Dana Utman: Congressional Meddling Is What’s Killing The Post Office – May 4, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

First, a disclosure. I believe in unions. I love unions. The United States of America was first formed by the union of 13 colonies. Groups of workers unite together for protection and strength as well. But more about that later.

In a “discussion draft,” dated August of 2011, the postal service asked Congress to resolve issues that were leading to insolvency. This included legislation from 2006 requiring the service to pre-fund retiree health benefits for employees for the next 75 years but to do so in a 10-year window; an astronomical $5.5 billion a year! But if some in Congress had their way, the post office won’t be around before those workers are even born.

The Inspector General for the Postal Service said it has “significantly exceeded” the level of reserved money that the federal government or private corporations divert to meet future pension and retiree health care demands. In fact, 326 billion dollars have been put aside so far. If the post office stopped paying into this account now, it would fully fund the requirement in a decade and a half just by the amount of interest it would accrue.

But wait, there’s more. The Post Office is owed $13 billion from the federal government that it has overpaid into its retirement systems.

How many businesses are required to match this unprecedented budget basher?

Answer: None. According to an annual survey by Towers Watson, the median level of funding for retirees’ health care for the largest sized companies (the Fortune 1000) is $0. No other agency or private company is expected to do the same as the Post Office.

From 2007 through 2010 the post office had a net operating profit of $611 million despite the downturn in the economy. Last quarter the service turned a $200 million profit. But with a $5.5 billion pre-funding requirement each year it has had to borrow money to pay for it.

If the $5.5 billion obligation was not required, the USPS would be in the black and doing just fine, thank you. There would be no need for closures and no cutbacks. Last year the post office projected a $15 billion deficit by September of this year. The $45 billion paid out to meet the pre-funding requirement is already greater than that amount.

So what is going on here? What would be the purpose of creating legislation that would only serve to destroy a business’s ability to function? The post office is the second largest civilian employer (7.5 million) after the federal government. It gets NO tax money and must pay its own way through postage revenue. Yet, it’s forced to provide a huge, additional source of income for an impossible goal that cannot be met.

Why would anyone establish a law that does absolutely no good for the Post Office; a national system that unites all our country (150 million households) by mail and was partly created by one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin in 1775?

Why would the Congress act like it’s the fault of the USPS that it is failing and can only be fixed by countermeasures that will help it to die a slow death by closing rural post offices and processing plants and stopping Saturday delivery?

Is the real goal to destroy the Post Office so it can be privatized? If so, and this is accomplished, then corporations will vie for the money-making delivery areas while rural and remote areas will suffer. Private companies have tried before to take the place of the Post Office, but in 1792 a law prevented them from doing so because they would only service the profitable routes. In the 1820’s private firms provided faster mail service so investors could get market intelligence more quickly. The post office responded by creating express mail service so that everyone could have the same access.

U.S. postage is still a deal, but will it remain that way when it’s no longer in the public good to do so? Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution granted Congress the power to establish the post office with a legal obligation to provide all the various aspects of universal delivery service at affordable rates.

Or was the law to pre-fund just an attempt to destroy some of the largest unions by bankrupting the post office? Currently there is an effort to get rid of unions across this country. Destroy the Post Office and you get rid of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers’ Union, the Mail Handlers’ Union, and the Rural Carriers’ Union.

As I said before, I love unions. I love my union. It has fought for the rights of hundreds of thousands of letter carriers. It has helped us through struggle when we were paid so little that many were forced to go on food stamps before postal reorganization in 1971.

It fought for decent benefits so that we could raise families. It organized the largest food drive in the nation to help feed our communities. And carriers are the lifeblood of our communities:checking on the elderly, watching for missing children, preventing crimes, putting out fires and helping those who have taken ill or had accidents. Americans have labeled their mail carrier as the most trusted federal employee for six years in a row.

I am watching what is taking place and I have to ask: Congress, what are you doing to my post office, my job, my union, my family and my community?

Please call your senators and congressperson and tell them to stop forcing the Post Office to pre-fund retirement health care for workers who don’t even exist:

Senator Boxer’s phone number is (202) 224-3553; Senator Feinstein’s phone number is (202) 224-3841; Congressman Thompson’s phone number is (707) 269-9595.

Thursday, May 12 is the annual NALC/USPS Food Drive Day. Please donate to help those less fortunate.

Thanks for your support.

Dana Utman is the President of National Association of Letter Carrier’s Branch 348, which represents 139 active and retired letter carriers who have worked in Humboldt County.

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