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by Andy Piascik
PERHAPS YOU’VE NOTICED that there are fewer post offices around. In the past decade, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has closed almost two hundred facilities, nationwide, in an aggressive effort to do away with and eventually privatize an institution that is older than the country itself. Included in that number are post offices in my town of Bridgeport, a city of 150,000, which now has exactly four post offices.
For the rest of 2015, eighty-two more facilities nationwide are on the chopping block and, barring community outrage, won’t be replaced. The rationale used by those leading the attack is that the USPS is losing money. But the fact is that the USPS is actually a huge money-maker, with operating profits in 2014 of $1.4 billion. What has caused its financial problems is the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), an unprecedented law requiring pre-funding of health benefits for USPS retirees for seventy-five years.
The law had a tab of $5.5 billion and was intentionally designed, by politicians who serve the 1 percent, to gut one of the country’s most valued public resources.
Throughout the country, postal workers and community allies have prevented the closing of many facilities. Among the actions taken were a post office occupation in Oregon and the erection of a tent city in front of a facility in California. Several years ago, similar popular pressure stopped the attempted elimination of Saturday delivery service.
The large-scale elimination of facilities has had the predictable result of increasing costs because of the greater distance mail must travel. Consider that an item mailed from a Bridgeport address to another Bridgeport address, for example, now goes to a distribution facility in Kearny, New Jersey before arriving at its final destination; then consider that the same rocket scientists who came up with that one describe themselves as fiscally responsible and attack the USPs as inefficient. Fewer facilities also results in skyrocketing overtime for letter carriers who are unable to complete their routes in eight hours, and longer commutes for workers who can be transferred as much as fifty miles with no appeal or recourse.
Over 100,000 good-paying USPS jobs have been killed as a result of the privatization efforts, and virtually all new hires are temps whose benefits and wages are far lower than regular workers. The privatizers have also shifted much postal work to Staples, a company notoriously hostile to employees.
Staples, for example, has cut the hours of thousands of workers below 25 hours per week to make them ineligible for company health insurance, and its employees earn far less than established, unionized postal workers. In response, there have been many actions around the country demanding that the Staples contract be rescinded. Instead, the USPS intends also to begin shifting work to Walmart, an employer with a record even worse than Staples.
ONE MORE UGLY part of the story is the incestuous relationship between the USPS, privatizers, and the corporate politicians. The contract to close post offices was awarded to the CBRE real estate firm, whose CEO, Robert Sulentic, is on the Staples board of directors. Richard Blum, CBRE board chair until late last year, is married to California Senator Dianne Feinstein. CBRE will make hundreds of millions from the deal.
Those who delude themselves that the heavily subsidized “private” sector can do a better job than the USPS should be careful what they wish for. UPS, FedEx and other private carriers are more expensive than the USPS and less efficient. And unlike the USPS, private carriers do not service many “unprofitable” parts of the country.
A publicly-funded, national postal service is one of our country’s great achievements. It should be improved, not destroyed, and a collective demand for the repeal of the PAEA would be a big step in the right direction. The public should also join postal workers to demand an end to the contracts with Staples and Walmart and an end to postal facility closures.
Andy Piascik is a Bridgeport native and an award-winning author who writes for Z Magazine, CounterPunch, and many other publications and websites. He can be reached via email.