After the Task Force: What’s Next for the Postal Service?

In one sense, postal workers are like any other working person – we want to be respected on the job and we want the value of our labor to be met with decent, family-sustaining pay and benefits. Thanks to decades of struggle in our union, we’ve realized some of that. One additional characteristic of postal workers though, is that we’re committed not only to our own jobs and pay, but that we are also proud to serve a public that relies on the Postal Service and its unmatched ability to connect every home and business across the country.

And so, when the President’s Task Force on the Postal Service reported out late last year, our union raised its voice not just on behalf of our members, but also for those who live and work at the 157 million addresses we reach six – and now sometimes seven – days per week.

Simply put, the Task Force report is not solely a shot across the bow of the Postal Service’s dedicated workforce and our unions – although it is that. Just as importantly, the Task Force report is a betrayal of the public’s trust and the public’s stake in a postal system we’ve built together across generations. The Postal Service of today truly is a national treasure, one viewed favorably by 88% of the public, and it belongs to all of us. The President’s Task Force, given the opportunity, would change all that and make the Postal Service unrecognizable to those who rely on it today to mail and ship hundred of millions of items every day. And to what end? To meet the goal laid bare by the Office of Management and Budget in its June government overhaul plan: “prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately-held corporation.”

Primary among our concerns about the work of the President’s Task Force is the suggestion that the universal service obligation – the heart of the Postal Service’s commitment to the public – be removed, cut, or otherwise altered. The idea of limiting the Postal Service’s operations to providing a core set of products and services narrowly-defined as “essential” is a recipe for an ever-shrinking, ever more expensive and increasingly irrelevant USPS. The ramifications of such proposals would drastically increase costs for mailers and consumers of every stripe – businesses large and small, non-profit organizations, households and governments.

Recommendations like shuttering post offices, reducing delivery days and relinquishing the sanctity of the mail that mailers and household have come to trust and rely upon are unlikely to be the commercial panacea the Task Force suggests they may be.

Indeed, rising costs and worsening service would hasten the public’s retreat from the Postal Service, leaving higher costs for those left behind. It’s a classic death spiral scenario and should be rejected by everyone – mailers, organizations and regular household users – that relies on the Postal Service’s affordable, nationwide network to market, exchange goods and information and conduct their affairs. It should be especially concerning to the most vulnerable across the country, especially those in rural and remote areas, the poor and underserved and Veterans who especially rely on postal delivery of life-saving medicines.

Instead of setting the Postal Service up for failure, we believe that lawmakers, postal management and other stakeholders should aim for a more robust, faster, smarter and more valuable Postal Service. We all ought to ensure that the Postal Service remains truly essential for decades to come. Doing so requires visionary leadership about the role the postal system plays in the collective life of the country and in finding new ways of fulfilling the long-standing mission of the Postal Service to “bind the nation together.”

The President’s Task Force failed to demonstrate that visionary leadership. Instead it exploits a manufactured crisis – the unique and impossible burdens placed on USPS by the 2006 reform law – as an opportunity to cut public services, attack workers and our unions, and to decay the world-class quality postal services the people of this country enjoy at globally affordable prices.

There’s no question that the manufactured crisis of the prefunding mandate in the 2006 law needs addressing. While we welcome the Task Force’s embrace of proposals supported by postal workers and postal customers alike to revalue the retiree health benefit liability based on actual vested liability, that change alone would fall short of putting the Postal Service on the financial footing needed to continue to innovate and to thrive into the future.

Our union, joining with allies and the people of the country, will continue to organize for a robust, public Postal Service that meets the needs of the public. Certainly, we’ll be doing that in defense of our jobs and our ability to sustain our families and our communities. But we’ll also be doing that on behalf of the American public that have built this national treasure over generations and who rightly deserve to keep it for generations to come.

Mark Dimondstein is President of the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, which represents more than 200,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

Mark Dimondstein