After nearly 30 years in the labor movement, Cindy Estrada is well familiar with the corporate playbook. “As soon as wages and benefits are decent, they want to move that work somewhere else.” That’s what happened, the United Autoworkers Vice President explained at a recent rally, after Oshkosh Defense secured a huge contract to build postal vehicles. “The ink was still drying,” Estrada said, “when they announced they were moving the work to South Carolina.” UAW members had fully expected to build the postal trucks in the existing Oshkosh Defense facility in Wisconsin. After all, the company had won the contract on the basis of their quality work. Instead, Oshkosh Defense plans to convert a vacant former Rite-Aid warehouse in notoriously anti-union South Carolina to fulfill the postal contract, circumventing the unionized workforce in Wisconsin.
The corporate seizure of public utilities and privatization of schools is part of a broad assault to turn government assets into assets that will swell corporate profit. The post office has been a coveted target for decades. Corporations such as FedEx and UPS have used their lobbyists and campaign contributions to cripple the government postal service in an effort to destroy it and take it over. These corporations engineered a congressional mandate in 2006 that requires the post office to pre-fund the next 75 years of retiree health benefits in one decade. No other federal government agency is required to carry out a similar pre-payment plan, nor is there any actuarial justification for this measure.
USPS has a public service mandate to provide a similar level of service to communities across the country regardless of local economic conditions. In addition to daily mail delivery to far-flung locations, the Postal Service maintains post offices even in low-income urban neighborhoods and small towns that lack other basic services. The Postal Service is able to fulfill its mission while keeping postage rates low due to economies of scale. Once the fixed costs of post offices and delivery are covered, the additional cost of new services is often minimal. If it weren’t prevented from doing so, the Postal Service could take advantage of underused capacity and build on Americans’ trust in the Postal Service to offer new services to the public while bringing needed revenue to the agency.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has taken the most dramatic step in a half-century to re-establish a postal banking system in America. In four pilot cities, customers can now cash payroll or business checks of up to $500 at post office locations, and have the money put onto a single-use gift card. It’s the most far-reaching executive action that the Biden administration has taken since Inauguration Day. The move puts the USPS in direct competition with the multibillion-dollar check-cashing industry, which operates storefronts to allow unbanked or underbanked residents to cash their paychecks. According to USPS spokesperson Tatiana Roy, the pilot launched on September 13 in four locations: Washington, D.C.; Falls Church, Virginia; Baltimore; and the Bronx, New York.
Every year, workers at the Postal Service and UPS expect to work long hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “This is like our Super Bowl,” said Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers (APWU). “Employees really do rally together.” But this year has been like no other. Workers were still catching their breath from last year’s holiday peak when the pandemic struck and online ordering ratcheted up. It was like Christmas all over again—and it never stopped. Package volumes at the Postal Service are up 40 percent compared to this time last year, and understaffing is intensified by Covid—more than 50,000 of the 600,000 postal workers have had to take pandemic-related leave.
On June 15, Louis DeJoy of Greensboro, N.C., began his new job as Postmaster General of the United States. We are postal worker union activists who also hail from Greensboro (and are now American Postal Workers Union president and solidarity representative, respectively). For decades we have defended the interests of the public Postal Service and postal workers, and we bring a much different perspective than that of multi-millionaire businessman DeJoy. We are concerned that DeJoy, a mega-donor to Republican Party causes and to President Trump, has been tapped to carry out the administration’s agenda.
The financially strapped United States Postal Service wound up with crumbs in the $2.2 trillion stimulus deal, despite playing a vital role in our nation’s public health and economic stability at this time of crisis. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) accused President Trump of personally intervening to strip a Democratic postal rescue proposal from the final bill. Asked on Tuesday for his response, Trump lashed out at the beleaguered Postal Service with a stream of false accusations. “They lose money every time they deliver a package for Amazon or these other internet companies,” Trump said. “If they’d raise the prices by, actually a lot, then you’d find out that the post office could make money or break even. But they don’t do that…Tell your Democrat friend that he should focus on that.”
The United States Postal Service has been fighting for its life since it was born. President Richard Nixon created this vast mail-managing entity in 1970 by turning its old Cabinet-level predecessor, the U.S. Post Office Department, into a government-owned corporation, caving to union demands after hundreds of thousands of postal workers went on strike for better wages and collective bargaining rights. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan tried to change the USPS’s public status and sell it off for cash. He failed, but in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which mandated that Postal Service retirement health care* be pre-funded, and arguably contributed to a long-term financing crisis that continues today.
Under the proposal—unveiled in June as part of a 32-point plan (pdf) to significantly reorganize the federal government—USPS would “transition to a model of private management and private or shared ownership.” The White House argued that “freeing USPS to more fully negotiate pay and benefits rather than prescribing participation in costly federal personnel benefit programs, and allowing it to follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations, could further reduce costs.” Critics warn that such a transition would not only negatively impact service but also bring awful consequences for postal workers, who demonstrated on their day off in cities across the United States on Monday to tell the president that USPS is #NotForSale.
The company said that it would discontinue the pilot programme – which was announced last November – in the coming weeks and instead would become an ‘approved shipper’ for the US Postal Service (USPS). The APWU called the Staples’ move a ‘ruse’ in a statement from its President Mark Dimondstein, stating “this attempt at trickery shows that the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ movement is having an effect”. In an interview with the Boston Globe, a USPS spokesperson remarked that the postal service looked forward to continuing the partnership and postal services will continue at the 82 Staples locations used in the pilot scheme. The Union said it would keep up the pressure on the reseller until it gives up the mail business. “Staples and the USPS are changing the name of the programme, without addressing the fundamental concerns of postal workers and postal customers,” the union stated.