The Postmaster General’s New Attack on the Mail Is a Fig Leaf for Privatization
The battle over the future of the Postal Service, which was a focus of American political life last year, is still on.
Corrupt and incompetent Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced in March (with the backing of the present Postal Board of Governors, headed by Chair Ron Bloom) a “10-year plan” to remake the post office from a constitutionally mandated public service into a corporate entity.
The DeJoy-Bloom plan openly promises slower delivery times for much of the mail, steadily increasing postal rates, and reduced access to post offices. (What a combo!) It sets out the next terrain of battle in our fight to save our public postal service.
A PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE
This plan was pushed out in a hurry as a pre-emptive strike before the Senate could vote to fill the open seats on the Postal Board of Governors with Biden’s nominees—who are apparently all pro-public postal service, pro-democracy, pro-union, and unlikely to support key elements of a plan like this.
It pays lip service to the mission of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), while abandoning that mission to become a corporate competitor in the parcel delivery business. The plan also opens up the postal service to privatization. It is announced as a 10-year plan to try and lock the changes in.
DeJoy has stopped denying that his proposals will result in delaying the mail and in poor service. Now the slower service is a feature, not a bug.
The plan would reset service standards so that first class mail would be delivered in two to three days in nearby areas (currently it’s one to two days) and up to five days for more distant destinations (currently three to four). The plan doesn’t say what will happen to standards for the other classes of mail: standard letters, catalogs and commercial broadsides, and especially periodicals.
This means a lot of mail processing plants will be closed down. Management just announced 18 plants it wants to axe by November.
More will follow. Iowa Postal Workers (APWU) President Kimberly Karol predicts two of the three plants in her state will be close, leaving only the one in Des Moines—which won’t be able to handle all the mail every day. So one day it will process mail for the eastern part of the state, the next day the northern part, and so on.
“Although they’ll keep delivering every day, the average person is probably only going to see mail three days a week,” Karol said. “This is the start of a very slippery slope.”
The plan prioritizes parcel delivery above everything else. Some mail processing plants will be repurposed for parcels only. A whole new parcels-only distribution network will be set up, using 47 newly built “annexes” to move mail around the country by truck.
Wait, by truck? Yep—since the USPS doesn’t have its own fleet of planes. Right now, to meet the existing service standards, airlines and air freight companies like FedEx carry a lot of first class mail. By putting everything on trucks, the postal service will save money. And somehow letters and parcels will get from a blue box in a remote town in northern Maine to a mailbox in suburban San Diego in five days.
By slowing down letters and emphasizing packages, the USPS will be acting as a corporate competitor to FedEx, UPS, and newcomers, especially Amazon. It will be driven to imitate them. Postal prices will “align with the market.” Same-day, one-day, and two-day parcel delivery will be on offer—but at vastly higher prices than now.
Separating out parcels makes it that much easier to diminish and neglect the system that moves the rest of the mail—such as your bills, letters, and magazines—and ultimately to spin off the package system as a profitable private venture, leaving the rest to wither away.
While the term “annexes” suggests that some of the new parcels-only facilities would be attached to existing postal facilities, it’s not even clear whether they would be staffed by union postal workers.
The DeJoy-Bloom plan projects cutting turnover in half in the non-career (second-tier) workforce with a more predictable progression to career status. But it also promises “restraint in wage growth” and “reduced work hours,” which could translate to fewer jobs.
Karol said workers’ hours are already being cut back. “They’re taking people that were working 32 hours and now they’re working 16,” she said. “We’re going to slowly see some people leave us because they can’t afford to live on 16 hours a week. It’s frustrating for employees to be sent home when they see there is work to be done that they know the customers are counting on us to perform.”
WHY RAISE PRICES?
A central piece of the plan is raising postal rates. Not once, but repeatedly over 10 years.
DeJoy is now advocating for ending the pre-funding mandate for retiree health benefits, which will greatly cut down the Postal Service’s substantial debt. (Since 2006, the USPS has been required to prefund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future—an unreasonably onerous requirement, designed to create the appearance of a major budget shortfall to justify cuts.) This has bipartisan support in Congress and should pass easily this year, wiping a large chunk of the projected debt off the books.
So if that burden is eased, why cut service and raise prices now? DeJoy says he wants to invest $40 billion in postal infrastructure—new parcel sorting plants and machines.
Environmentalists, politicians, and the media lit into the plan, because while the entire postal delivery fleet will be replaced, only 10 percent of the new vehicles will be electric—even though both the Biden administration and auto manufacturers are planning on an all-electric future.
DeJoy responded that if Congress voted the postal service another $8 billion, the USPS could go all electric. That is pretty interesting, because it demonstrates that, as an essential service, the Postal Service can and should be funded as necessary by the government (as it was from its founding until the 1970s) and not held hostage by the corporate business model that the 10-year plan is centered around.
NO POSTAL BANKING
Everything in the plan is in corporate bafflegab. We get page after page of generalizations like: “With a deep commitment to preserve our mission, Postal leadership began a wide-ranging effort to address our challenges rigorously, holistically, and collaboratively to define a new high performing future. We realigned the organization to streamline operations and enable the effective planning, management, and execution of change.”
Very importantly, the DeJoy-Bloom plan ignores all the proposals that unions and community advocacy groups have been promoting to enhance the services USPS provides the people—postal banking, electric charging stations, solar panels, Wi-Fi hotspots, licenses, and other one-stop government services.
All these and many similar ideas could substantially increase cash flow to the service. But all would be impossible to implement within the confines of the 10-year plan.
FUEL FOR PRIVATIZERS
The people of this country still have faith in their Postal Service. Failure to deliver, though, is already starting to erode that faith. Even if people know the top brass is to blame and not the workers, they will still turn to alternatives they perceive to be faster and more efficient.
As postal jobs are made more grueling, and especially as real pay is cut and jobs are eliminated, workers’ morale will fall, and so will their commitment to the mission. All this will provide a platform for profit-hungry corporate types to push for outsourcing USPS functions-—and soon a massive privatization of the Post Office.
It is no exaggeration to say that undermining the People’s Service will weaken electoral democracy in this country. The savage ongoing attack on mail ballots is intentionally crafted to make it harder for poor people to vote.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
Unfortunately, the four postal unions have not had a strong or united response to this plan—or to DeJoy’s attacks over the past year. What can rank-and-file activists, retirees, and supporters do?
1. Continue to demand the ouster of DeJoy. Demand that Biden oust the entire current Postal Board of Governors, which is enabling him. Demand that the Senate immediately confirm Biden’s three nominees to the Board.
2. Project the 10-point People’s Postal Agenda put forward by the Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service, a coalition led by the American Postal Workers Union. This agenda calls for expanding USPS services to include basic banking, electric vehicle charging, broadband access, national vote by mail, food delivery, public health services, and letter carriers checking in seniors and people with disabilities. Continue to expose the corporate model as a death spiral for the Post Office.
3. Assess the forces who will be affected by this catastrophic plan, and recruit new allies. Politicians are fired up, and even conservative elected officials are catching an earful from rural constituents who love and depend on the Postal Service. Whole sections of the corporate world depend on the postal service. They might not love postal workers and our unions, but they know a profit-driven privatization would leave them without a vital tool in their regular business operations.
4. Push the leaders of the four postal unions to be more confrontational towards DeJoy and the Postal Board of Governors, starting now, and to set aside their narrow institutional interests in favor of a loud, clear, unified defense of the People’s Service.
5. Strengthen the broad united front that moved into action last year to save the 2020 elections by saving the USPS from sabotage and from incompetence at the top. More than 300 organizations in the Save the Post Office coalition spearheaded by Take On Wall Street (this is distinct from, though friendly to, the Grand Alliance) are mobilizing now. We have experience and ties, individually and especially together, that can strengthen this initiative.
6. Organize locally. In the last round of attempted closures, many mail plants and post offices were saved when outraged community members mounted protest campaigns. The group DSA4USPS is offering a webinar May 23 with practical advice about how those fights were won, featuring an APWU officer and a leader from a rural organizing group. We can also protest at the Postal Regulatory Commission, which would have to approve weakening the service standards.
Now is the time to start educating your neighbors about what’s on the chopping block, and get ready to mobilize. In Iowa, Karol plans to organize summertime leafleting at community fairs (“instead of selling cookies—or maybe in conjunction with selling cookies”) and approach city councils and small businesses.
We will have to act fast. Management wants to change the service standards this fall. But “I truly believe, after last summer, that there are people out there that really care,” Karol said. “If we get them motivated, we could stop this.”
Dennis O’Neil is legislative and political director of the retiree section of the New York Metro Postal Workers Union. A cross-union group of rank-and-file postal organizers can be reached at saveourpostalservice20[at]gmail[dot]com, or on Facebook page at bit.ly/SaveOurPostalService.