What’s the real story behind the postal crisis?
By Michael G. Plaskon, Executive Vice President, NALC Branch 84, Pittsburgh, PA.
In every Congressional District across America, Postal Service unionists are organizing rallies to be held on Tuesday, September 27, 2011. The National Association of Letter Carriers is collaborating with the American Postal Workers Union, National Postal Mailhandlers Union, and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association to hold rallies at every elected representative’s office to make the point that only Congress can fix the financial difficulties facing the United States Postal Service (USPS). Congress passed a law in 2006 placing the postal service in its current fiscal situation, and it is only Congress that can solve the problem by enacting H. R. 1351.
Neither workers nor our unions caused this crisis.
In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. This law requires the Postal Service to do something that no other business or government agency has to do–pre-fund its FUTURE retiree health care benefits. This is a 75 year liability that has to be paid in 10 years. The Postal Service makes a payment of approximately $5.5 billion on September 30 at the end of every fiscal year to meet this obligation. The Post Office has been paying these benefits the past four years into a trust fund for employees who have not even been born yet. This is the burden that is creating the “financial crisis” for the Post Office. The recession that has gripped America the past few years has undoubtedly affected the Postal Service, but even in the worst economic times since the great depression, the USPS has had a net profit of $611 million dollars. Unfortunately, the red ink associated with the post office is the mandated pre-funding since 2006.
We can solve the problem without eliminating jobs and services.
This onerous payment is barely being reported in the media. Another fact not being widely circulated is that independent agencies and the government itself have concluded that the USPS has overpaid into its two retirement systems. The Post Office has excessively funded the Civil Service Retirement System by at least $50 billion dollars, and the Federal Employees Retirement System around $7 billion dollars. This gives Congress an opportunity to fix the problem by passing H.R 1351, the United States Postal Service Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act of 2011. This bill, among many introduced in Congress, is the only one that will address the pressing financial concerns of the post office in a responsible manner without eliminating jobs and services to the American public. The bill introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch has 211 co-sponsors. This will not be a bailout or cost the citizens of the United States a single penny in taxes. It will simply transfer the overpayments in the retirement system into the future retiree health care obligation. If this law is passed there will be no other company in the United States that can claim two fully funded pensions and a fully funded current and future retiree health care benefits plan.
Why the gloom and doom?
So why all the gloom and doom? There cannot be a claim that “legacy costs” or “benefits” are destroying the USPS. Productivity and reliability can’t be a factor. The Post Office adds a million new delivery points each year and has simultaneously reduced the number of employees nationwide from over 700,000 three years ago to about 590,000 today. On time delivery service standards are at an all time high. The Postal Service has been named the most trusted government agency six years running. So why does Postmaster General Patrick Donahue insist on a plan that eliminates a day of mail delivery service, closes over 3,000 Post Offices and more than half the mail processing plants in the country, and guts the collective bargaining rights of its organized employees by redefining the retirement and health care benefit plans? Disaster Capitalism!
A manufactured crisis
If you have read Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine,” then you know what I am talking about. It is almost as if Congress and the USPS headquarters are treating it like a page out of a playbook–manufacture a financial crisis and insist drastic measures must be taken immediately before any facts and public input can get in the way. Seize the opportunity to break the unions and dismantle a reliable public service so the capitalists can let the free market perform what the government couldn’t do–but for a profit. That is what the Postmaster General’s proposals will accomplish–eliminate Saturday delivery and open the door to private competitors. Once that advantage is gone and revenues decline, then why not eliminate Tuesday mail delivery service, then Thursday mail delivery, and so on?
USPS has plans to eliminate over 100,000 jobs and 3,000 post offices.
But how will the private sector respond? Will they have universal pricing and service? Of course not. Those who have a mail box at the end of a dirt road or live in a community that is not affluent will not be profitable, and the service will not be affordable. These are the folks who need the Postal Service the most. The plan to eliminate half the mail processing centers nationwide will delay the time it takes to deliver first class mail. The USPS is planning on lowering its service standards by a day or two once the plan is implemented. What company in their right mind intentionally “plans” on lowering its standards unless they are trying to fail? The closures of an additional 3,000+ post offices will diminish the purpose of the service that binds the nation together. Americans will be inconvenienced to use the USPS and the trust will deteriorate. Changing the retirement and health benefit plans fundamentally alters the collective bargaining agreements. These plans will eliminate over 100,000 jobs at a time when this country cannot afford that kind of blow to the economy. It is unfortunate and hypocritical that the Obama administration has advocated the elimination of Saturday delivery service as part of the deficit-reduction package while insisting on the need for job creation. The U.S. Postal Service is critical to our economy. We deliver mail, medicine, and packages on time and for good price.
Rally with us on September 27!
I hope all unionists across America, who appreciate the hard work of their brothers and sisters in the Postal Service, will support them by attending the rallies on Tuesday, September 27. Bring some friends who rely on the USPS. Let your voice be heard; advocate for H. R. 1351!
Rally Locations and Times.
For details on rally locations and more information, please go to http://www.saveamericaspostalservice.org/ or the National Association of Letter Carriers web-site at http://www.nalc.org/ This legislation will address the immediate concerns of the adverse effects the burden of health care places on the Postal Service.
NALC seeks continued support and passage of single payer, HR 676.
But, like all labor organizations faced with the health care dilemma, the ultimate long term goal of the NALC is the continued support and passage of single payer. The Postal Service would not have to fund retiree health care benefits, let alone future employee benefits, if single payer, specifically H. R. 676, were the law.
I hope to see you on September 27th.