Letter carriers' view: Drop prefund fiasco, save Postal Service
The bid by Duluth residents, civic leaders and elected officials to maintain quality mail service has been much in the news, and your impressive efforts have yielded some victories. But as you know better than anyone, the move of some mail-processing tasks has led to a slowing of the mail, and this year’s wins risk being reversed next year.
Moreover, the push to consolidate mail centers is only part of a broader attempt to degrade the quality mail service on which folks in Duluth and elsewhere long have relied. Some in Washington also want to end Saturday mail delivery, which would prevent your small businesses from receiving weekend checks and orders, and end door-to-door delivery, compelling residents — in Duluth’s weather, no less — to traipse around neighborhoods daily in search of cluster boxes.
So, looking forward, it might be useful to provide some context.
The proposed cuts in service were based largely on the following premise: The Postal Service was losing billions of dollars a year because everyone’s on the Internet, plummeting mail volume was producing massive red ink, and cuts in service were imperative. That premise, however, was demonstrably false.
For starters, postal operations are profitable, and increasingly so. The Postal Service reported $1.4 billion in operating profits in fiscal year 2014, a figure already surpassed halfway through 2015.
Why? After dropping during the worst recession in 80 years, mail revenue is stabilizing amid an improving economy. Meanwhile, as folks in Duluth and Minneapolis and elsewhere shop online, skyrocketing package revenue makes the Internet a net positive, auguring well for the future.
And this financial turnaround is occurring, of course, without a dime from taxpayers. Postal operations are financed by revenue earned selling stamps and services.
There is red ink at the Postal Service, but it’s unrelated to the mail or the Internet. It stems rather from Washington politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service prefund future retiree health benefits. No other agency or company has to prefund for even one year; the Postal Service must prefund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
Yet some in Washington hope to use this artificial financial “crisis” to achieve something they’ve long sought: the dismantling of a popular public agency that enjoys 80-plus percent approval so its duties can be turned over to private corporations. To do so, they need to convince you that services you rely on are the problem. Hence, your mail must be slowed, your delivery days reduced and your door-to-door service ended.
But degrading postal networks that have returned to profitability is illogical. It needlessly hurts residents and business owners. It drives mail away, damaging the Postal Service’s bottom line. It ignores the actual problem, which, again, is the prefunding mandate. And it costs Minnesota jobs. The national mailing industry, dependent on a robust six-days-a-week Postal Service, employs 7.5 million Americans in the private sector, including 171,077 Minnesotans.
Still, more is at stake. The Postal Service, based in the Constitution, unifies this vast nation. It’s the largest employer of veterans. Every day on their routes, letter carriers protect people and neighborhoods, saving elderly residents who’ve fallen or taken ill, removing people from burning cars after accidents, finding missing children or stopping crimes in progress. In May, letter carriers again conducted the country’s largest single-day food drive, restocking food pantries in Duluth and everywhere else.
Minnesotans should urge their congressional representatives to preserve the postal networks while addressing the prefunding fiasco. Then the Postal Service can continue to offer Americans the world’s most affordable delivery network.
Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.