The Case for a 21st Century New Deal: A Stronger People’s Post Office

Post Office

The United States Postal Service has always been a cornerstone of American society since Ben Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General back in 1775. That’s 238 years of continuous service to the public.

For over two centuries, it’s primarily been how we communicate with each other in addition to the telephone. Personal cards for birthdays, anniversaries, and what not. Bills received and paid. Advertising (sometimes too much advertising). Magazine subscriptions. Medicine. Throughout the country it varies: the Post Office in Alaska is a lifeline since people are spread out instead of right next to each other, includes delivery of groceries and more normal everyday stuff that UPS or FedEx decline to deliver.

The Post Office is still a very critical lifeline for most people. Even with smartphones and computers, people still look forward to getting mail. For older folks, it’s essential since many aren’t technically savvy on the computer and the internet or smartphones.

If you’ve been following what’s been going on with the Post Office lately, you know that a certain faction in Congress led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) along with Postmaster General (PMG) Tom Donahoe have gone hog wild with post office closings and processing center consolidation.  Most of this is being done behind closed doors where people aren’t aware of it.

Their plan is to partially, and then fully privatize the Post Office. Then they can layoff people, cuts wages and benefits, and then start charging people to receive mail as well as increase the price on postal services like stamps (for starters, it may cost you $2 to mail a letter under this scenario if the Post Office ends up as the private property of an investment firm).

So far it’s working.

This is all being done under the guise of making the Post Office more efficient so it can be profitable. The Post Office wasn’t a corporation until August 12, 1970 when Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which had its beginnings under LBJ, when he let a group of corporate leaders make recommendations. Before that, it was cabinet-level department under the president. Since then, the Board of Governors and the Postmaster General have been carrying out a corporate takeover plan to strip the Post Office of its assets by privatizing it little-by-little until service has been ruined through downsizing of employees and consolidations of mail processing centers and closing of local post offices.

Overwhelmingly, people like the Post Office and want it strengthened, but this makes no difference to the Postmaster General and Congress. They continue to carry on with their corporate masters’ wishes.

UPS and FedEx both have also had a heavy hand in weakening the Post Office by buying favors (aka campaign contributions or bribes in layman’s terms) through lobbying efforts to have the laws rewritten in their favor so they both can get the most profitable parts of mail and parcel delivery and leave the least profitable parts to the Post Office.

In addition, corporate mailers (you’ve seen their work in the amount of junk mail you receive), have been getting sweetheart deals thanks to Congress and the PMG & crew in the form of drastically reduced postage to mail all the junk that ends up in your mailbox; that’s lost revenue for the Post Office and more annoyance for you. They think they own the Post Office lock stock and barrel. In effect, they’re getting to mail their stuff out in bulk for the price of almost nothing that costs normal people 46 cents per piece. In other words, more corporate welfare.

The most ridiculous, yet crippling action by Congress on behalf of their corporate masters is the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which is the brainchild of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), which requires the Postal Service to prefund future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in a ten-year timeframe. This law in itself gives the corporate PMG the reason he needs to close post offices, consolidate processing centers, layoff employees, and destroy the postal unions. It’s a self-manufactured crisis. No other government agency nor corporation have this kind of requirements. If this law hadn’t been passed, the Post Office would have a $1.5 billion surplus today. 

As Tim Walsh has written, “the traditional international postal world was one of interstate cooperation. The new globalized world sees … the replacement of the postal ‘flag’ by the postal ‘brand,’ and the intensification of international postal competition.”

So once again, the same old story plays out of how money buys influence to chip away at the cornerstones of the common good for the country. 

The NDP Proposal
If you listen to the people, then you know exactly what should be done. Quoting the late Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI), “All Americans need and depend on the postal service, and it belongs to us – not some faceless board members in a corporation.”

The Post Office should remember its origins and rediscover the example of “volunteerism and community building which was the hallmark of the first Postmaster General,” Benjamin Franklin and focus on being a universal service provider to the public.

These are the steps the NDP will take to address and strengthen the Post Office:

Reform:
1. End the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 and reinstate the United States Post Office Department as a cabinet-level organization in the government with a union representative as Secretary. The Post Office should not operate as a for-profit business because of one simple fact: it is the glue that holds communities together and the vast majority of citizens support it and the services it provides them. It is owned by the people and should be governed by them.

2. Overhaul the Postmaster General position and pay / pension package.

3. Eliminate the Board of Governors and all corporate influences on the Post Office.

4. Perform a comprehensive evaluation of discounts to mailers, and regulate and reform how discounts are used and provided with the aim of ending corporate welfare.

5. Return stamp design & production back to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

6. Allow parcel package delivery by the Post Office. This returns a function that the Post Office used to provide, and since the Post Office provides the final leg of delivery for UPS and FedEx, it makes sense that they should also be an option for end-to-end delivery for all-size packages.

7. Add up to 1 million additional new employees to address perpetual understaffing, and also changing from a 40-hour work week to a 28-hour work week as full-time (per the NDP proposal). The Post Office has been operating shorthanded for decades. To begin with, this could be accomplished with up to 500,000 new letter carriers and 100,000 new Post Office staff. In Christopher W. Shaw’s book “Preserving the People’s Post Office” he addresses how perpetual cutbacks of carriers and Post Office staff have led to morale issues and reduced Post Office window hours for the public. A fully staffed Post Office addresses this and paves the way for new functions to serve the public.

8. Simplify management structure by making the Post Office employee-managed.

9. Ensure all towns and communities have a Post Office. The Post Office isn’t just mail delivery, it provides a vast array of other people-to-people and door-to-door related services that aren’t performed by anyone else.

10. Return to one mail collection box per city block and remove outside cluster mail boxes.

11. Add additional smaller processing centers to the network to reduce delivery time from coast-to-coast and in-between. The goal should be better service, not reduction of services.

Additional Services and Government Interaction:
12. Put the Post Office back on the cutting edge of delivery services, including providing the Post Office with easy access to overnight, second-day, and bulk-mail express markets.

13. Integrate public services with other governmental agencies such as the Census Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Health & Human Services, Veterans Administration, and others.

14. Provide banking services to the 10 million people that the FDIC estimates are currently unbanked and/or underbanked, including credit cards, cash cards, phone cards, etc. Adding broadband internet services with email accounts that can provide electronic bill presentment and electronic payment options via Post Office bank accounts.

15. Provide voter-registration services and voter-precinct services.

16. Provide data collection for sensor-network services, agriculture, weather, population, U.S. Census, geographical mapping, transportation road quality, GPS, chemical agents, biological agents, air quality, environmental sensing, radio-television signal strength, wireless signal strength, meth labs, crop insurance, meter reading for utility companies, and law-enforcement. Michael Ravnitzky has detailed proposal availables for all these applications.

17. Add wifi broadband internet to rural areas using the postal routes for wifi stations and post offices as local hubs, which provides an optional email tied to a physical address for people who are late adopters for technology, and for electronic bill presentment.

18. Since the Post Office has people on the ground, provide Amber Alert assistance as they deliver mail.

19. Add fax, copy, and other office services for the public to each post office.

20. Increase delivery times with a fleet of planes instead of sub-contracting other carriers.

21. Expand Global Postal Link-like program to facilitate international delivery.

22. Expand in the e-commerce market.

23. Deliver groceries (ala WebVan and Amazon).

24. Recover costs & profits on packages that UPS + FedEx dump on the Post Office for the final (unprofitable) mile of delivery.

25. Provide the public with access to healthcare services including select post offices that would be administering offices for Medicare/Medicaid program including maintaining a supply of equipment used by Medicare patients.

26. Use Post Offices to offer forms and information available to citizens for items ranging from U.S. Mint products to specialized information found in many publications released by the G.P.O (Government Printing Office).

27. Provide public kiosks that help residents to conduct business with the government at convenient locations and times.

28. Provide internet access and email access in public areas.

29. Provide public telephones.

30. Use the Post Office as a disaster relief agency to deliver drugs and medical equipment to every household in national emergencies like flu pandemic or bioterrorism attack, or even delivering water and supplies to disaster victims in emergencies. 

31. Use Post Office carriers as a means of interaction with senior citizens.

Post Office Buildings:
32. Add murals to new and existing Post Offices and make new Post Offices architectural landmarks.

33. Protect New Deal Post Office landmarks and murals.

Level Playing Field:
34. Establish a Post Office Consumer Action Group (POCAG) consumer advocacy group to represent citizens. Currently only corporations are being represented at the table. As the late Senator Robert Byrd said, “One-person, one-vote does not apply when the great body of citizens is under-represented in the halls of Congress compared to the well-financed highly organized special interest group.” Ralph Nader also advocates consumer check-off groups as a form of public approval for changes. Post Office patrons deserve to be adequately represented when any discussions about the future of the Postal Service take place.

35. Provide a level playing field for the Post Office against FedEx and UPS. Shaw’s book states “… but prospective competitors have acted to prevent the Postal Service from further benefitting the nation as a whole. The corporate sector should not be permitted to undermine the broader public interest in order to further its own narrow self-interest.”

36. Eliminate lobbyists.

37. Allow FedEx workers to organize unions.

38. Eliminate two-tier wage systems for workers.


As “Preserving the People’s Post Office” notes:
F
ormer Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank: “the U.S. Postal Service is a legitimate and necessary public institution that serves an important social function as a binding, unifying force in our national life.”

Bill Schaefer, a resident of Bethesda, Maryland, believes that “no matter how much we have e-mail and FedEx and bulk mail, the Postal Service should be accessible for everybody.”

The Postal Service is part of our “commonwealth” – that shared heritage we collectively use and own – which includes such resources as public lands and the natural resources they contain, public knowledge not privatized by copyrighting, civic institutions, and the public airwaves.

J. Joseph Vacca, past president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, once cogently stated that “the national Postal Service is a national resource of the entire people; an instrument of their polity.”

We have a responsibility to be its custodians so that future generations will also have use of it. Corporate interests are currently engaged in a massive undertaking: The privatization of the great American commonwealth.

Author David Bollier writes, “resources that Americans own as a People … are increasingly being taken over by private business interests. These appropriations of common assets are siphoning revenues from the public treasury, shifting ownership and control from public to private interests, and eroding democratic processes and shared cultural values.” The Postal Service is yet another component of our commonwealth that is in their sights.

We as a people have inherited the Post Office, an institution that was established by our Founding Fathers on the eve of the Revolutionary War for the purpose of helping forge and unite a new nation.

In 1998, before stepping down, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon outlined the role he saw the Postal Service playing in the year 2020:

The trends of today make it clear that fragmenting forces will grow. America will experience a rapid growth in ethnic and cultural diversity, with it will come the rise of multiple languages. There’ll be economic divisions marked by widening gaps between the haves and have nots, and to POSTAL RESTRUCTURINGS these we can add to fragmentation of the family, the generation gap, and the growing loss of shared experience and expectation …

We need only look to our neighbor to the north to see the problems caused by competing languages. We can look to Bosnia to see how ethnic and cultural differences can divide a nation. And we can look to the streets of America to see the awful toll that economic degradation takes on a significant segment of our society.

Yet as I look out to 2020, I see a growing array of forces with the power to drive us apart, to weaken our union. So, I think we must ask ourselves, what are the forces that will bind us together. Let me name one – the United States Postal Service.

There may be some in this audience who regard that as an overstatement. Well, I beg to differ. Just look at our history. The founding fathers named Ben Franklin, the first postmaster general even before they declared independence. They realized that a national mail system was a prerequisite for binding 13 far flung colonies into a single nation.

In retrospect, it was a highly effective strategy. Over the years, the nation’s mail followed America literally wherever it went. Down valleys and over mountains, through the city streets and into the sprawling frontier. Across rivers, and even oceans our borders stretched from coast-to-coast and beyond.

For more than two centuries, the mail has united us during times of social upheaval, economic change and world war. Suburban, urban and rural, north, south, east and west; the mail has been an enduring shared experience binding us together.

Sources:
Preserving the People’s Post Office” by Christopher W. Shaw
Shaw’s excellent book provides a comprehensive and detailed look at the problems the Post Office has had since the enactment of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

savethepostoffice.com by Steve Hutkins with articles from Mark Jamison
Steve Hutkins runs the website Save the Post Office, aka STPO, which has been providing excellent ongoing analysis of the actions of the U.S. Postal Service management and Congress has been doing the past few years to cripple and destroy the Post Office. Mark Jamison is a retired North Carolina Postmaster who is a regular contributor at STPO with articles explaining the impacts these actions are having on the Post Office and employees and to the public.