White House Targets Postal Workers

January 16, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

On Dec. 4, 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department released the long-awaited report by the White House’s Task Force on the United States Postal System. The Task Force was created by an executive order issued on April 12, 2018. It was chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also serving on the committee. This task force report followed a June 21 recommendation from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which called for the wholesale privatization of the USPS, i.e. selling it to private corporations.

The President’s executive order charged the Task Force with evaluating and reporting on the operations and finances of the United States Postal Service (USPS), such as pricing, politics and the costs of the workforce.

A core part of the report is a direct assault on the rights of postal workers to engage in collective bargaining over wages and other issues of compensation, as a path to cutting postal employee wages and benefits.

The APWU rejects the Task Force’s perspective, not only because it includes outrageous attacks on our union rights, but because, taken together, the recommendations would doom the Postal Service to failure. The APWU also believes the Task Force’s recommendations represent the first stage of getting the USPS ready for privatization, the clear goal of the current White House.

All told, the report has no less than 20 attacks on workers’ rights, 13 threats to service, and 13 privatization threats.

Attacks on Postal Employees and Retirees

While most of the report uses subtle, legal language to lay out their plans to prepare the USPS for sale, it openly calls for destroying the voices and livelihoods of both current and retired postal employees.

The report recommends:

Eliminating Collective Bargaining Rights – “The Task Force recommends that the Federal Se vice Labor-Management Relations Act be amended to apply to the USPS and its employees, and remove USPS compensation from collective bargaining.”

Cutting Wages – “USPS employee wages should be reformed in a manner consistent with proposed reports pertaining to the broader federal workforce…the Task Force recommends that the USPS more closely align compensation for both its career and non-career workers with peers in the broader labor market.”

Reducing Retirement Benefits – “Reforms are needed for the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS), in which USPS employees participate, to increase employee contributions and to convert, where possible, to a defined contribution system.”

These recommendations, if implemented, would result in APWU members losing the hard-fought gains from the 1970 Great Postal Strike. Prior to the strike, postal workers were saddled with collective “begging” reliant on the whims of Congress for pay raises and other compensation. Following the strike, collective bargaining for postal workers was written into law.

With unions weakened from gutted collective bargaining rights, there would be little standing in the way of the privatizers who want to get their hands on the $70 billion in revenue the USPS makes in a year, and use it for private profit and gain. “It’s no surprise they are coming after postal workers and our unions,” President Dimondstein said. “We, united with the people of the country, are the main obstacle standing in the way of their goal of stripping down and selling off the Postal Service.”

Service Threats

In order to get the Postal Service ready for sale, the White House Task Force recommends over a dozen cuts to service to make the USPS more “profitable.” The Postal Service’s universal service obligation is under attack.

Service cut recommendations include:

Closing Post Offices – While noting in the report that the current law prohibits the USPS from closing rural post offices solely because they are not profitable, the Task Force recommends giving the USPS “the flexibility to determine the number of post offices and collection boxes as long as it…is consistent with a financially sustainable business model.”

Increase Prices and Create a “Non-essential” vs. “Essential” price structure – “The USPS should have the authority to charge market-based prices for both mail and package items that are not deemed ‘essential service.’” This recommendation would hurt postal customers and business. The Task Force did not clearly define what would fall under “essential services.”

Reduced Delivery Days – “Given changing preferences for delivery frequency, the Task Force believes that the USPS should have greater flexibility to determine what its delivery frequency should be.”

Limits on Service Expansion – “Expanding into sectors…such as postal banking, should not be pursued.”

The ramifications of such proposals would drastically increase costs for every type of postal customer – individuals, large and small businesses, etc.

Rising costs and worsening service would hasten the public’s retreat from the Postal Service, leaving even higher costs for those left behind. It’s a classic death spiral scenario and should be rejected by everyone who relies on the Postal Service’s affordable, nationwide network to market and exchange goods and information.

Partial Privatization

Though the task force report stops short of advocating for a full-scale USPS sale to private corporations – the Administration’s end game – the Task Force recommends increased partial privatization.

Partial privatization recommendations include:

More subcontracting and work-sharing – Mentioned in three different places in the report, the Task Force wants the USPS to “expand third-party relationships.” This could eliminate thousands of good, APWU represented jobs.

Mailbox franchising – “The Task Force recommends that the USPS explore franchising the mailbox as a means of generating revenue… allowing regulated access, for a fee, to certified private companies.” This is a blatant move by big shippers like United Parcel Service (UPS) and others to start the path of privatizing delivery. It also undermines the privacy and sanctity of the mail – the only truly secure means of communication.

Exit unprofitable, “nonessential” services and products – The report advocates such services be turned over to the private sector if “not profitable” and “non-essential.”

As APWU members know from the dirty Staples/USPS deal, partial privatization of any component of mail service and delivery hurts the public in the end. “The USPS is consistently ranked a most trusted federal agency,” said President Dimondstein. “The public has no desire to see a private company take over access to their mailbox, endangering their mail privacy and security.”

'We Shall Not Be Moved'

“This report makes many of its recommendations based on myth and misinformation, that, instead of improving mail services, would deliver higher prices and less service to the public,” said President  Dimondstein in his initial press statement.

To fully privatize the Postal Service (as the OMB report of last June openly proposed), the Administration advocates initial steps to make it more attractive to potential buyers. The Task Force appears to have gotten the message and lays out a roadmap first drawn by the experience of privatized mail industries overseas: cut wages, sell-off major portions of postal operations, drastically increase prices, close retail outlets, and curtail service.

President Dimondstein concluded, “Our union will continue to strongly advocate for a robust public Postal Service and the rights of the hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants who move the mail every day.”

The Struggle Continues!

The task force report has only strengthened our resolve that “The U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale!” Current and retired postal workers’ hard-won rights are at risk if the core parts of this task force report are brought forward as legislation, or enacted by administrative means. Join us today! Learn more what you can do at UsMailNotForSale.org.

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