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by Check Zlatkin
The big lie seems to be working. Most Americans now believe that the U.S. Postal Service is on the verge of a financial collapse. The explanation seems logical: email, too many post offices, unnecessary six-day delivery, overpaid and underproductive workers. Unfortunately, these are half-truths, misinformation or outright lies.
It is true that the nature of mail has changed because of the Internet but it is also true that three biggest years in volume in the 236-year history of the Postal Service were 2005, 2006 and 2007, well into the Internet era. The bigger impact upon the Postal Service was the financial collapse of 2008.
But the root cause of the financial distress that the Postal Service is going through is overwhelmingly caused by Congressional mandates that were imposed upon the Postal Service. Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which was signed into law by President G.W. Bush on December 20, 2006. Under the guise of modernizing the Postal Service for the 21st Century, it actually doomed the Postal Service. If not for the PAEA, the Postal Service would be functioning fine even with the impact of email and the financial collapse of 2008.
One of the provisions of the PAEA was to mandate that the Postal Service fully pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and to do it within a ten-year window. This means that the Postal Service is required to send to the U. S. Treasury $5.5 billion each September 30. Remember, this is to pay for the future retirement health benefits of people who haven't even been born yet. The Postal Service is the only entity that is mandated by law to do this. No government agency, corporation or organization is required to fully pre-fund future retirees' health benefits.
But that is not the worst of it. Both the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the independent Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) commissioned audits to look into possible overpayments that the Postal Service has made into the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Both audits show that the Postal Service has overpaid at least $50 billion into the pension fund over the years.
There is a piece of legislation, H.R. 1351, introduced by Stephen Lynch (D-MA), which now has 183 co-sponsors, which calls upon the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to do an audit to determine the definitive amount of the overpayments to CSRS and transfer that amount to the future retirees' health care funding. Basically, it is a bookkeeping adjustment that saves the Postal Service billions and does not cost American taxpayers any money at all.
What also isn't being told to the American public is that the Postal Service workforce has been reduced by over 100,000 workers in the past four years through attrition and that the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the United States Postal Service (USPS) negotiated and signed a 4 --year collective bargaining agreement in May of this year. The agreement, which was hailed by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, saved the USPS $4 billion in labor costs over the life of the contract. In exchange for the givebacks, including the creation of a lower-tier (non-career) category of worker, no pay increases for two years, postponement of cost-of-living adjustments, the union won an extension of its no-layoff clause.
Within three months Postmaster Donahoe was calling upon Congress to pass laws to gut the new contract enabling him to layoff 120,000 workers. Nothing has changed between May when Donahoe signed the contract, and August when he made his frantic call to Congress. Enter Darrell Issa. Representative Issa (Rep-CA) is the chair of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. After the contract had been negotiated, and while members of the APWU were voting either up or down on it via a mail ballot, Issa called hearings on the contract before his committee. During that hearing Postmaster Donahoe was called out by Issa and Representative Dennis Ross (FL) on his negotiations.
Since that time Donahoe has abandoned any pretense of honoring the contract, or fulfilling his responsibilities to the American people who depend upon the Postal Service.
One clear action that needs to be taken is for Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to tender his resignation. If he doesn't, he should be fired. It would also be wise to institute a complete investigation into the unprecedented retirement package his predecessor John E. Potter received. Their legacy has been a damaging one.
Cutting back on service by reducing delivery, closing post offices and mail processing facilities will damage the ability of the Postal Service to carry out its mandate for universal service. To the people who most depend upon the Postal Service: the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and small business owners, it will be devastating. The impact on a local community when a post office is closed is only negative.
Mail and package delivery will still have to take place if the Postal Service fails. It will take place by a privatized system that does not employ union workers making a living wage and it will not provide universal service to those who need the Postal Service the most. What is taking place is a kind of "wisconsining" of the Postal Service, an excuse to break postal unions and siphon off the profitable aspects of mail delivery to private enterprise and demanding that those most in need sacrifice again.
The saddest part of all of this is that is doesn't have to happen. It would help to start by telling the truth about the financial crisis. After that was done it would be easy to remedy the problem. What is needed is for President Obama and Congress to do their jobs on behalf of the American people by lifting the suffocating Congressional mandates that have prevented the Postal Service from doing its job. Pass and sign H.R.1351 and then you won't have to close 3700 post offices, cut back in delivery, close hundreds of mail processing facilities and lay off 120,000 workers.
Chuck Zlatkin is the Legislative and Political Director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, the largest local of the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO.