‘It Was Electric’

October 14, 2015

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Senator Bernie Sanders

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders thrilled APWU members attending the union’s All-Craft Conference in Las Vegas on Oct. 14.

“It was electric,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein of the response to Sanders’ speech.

Sanders told the audience of approximately 2,000 APWU members, “The beauty of the Postal Service is that it provides universal service six days a week to every corner of America, no matter how small or how remote. It supports millions of jobs in virtually every sector of our economy.  It provides decent-paying union jobs to some 500,000 Americans, and it is the largest employer of veterans.

“Whether you are a low-income elderly woman living at the end of a dirt road in Nevada or Vermont or a wealthy CEO living on Park Avenue, you get your mail six days a week. And the American people pay for this service at a cost far less than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

“Yet, the Postal Service is under constant and vicious attack,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the same billionaires who want to privatize Social Security, Medicare, and public education, also want to privatize the Postal Service. 

Why Is That?

“Why is that?” Sanders asked. “The answer is simple.  The wealthy and the powerful see an opportunity for Wall Street and corporate America to make billions in profits out of these services, and couldn't care less how privatization or a degradation of services affects ordinary Americans.  That is unacceptable and we cannot let them get away with that.”

The Vermont senator called for an expansion of postal services, including by providing basic financial services as an alternative to the predatory lending industry. “At a time when more than 68 million lower-income Americans have no bank accounts or are forced to rely on rip-off check-cashing storefronts and payday lenders, allowing the Postal Service to offer these kinds of financial services would be of huge social benefit,” Sanders said. It also would increase USPS revenue by almost $9 billion per year, he pointed out.

The Postal Service also should be permitted to set up Internet cafes, notarize documents, issue licenses and perform other duties, he said.

Sanders decried recent cuts in service, saying, “I have heard from people all over this country who have reported serious delays in receiving their mail.  In some cases, it is taking 9 or even 11 days for veterans and senior citizens to receive the life-saving prescription drugs they need through the mail.  This delay means that some of the most vulnerable people in this country are going without the medication they need or are forced to travel long distances because they cannot rely on the timely delivery of mail.  That is unacceptable and will change under my Administration.”

The Good News

He pointed out that the cuts were unnecessary. “Now, the good news is that despite what you have been hearing in the media, and despite what the Postmaster General has been saying the Postal Service is not going broke!

“The major reason that the Postal Service is in bad financial shape today is because of a mandate signed into law by President George W. Bush in December of 2006, during a lame duck session of Congress, that forces the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over a 10 year period. 

“This onerous and unprecedented burden that costs $5.5 billion a year is responsible for all of the financial losses posted by the Postal Service since October 2012. From October of 2012 until today, the Postal Service has made an operating profit of more than $2 billion, excluding the pre-funding mandate,” he said. 

In Congress, Sanders spearheaded a “sense of the Senate” resolution, which passed 85-11 to restore service standards, which postal management degraded in January. He also was instrumental in blocking a slate of nominees for the Postal Service Board of Governors that included privatization advocate James Miller and the payday loan lobbyist Mickey Barnett.

How We Judge

Sanders’ speech also hit on the major theme of his campaign: The 99% are suffering and the billionaire class is thriving.

“There is something fundamentally wrong in our country today, both economically and politically,” Sanders said. “And what is wrong is that for the last 40 years there has been a war against the working class of this country. And the results of that is that despite huge increases in technology and productivity, the median male worker, the median female worker in this country – ordinary people – are working longer hours for lower wages.

“Millions of Americans today in the wealthiest country in the history of the world are working two or three jobs in order to cobble together the income and healthcare they need to take care of their families,” he said.

“People were thrilled, excited,” by Sanders’ appearance, Dimondstein reported. Many of the union’s most active members were in attendance, and they are generally knowledgeable about the senator’s record, he said.

In introducing the senator, Dimondstein noted that the APWU is a large organization made up of people with many varied political beliefs. “I fully respect that fact and maintain that we should judge elected officials and candidates not by the designation after their name, not by what they say, not by what we hope or wish they are, but by what they do.

“Applying that criteria, there is one candidate for president of the United States that stands head and shoulders above the others as a true friend and champion of postal employees and all U.S. workers,” he said. 

“It’s little wonder in this period of massive income inequality and declining opportunities for workers and the 99% that Sanders campaign has generated so much excitement,” Dimondstein said.

“Not everyone is like-minded,” he added, “but on the whole, the response was absolutely electric.

 “Right now, of all the candidates from both of the major political parties, Bernie Sanders is most aligned with our values, our principles, and the stances that our members have adopted at our national conventions over the years on a broad array of union and working-class issues.

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