The October 2011 Co-Presidents Message, Bonnie & John

Unfortunately, the failings of corporations and governments alike are so abundant that it places a premium on one’s time and energy to learn enough to make informed remarks and formulate recommendations for action on any one of them. Having said that, I will make a quick foray into one issue that affects all of us. This one deals with the United States Postal Service (USPS), an independent governmental corporation, functioning under the laws and regulations of our federal government. At one time the post office was considered to be so important that its establishment was recognized as an explicit power granted to Congress in our United States Constitution (Article I, Section 8); the Congress specifically has the power to “establish Post Offices and post Roads,” but the current situation appears to be one where the Congress appears to be acting to the contrary.

The USPS is facing financial obstacles that are mostly not of its own making, but, nonetheless, threaten its existence. While USPS mail service has declined because of the use of alternative communication methods, such as email, as well as private package delivery businesses, such as FedEx, the laws under which the system has been required to function have substantially hampered the ability of the USPS to operate in a financially responsible manner. Postmaster Patrick R. Donahoe said, on a recent PBS NewsHour program, that a major reason for the postal service’s financial crisis is a 2006 law requiring it to pay about $5.5 billion per year for 10 years to underwrite 75 years of health coverage for future employees. In addition, according to actuarial reports, the USPS has overpaid about $57 billion into two federal pension plans, which it is attempting to retrieve to meet current and future obligations. Layoffs of 120,000 workers, closure of post offices, and elimination of Saturday mail service and overnight delivery of first class mail have been proposed to prevent imminent shutdown of the entire USPS. Naturally, Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, opposes proposals that would place his members at risk of job loss (New York Times, September 6, 2011).

As Democrats, we should join Guffey in opposing these job losses. We should pressure our Congress and President Obama to change laws that make the USPS make huge payments into health care benefits, as well as other laws that prevent the USPS from operating more effectively in a competitive marketplace. Private businesses, such as FedEx and UPS, don’t fund employee health care benefits 75 years forward! Why should the law put the USPS at such a competitive disadvantage to private operators?

Perhaps an investigation into campaign donations from FedEx and UPS to members of Congress might reveal the real reason for restrictions on the ability of the USPS to operate as it should. Is it possible that Congress is trying to put the USPS out of business, so FedEx and UPS can overcharge us for privatized service? Are the FedEx drop boxes at the post offices harbingers of this? If so, consider what has happened when other government services have been privatized to contractors; Blackwater, Halliburton, and their ilk immediately come to mind. They’ve made billions in no-bid contracts. Think about it! Do you want small businesses to be put out of business because they are forced to rely on expensive parcel delivery services instead of the less costly USPS? Do you want rural post offices that are the center of regional communities to go out of business because they are not profitable for the private parcel delivery services? Do you want to pay high cost, nonunion, private contractors $10 to deliver a letter because it’s being sent to a rural area?

If you don’t want the USPS to be strangled by laws and regulations that give private providers unfair advantages, send messages to your Congress members and president, to unshackle the USPS from laws that are pushing it to the brink of insolvency. We need the USPS.