The plan to end home delivery of mail violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That’s the argument behind a legal challenge against the Federal Government by the Canadian Union of Postal workers (CUPW), seniors’ groups, and organizations for people with disabilities.
The coalition intends to file a case with the Federal Court of Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also argue that the decision to end door-to-door delivery is beyond the Crown Corporation’s authority and should be made by the Parliament of Canada.
“This is a decision which will affect people across Canadians, particularly seniors and people with disabilities,” said John Anderson of the Centre for Canadian Policy Alternatives. “Canada post has done this without any real consultation.”
The Canada Post charter was up for public review this year, but the review has yet to occur.
“We need a national debate on this issue, but we haven’t had that debate,” said Anderson, who has written about postal banking as an option for Canada Post.
In December 2013, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra announced that the crown corporation would be ending door-to-door delivery for five million Canadians, incurring a loss of at least 8,000 jobs as well as an increase in service costs. This would make Canada the only G8 country without home delivery.
“The U.S. Postal Service has an existential problem,” begins the op-ed, and twice more in the space of just 840 words it refers to the “existential crisis” and “existential question” facing the postal system.
The essay is about how the Postal Service is becoming obsolete and pointless and headed for “a day of reckoning,” sooner or later. “To be clear,” it says, “the Postal Service cannot be abolished; at least, not immediately.”
Some readers consequently thought that the essay was looking forward to that day when we would be done with the Postal Service, but then in response to a reader’s comment, the author backs off and says, “Just to be clear, nothing in my op-ed advocated abolishing USPS.
To abolish or not to abolish, that is the question.
R Street and Newsweek
The Newsweek op-ed is by Kevin Kosar, who, as his bio says, is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. Before joining R Street, he covered postal issues for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for more than a decade.
The Postal Service has made a final determination to close the post office in Yantic, Connecticut, a village in Norwich. Deberey Hinchey, the mayor of Norwich, and Kevin Ryan, a state representative, have filed an appeal on the closing to the Postal Regulatory Commission.
It’s the first appeal filed on a post office closing since July 2013. (Another appeal has recently been filed for a contract post office in Careywood, Idaho.) It will be interesting to see how the PRC, under the new leadership of Acting Chairman Robert Taub, handles the appeal.
Appeals on post office closings are rarely successful. Between April 2012 and November 2013, the PRC ruled on over 200 appeals. Only 17 of them resulted in an order remanding the closing decision back to the Postal Service for further consideration. (The PRC can only remand; it cannot completely overturn a decision to close.)
During that period, most of the PRC orders affirming the Postal Service’s decision were actually decided by a tie vote. Commissioner Tony Hammond was waiting for Senate confirmation, so there were only four commissioners. Mark Acton and Robert Taub consistently voted to affirm the decision to close, and then-Chairman Ruth Goldway and then-Vice-Chairman Nanci Langley consistently voted to remand. (Goldway and Langley, by the way, are Democrats; the other three commissioners are Republicans.)
For the first time since they were created in 2002, a Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) has been rejected by the Postal Regulatory Commission. Yesterday the PRC turned down the Postal Service’s request to add a NSA with Discover Financial Services to its market-dominant list.
This is quite an unusual event. Since the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, the PRC has reviewed about 500 NSA requests. (According to this PRC presentation about NSAs, as of May 2014, that number included 446 competitive and 24 market-dominant NSAs.)
Every one of the requests was approved, including previous NSAs with Discover. In yesterday’s order on the Discover NSA, the Commission pointed out that this was the first NSA it had been unable to approve, “and it is not a decision the Commission takes lightly.”
In 2001 Postmaster General Bill Henderson submitted the first blueprints for a transformation of the Postal Service into a sleeker, more efficient business entity. To justify the transformation, the rhetoric has repeated one mantra: the problem with the Postal Service is its outmoded and defective business model.
A great deal of our speech with public policy is often coded — for example, “makers and takers” can often sound a lot like “black and white” — but in this case Henderson and his successor Jack Potter were pretty clear about their goal. The way forward for the Postal Service, they said, would include cuts to the workforce, post office closings, a smaller postal infrastructure, and a general retreat from the idea of the Postal Service as a universal service provider.
The big mailers talk about the “failed business model.” Postal commentators going back to Murray Comorow and through Alan Robinson have talked about the ‘failed business model.” The folks in Congress, Republicans particularly but also Democrats like Tom Carper, all bemoan the “failed business model.”
In focusing on the idea of a “failed business model,” these voices were able to elude facts like the billions siphoned out of the Postal Service to support payments to the Retiree Healthcare Benefit Fund that were essentially unnecessary. Any discussion of rationalizing rates in ways that didn’t involve simply handing over postal revenues to narrow interests in the mailing community was avoided. The idea of supporting universal service and postal infrastructure with modest budget contributions from the federal government was rejected.
Instead, everyone seemed to agree that the nation’s postal infrastructure must be totally self-sufficient. That was the preference of postal management as well, since money from Congress never comes with no strings attached. Management takes every opportunity to remind people of this. At the end of every press release is this sentence: “The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.”
The real problem
Assertions that the postal business model had failed reflected nothing other than a wish to apply a corporate model to a basic government service and function. It didn’t matter that we had the most effective postal system in the world, a system that delivered more mail to more addresses at cheaper rates than virtually anywhere else. It didn’t matter that our network of postal plants and post offices were the hearts of American communities. It didn’t matter that the Postal Service provided 800,000 good jobs with good benefits, or that the income from these jobs flowed throughout local communities, supporting businesses large and small.
The sad fact is that none of the things that did matter to the average person mattered to those who set postal policy. They had imbibed from the well that had transformed the American economy from an engine of shared growth and prosperity to a shell game that enriched the few at the expense of the many.
In a little more than two generations we have watched as all the burdens of the economy have been shifted to those who work for a living. We have seen the end of defined benefit pension systems, deteriorating access to employer-paid health insurance, and the rise of a model that eschews full-time work for part-time contract labor. A successful postal business model has thus come to involve cheap labor, reduced service, and the privatization or outsourcing of public infrastructures.
Who owns the post office? Who is the post office designed to serve? What is the system’s ultimate function?
These questions are fundamental to the future and the fate of the post office, the postal network, and postal services in this country. How we answer them will have a significant impact on businesses, workers, and communities.
We know the Constitution instructs — or more accurately, permits — Congress to make arrangements for post offices and post roads. That is a good indication that the Founders saw postal services and the infrastructure that supported them as broadly essential to the nation — nation in their reckoning being the sum of the people.
But Congress has abdicated its responsibilities. It no longer functions as a deliberative body and has become increasingly ineffective as a legislative body. The Postal Service’s Board of Governors has proven to be equally ineffective and has left postal managers to run operations as they see fit. The regulatory system is relatively limited and not really able to represent the interests of the public as a whole.
All in all, the Postal Service is simply not accountable to the American people in the way it should be — or the way it must be if it is to survive as a vibrant public postal system, as envisioned by the Founders
In the debates about the Postal Service, the public interest is too often forgotten. It’s worth quoting yet again the stirring words of Title 39:
“The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.”
If these words are to mean anything, the leaders of the Postal Service, Congress, and the Executive branch must be reminded that the Postal Service is there to serve not some narrow economic interests but the people of the United States.
The vision of the Founders
There are only a couple of mentions of the post office in the Federalist Papers, the set of writings by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay which offered the explanation and underlying reasoning that supported the new Constitution. In Federalist 42, Madison wrote:
David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its initiative on The Public Good. He is the author of “New City States” and four other non-fiction books. Originally published at Alternet
Let’s begin with the bad news. The U.S. Post Office, the oldest, most respected and ubiquitous of all public institutions is fast disappearing. In recent years management has shuttered half the nation’s mail processing plants and put 10 percent of all local post offices up for sale. A third of all post offices, most of them in rural areas, have had their hours slashed. Hundreds of full time, highly experienced postmasters knowledgeable about the people and the communities they serve have been dumped unceremoniously, often replaced by part timers. Ever larger portions of traditional post office operations— trucking, mail processing and mail handling– have been privatized. Close to 200,000 middle class jobs have disappeared.
Since 2012 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has lowered service standards three times, most recently in January when in preparation for closing an additional 82 mail processing plants it announced the end of one day delivery of local first class mail and an additional 1-2 days for all mail. Subscribers to Netflix’s DVD delivery service may soon discover the cost effectiveness of a monthly subscription has been cut in half because the number of DVD’s they receive in a month has been cut in half.
The Postal Service, we are told, has fallen so deeply into debt (more on this in a moment) that it has exhausted its borrowing capacity. There’s no cash left. It’s been challenging to invest in capital projects. Post offices are in disrepair. Trucks are out of date.
Now for the good news. On November 12, 2013 a slate of insurgents won seven of nine national offices at the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). What? Can the election of new officers in a single union, even one with over 200,000 members possibly save the post office? Certainly not if they try to do it singlehandedly but there’s a chance, just a chance they could turn the tide if they build an effective national movement. And that’s what they’re trying to do.
The APWU Strategy
The APWU’s new officers are unusually experienced and talented organizers. After leading the Greater Greensboro Area Local for 12 years and co-founding the Greensboro Chapter of Jobs with Justice, President Mark Dimondstein was appointed APWU’s National Lead Field Organizer in 2000 in a new campaign to organize workers in privatized mail trucking and processing operations. That afforded him important experience in the rough and tumble world of the private sector where workers have the legal right to strike (post office workers can’t) and corporations have the legal right to do almost anything they want to thwart union organizers. The campaign had many successes but prolonged strikes against several companies eventually exhausted the union’s strike fund and its national leadership refused repeated requests by Dimondstein and others to replenish it,
Other new officers include Political Director John Marcotte who organized a local coalition that stopped the consolidation of his Michigan plant and Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy who led her Mid-Hudson local in fighting their plant closure. Both she and the new Clerk Craft Director Clint Burelson also participated in a hunger strike in 2012.
Barbot describes what it’s like serving as an overworked, underpaid non-career employee and how the deal to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays is causing all sorts of problems. The problems got so bad, in fact, that Barbot had to quit.
Apparently, the high turnover of CCAs is becoming a serious issue.
In its 2014 Annual Report to Congress, the Postal Service noted that while the target for Deliveries per Hour in in FY2014 was 42.9, the actual result was 42.0. The Postal Service offered several explanations for why the target was not met, including the overrun of an aggressive work hour plan and additional hours used to avoid delaying mail during the Christmas season.
The Postal Service also pointed to three other explanations, all of which have to do with delivering for Amazon: the additional workload from Sunday package delivery, the hiring and training of many new non-career employees, and a high turnover rate — in excess of 40 percent — for CCAs.
As part of the Annual Compliance review being conducted by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Postal Service was asked about the turnover rate in a Chairman’s Information Request.
The PRC noted that in FY 2014 the Postal Service extended the Voice of the Employee Survey to all employees. “Based on the Voice of the Employee Survey results,” asked the Chairman, “what insights were gained about the high turnover rate for city carrier assistants?”
Finding a good old-fashioned mailbox where you can drop off a letter is becoming almost as difficult as finding a pay phone. The iconic blue boxes are getting to be few and far between.
Fifteen years ago, there were almost 400,000 collection boxes in the country. Now there are fewer than 160,000 of them, and the number goes down every year.
Earlier this week the Postal Service submitted its Annual Compliance Report (ACR) to the Postal Regulatory Commission for the Commission’s Annual Compliance Determination report. The main purpose of the review process is to determine the extent to which each type of mail is covering (or not) its attributed costs. The ACR therefore contains a mountain of data about postal rates.
According to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which says what the ACR should include, the Postal Service is also supposed to report on customer access to postal services. But the subject gets just one page in the report, and collection boxes merit just one sentence:
“Nationally, there were 156,349 collection boxes available at the end of FY 2014, compared to 159,729 at the beginning of FY 2014.”
The ACR also includes a table showing the number of boxes, area by area, at the end of FY 2012, 2013, and 2014. The following table uses those numbers, along with the year-to-year changes in percent from the previous year.
In her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, Susan Crawford describes how the American public has been imprisoned by monopoly arrangements in the delivery of broadband and wireless Internet services. Using pricing and discount strategies, communications corporations have colluded to circumvent competition and make private fiefdoms out of what should have been public infrastructure.
It’s not a new strategy. Back in the 1870’s, J.P. Morgan and the railroad barons worked with John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil to use preferential pricing schemes and discounts to corner markets and consolidate their monopoly powers.
In its quest to act more like one of these giant corporations, the Postal Service has been using similar strategies, like fighting off regulation, making secret deals, manipulating prices, and offering discounts to become more competitive.
Worksharing is probably the most notorious example of a discount of dubious merit. Since the practice began in 1976, worksharing has grown dramatically. Now about 80 percent of the mail arrives at the Postal Service pre-sorted to qualify for discount rates (as discussed in this OIG report). Worksharing has spawned a huge private-sector consolidation industry that profits off the $15 billion (or more) in discounts that the Postal Service gives out each year. As repeatedly documented in compliance determination reports by the Postal Regulatory Commission, many of the discounts are so large that they don’t even cover their avoided costs. Worksharing has led to the loss of tens of thousands of postal jobs.
Worksharing is not the only type of discount to be concerned about, however. For large mailers, there are discounts for bar coding and an ever-increasing number of Negotiated Service Agreements. For average customers, discounts are available for going online instead of going to the post office. Now we’ve learned that the Postal Service is apparently giving discounts to Staples as part of the plan to put postal counters in big box stores.