Do You Know Where Your Legislators Stand?
(This article was first published in the January/February 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Lately, USPS management seems hell-bent on destroying the Postal Service — and some members of Congress have appeared eager to help.
In December, however, in response to protests by postal workers, small businesses and community leaders, 22 senators persuaded the USPS to adopt a five-month moratorium on the closure of post offices and mail processing centers. The moratorium is intended to give Congress more time to adopt legislation to address the Postal Service crisis.
This is a great testament to our hard work — but the reprieve is temporary. If the USPS proceeds with the plan in May, it will lead to a downward spiral of cuts in service followed by declining revenue, leading to more cuts in service, and ultimately, to the demise of the Postal Service.
We will have to keep up the pressure to stop USPS plans to close thousands of post offices and more than half of the nation’s mail processing facilities. And Congress is key.
Do you know where your representative and senators stand?
A Bad Bill
You may recall that in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which saddled the Postal Service with annual payments of $5.5 billion to pre-fund future retiree healthcare costs. No other government agency or private company bears this burden, which has driven the Postal Service to the brink of insolvency.
The APWU opposed the PAEA and has devoted extensive effort toward building support in Congress for a solution to the financial mess it created. Our Legislative and Political Department, led by Director Myke Reid, has done a great job lining up support for H.R. 1351, which would correct the underlying cause of the problem. The bill, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would allow the Postal Service to apply overpayments the USPS made to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) to the pre-funding mandate.
Locals and state organizations have done excellent work as well, winning broad, bipartisan support for this important legislation.
In September, the APWU joined with the other postal unions in a nationwide day of action at congressional offices across the country. Our activities helped raise awareness about the cause of the postal crisis and gain additional co-sponsors for H.R. 1351.
And APWU members across the country have done an outstanding job fighting facility consolidations and post office closures. Union members have rallied, picketed, attended public meetings, met with elected officials, talked with the media, and explained in explicit detail what closing post offices and mail processing facilities would mean for their communities.
Local activists have garnered the attention — and support — of legislators and residents of affected communities, and have led the resistance to the destruction of postal services in cities and towns across the nation.
Despite the valiant efforts we and others have waged, we continue to face significant obstacles.
Common misconceptions — that email and the Internet are responsible for the Postal Service’s financial difficulties — give drastic USPS cutbacks an air of inevitability. But the real causes of the crisis — the pre-funding mandate and USPS overpayments to its pension funds – can be corrected by Congress.
We must make sure the politicians and the American people know that the demise of the Postal Service is not a foregone conclusion. We must remind them that the USPS is essential to our nation’s communication and commerce. After all, the Postal Service still generates about $65 billion in revenue annually and is the centerpiece of a $1 trillion private-sector mailing industry.
And we must be clear: To thrive in the age of e-mail and the Internet, the USPS must modernize. Instead of eliminating overnight mail, the Postal Service should be developing ways to provide speedier mail delivery, offer new services, and adapt to changing methods of communication. The USPS cannot succeed if management surrenders or if privatizers plunder it.
The nation’s polarized political climate also presents a daunting hurdle. Although more than half of the members of the House are on record as cosponsors, H.R. 1351 hasn’t been given an up-or-down vote on the House floor.
Instead, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote his own bill, H.R. 2309, which would force the Postal Service to cut $3 billion from its retail and processing network over the next two years; nullify our negotiated protection against layoffs, and give a “solvency authority” the power to reject negotiated contracts it considers too costly. On the Senate side, although S. 1789 is not as bad as the Issa bill, it also would lead to a downward spiral of cuts, declining revenue and more cuts.
In November, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, a bill that is similar to H.R. 1351. It would address the cause of the Postal Service’s financial difficulties and safeguard service. S. 1853 may be gaining momentum.
A Stark Choice
As 2012 election year begins, we will be faced with a stark choice:
Are we going to re-elect representatives who advocate the demise of the Postal Service? Are we going to allow inaction and neglect to destroy our jobs? Are we going to endorse “trickledown” economics, despite 30 years of evidence that wealth does not trickle down?
Or are we going to insist that our lawmakers support a vibrant, viable Postal Service?
Where do your legislators stand on these issues? Do they endorse a solution to the underlying cause of USPS financial difficulties, or do they believe that postal workers and public-employee unions are the problem? Do they support working families and a strong middle class? Or do they defend the failed policies of the past? The choices have never been clearer.
As the 2012 election season heats up, the APWU will be working hard to defend postal workers, public employees and the middle class. The situation is simply too serious for any of our members to sit on the sidelines.
We need you! So please, get involved. Stay informed; sign up for the APWU e-Team; give to COPA, the union’s Committee on Political Action; support your local’s efforts against consolidation and post office closings, and support candidates in 2012 who support us.
We have no time to waste!