moore and Ron Kind, as well as Republican Glenn Grothman, of a resolution “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Congress should take all appropriate measures to ensure that the United States Postal Service remains an independent establishment of the Federal Government and is not subject to privatization.” Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin is a co-sponsor of a similar resolution in the Senate.
These anti-privatization measures are important. But saving our post offices demands a more aggressive response. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recognized the need earlier this year and outlined a USPS preservation plan that is spot on. The Sanders plan would remove burdens and barriers that prevent the service from being more entrepreneurial in delivering for Americans. In particular, Sanders recommends ending a congressional mandate — established during George W. Bush’s presidency — that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years of retiree benefits for employees who have not even been born yet. The senator’s office explained, “No other private business or government agency is burdened with such a requirement, which costs the Postal Service about $5.5 billion every year.”
The senator also recommends so-called “postal banking” reforms, which would allow the Postal Service to provide basic financial services — something that the USPS did until 1967, and that postal services in other countries do to this day. He would also permit the USPS to develop new consumer products and services, noting that “currently, it is against the law for workers in the post offices to make copies of documents, deliver wine or beer and wrap Christmas presents.” Sanders would also reinstate overnight delivery and improve service standards as part of a smart and necessary modernization program.
Arguing that “the beauty of the Postal Service is that it provides universal service six days a week to every corner of America, no matter how small or how remote,” Sanders offers a proper plan for preserving a vital institution. “It is time,” he said, “to save and strengthen the Postal Service, not dismantle it.”
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