Postal Service Gets It Wrong Again
Slashing the Network Won’t Save the USPS
Executive Vice President
(This article was first published in the January/February 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Among the Postal Service’s major plans for solving the USPS financial crisis is to slash the mail processing network — to close or consolidate as many as 252 of approximately 460 mail processing facilities.
The Postal Service notified the APWU on Sept. 14 that it would study the feasibility of consolidating more than half of its mail processing centers as part of a nationwide plan to cut costs. The next day, with great fanfare, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced the plan to the media, and presented it as an essential component of resolving the Postal Service’s financial difficulties.
But the reality is quite different. In fact, the Postmaster General’s prescription would do more harm than good.
And here’s why: One week after the announcement, the Postal Service published in the Federal Register a notice of proposed revisions to service standards. The revisions would eliminate overnight mail delivery and change two-day delivery to three days. On Dec. 5, the Postal Service sought an advisory opinion on the plan from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).
The notice in the Federal Register and the request to the PRC acknowledge what the Postal Service has repeatedly denied: Dismantling the mail processing network would result in drastic cuts in service to the American people, and to the $1 trillion mailing industry that relies on the postal network.
The fact is, the Postal Service cannot eliminate hundreds of mail processing facilities and meet its current service commitments. Wholesale facility consolidation would devastate mail service, damage the economy, drive customers away, and have a major impact on APWU-represented employees.
Spread the Word
For locals fighting consolidation, that’s an important message. We must continue to make sure customers — including businesses that rely heavily on the mail — understand what closing a processing facility will do to their service.
According to the Printing Industry of America, the proposed changes would affect nearly all mailers. “Companies who seek to have their customers’ mail reach recipients on specific delivery days may have to restructure their production cycles to align with the changed critical entry times” and “the reduced availably of locations for drop ship discounts could require changes to customer transportation networks,” the group wrote.
We also must ensure that members of Congress understand. We urge union members to write to their legislators and point out the effect the service changes would have on residents and businesses in the communities they represent.
With that goal in mind, we launched a petition drive to make sure lawmakers realize that the USPS network is an important asset and that destroying it will hurt, not help, the Postal Service. APWU members have responded to the call, and have submitted more than 300,000 signatures for delivery to their senators and congressmen, denouncing plans to gut the postal network. Thank you to everyone who participated. I encourage you to keep up the outstanding work.
It’s also important that local politicians and civic leaders understand the impact consolidation would have on their community — in lost jobs, revenue and neighborhood cohesion.
Locals must reach out to customers, businesses, members of Congress, local politicians and the media to rally opposition to misguided consolidations. Many are doing just that.
At the National Level
At the national level, the APWU is aggressively challenging the proposed changes. In an Oct. 5, 2011, response, we wrote that the proposed changes are contrary to the objectives of the Postal Reorganization Act, which stipulates that changes in service standards must be designed to “enhance the value of postal services,” “preserve regular and effective access to postal services in all communities” and “reasonably assure Postal Service customers delivery reliability, speed and frequency consistent with reasonable rates and best business practices.”
Instead, the USPS proposal focuses on mail volume and costs, and fails to address customer needs. “By designing service standards to meet budget goals rather than service demands, the Postal Service is violating the maxim that businesses cannot cut their way to financial health,” the APWU wrote. “The proposal would degrade existing USPS products; limit the Postal Service’s ability to introduce new products, place the USPS at a distinct competitive disadvantage, and severely hamper its ability to accommodate growth. Consequently, the proposal virtually guarantees continued mail volume declines and further cutbacks in service,” the letter noted.
We also expressed these sentiments to lawmakers. In an Oct. 14 letter to every member of Congress, we asked for support in demanding that the Postal Service abandon the proposed changes to the mail processing and transportation networks and to service standards.
And we have repeatedly emphasized the danger of dismantling the postal network in congressional testimony.
The Postal Service’s request for an advisory opinion from the PRC on its plans to reduce service is non-binding.
That makes our legislative and public relations efforts to protect the postal network especially important. We must continue our efforts to defeat H.R. 2309, a bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Oct. 13. The bill would require the Postal Service to implement $3 billion worth of cuts in mail processing facilities and post offices within two years. (It also includes other provisions that would be extremely detrimental to postal workers, such as nullifying collective bargaining agreements that include protection against layoffs, and granting authority to a “solvency authority” to reject contracts it finds too costly.)
A bill (S. 1789) approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Nov. 9 would give the USPS short-term financial relief, but, because it fails to adequately address the cause of the Postal Service’s financial difficulties, also would force the agency to dismantle its retail and mail-processing network. On the other hand, H.R. 1351, which was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would make drastic cutbacks in service unnecessary. Although the bill has more than 220 co-sponsors, it was rejected by the House Committee when the panel approved the Issa bill. H.R. 1351 would permit the Postal Service to apply billions of dollars in pension overpayments to the requirement to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees. This mandate is a major cause of the USPS financial crisis.
The Postal Service Protection Act (S.1853), introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Nov. 10, would impose strict standards for delivering first-class mail and would prevent the massive closure of mail processing facilities. It also would eliminate the retiree pre-funding mandate, which requires the USPS to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years; allow USPS to recover the overpayments made to its pension plans; permit the Postal Service to generate revenue by providing certain non-postal services, and protect six-day delivery.
We must continue our fight to “Save America’s Postal Service” and work to improve postal bills when they come for a vote before the full House and Senate.