Postal workers, mail handlers, urban and rural letter carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work — and there is more of it this year than last year. Noting that the United States Postal Service is projected to deliver 10.5 percent more parcels this December than it did just last year, National Association of Letter Carriers union activist Keith Steffen reminds us, “The increased volumes are associated with online shopping and catalog sales, contradicting the urban myth that the Internet is dooming the Postal Service.”
USPS employees do an extraordinary job of keeping the promise of a robust national Postal Service that is outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.
Unfortunately, Congress does a lousy job of supporting the USPS. In fact, Congress and Postal Service executives keep creating challenges for the agency.
There is something profoundly wrong — not to mention profoundly absurd — about the notion that any federal official would abandon the Constitution's promise and the workers who keep it. Yet that is precisely what is happening. Even as Postal Service employees get the job done, with a better track record of care and efficiency than private competitors, the agency itself is under attack.
Pressured by extreme demands from Congress and hamstrung by outdated restrictions on how it can operate, the Postal Service faces financial challenges that are real — but those challenges could be addressed with relative ease by Congress. At the same time, USPS executives continue to undermine historic commitments to universal and rapid service by imposing austerity cuts that are irresponsible in the extreme.
The postmaster general has shuttered more than 140 mail-sorting plants and slowed delivery times as part of a cost-cutting rampage that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said has caused a “disaster that is negatively impacting Americans all over this country."
The Democratic presidential contender argues that it is not just congressional incompetence but corporate greed that threatens the Postal Service.
“Whether you are a low-income elderly woman living at the end of a dirt road in Nevada or Vermont or a wealthy CEO living on Park Avenue, you get your mail six days a week,” Sanders told American Postal Workers Union members at a mass meeting in Las Vegas in October. “And the American people pay for this service at a cost far less than anywhere else in the industrialized world. Yet the Postal Service is under constant and vicious attack. As a matter of fact, the same billionaires who want to privatize Social Security, Medicare, and public education also want to privatize the Postal Service.”
“Why is that?” the senator asked rhetorically. “The answer is simple. The wealthy and the powerful see an opportunity for Wall Street and corporate America to make billions in profits out of these services, and couldn’t care less how privatization or a degradation of services affects ordinary Americans. That is unacceptable and we cannot let them get away with that.”
Sanders has for many years championed policies that would strengthen the Postal Service, and he has many strong allies in Congress, including Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Unfortunately, Congress failed to step up in 2015.
As the American Postal Workers Union noted in a Dec. 18 complaint about congressional inaction: “The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) and the USPS Office of Inspector General have all raised serious concerns about the negative impact (of cuts) on postal customers and on postal revenue. Congress’s failure to include language in the appropriations bill to ensure prompt reliable mail service threatens the future of America’s public Postal Service and is a dereliction of its duty to the American people.”
It is an outrage that Congress continues to fail both Americans who rely on the service and the communities hurt by the mail-sorting plant closures. “Eight years after Congress ginned up a fake financial crisis for the Postal Service, its members still refuse to take even the smallest steps to prevent a major hit on this great national treasure,” says APWU President Mark Dimondstein.
The fight is not done, however.
Unions representing postal workers have launched a Grand Alliance to Save the Public Postal Service that declares, “The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as nonprofit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the postmaster general and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution. The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now — and for many generations to come.”
The Grand Alliance includes groups ranging from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to the National Council of Churches to the National Farmers Union and the Ms. Foundation for Women. It’s also backed by grass-roots activists from across the country, who recognize that the United States Postal Service is an American treasure — not just in this holiday season (when postal workers are so busy) but throughout the year.
It’s important to thank postal workers at the post office counter and at the door this holiday season. For Americans who hope to appreciate the service next holiday season, however, now is the time to thank postal workers by fighting to renew and extend the mission of the United States Postal Service.
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