Organizing to Protect and Enhance the Public Postal Service

March 1, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

In the March-April 2020 American Postal Worker, this column focused on a few states that had expanded vote-by-mail options since the last general election. At that time, the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to affect the United States. Little did we know just how important vote-by-mail would become, nor could we anticipate the many crises where our public Postal Service would play such a critical role in the year ahead.

Indeed, the last year has been defined by a nonstop wave of momentous events, challenges and dilemmas facing postal workers and supporters of our national treasure. It seemed decades of historic developments were crammed into only weeks. While there were setbacks and triumphs in the past year, what’s become increasingly clear is that the very future of the public United States Postal Service continues to hang in the balance in the months ahead.

Service has eroded to levels not seen in decades. The Postal Service’s finances continue to deteriorate quickly, despite the record package volumes of the last year. And while the harshest critics of the public Postal Service from the last administration no longer hold the reins of power in Washington, the threat of lasting damage to the Postal Service remains quite real.

Before looking ahead, though, let’s examine what lessons we can learn from the last year. The triumph of election mail, despite our enthusiasm in last year’s column, was far from a foregone conclusion. Recall that when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took the helm at the Post Office last year, he quickly instituted a number of policies that delayed the mail.

As undelivered mail piled up across the country during the summer, public outcry was swift, particularly with those alarmed about the implications of ongoing mail delays for the upcoming election. Postal workers and other Grand Alliance partners organized, united with the people, and halted the worst of management’s hasty decisions. We ensured that the election mail was handled with the priority it deserved.

Then, of course, there was the letdown of the holiday season that followed. Despite the gallant efforts of postal workers, the postal system – burdened by decades of understaffing, lack of investment and the weight of COVID-related absences – simply failed to deliver on its promise to the public.

Once again, as we did in the face of management’s delays last summer, we sprung into action, demanding a new course for the people’s Postal Service.

Allies across the Alliance have been pushing the new Biden administration hard to move quickly in filling the vacancies on the Postal Board of Governors. We moved on Congress to secure meaningful and lasting postal reform and COVID-related financial relief, including a repeal of the burdensome prefunding mandate. And we continue to organize members of the Alliance to develop a new People’s Postal Agenda, to lay out a positive vision for the Postal Service that meets the needs of the country in the years ahead.

As was true in the crises that battered us last year, uncertainty is the only certain thing in the moment we face now. While the stakes in the months ahead are high, the opportunity to make real progress in advancing our agenda for the Postal Service is just as real. The pandemic has underscored the public’s need for robust and reliable postal services. The staffing and financial crises are crying out for a lasting solution and more sustainable resources for the post office.

The changing political environment, particularly the new administration’s more active approach to addressing the layered crises of the pandemic, means a real opportunity is at hand to rethink the role of our public Postal Service and make the necessary investments to expand and enhance it.

But as ever, nothing is certain. We must organize, campaign and mobilize to make it happen.

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