New CA Post Office Belies Movement to Cut Services, Facilities

Despite the plethora of post office closings and since 2011 sometimes there appears to be some good news pointing in the opposite direction.

Case in point: in Woodland Hills, CA, near Los Angeles, the U.S. Postal Service has signed an agreement to move the city’s main post office, according to the Los Angeles Daily News http://www.dailynews.com/business/20170512/us-postal-service-seals-deal-to-move-into-shuttered-macys-at-promenade-mall

The new facility is situated in shopping mall space abandoned by department store giant Macy’s and replaces an older post office in the downtown area. This Macy’s closing fits in with another growing trend: a decline in retail stores in favor of online shopping. But that’s a subject about wholesale changes in the American economy and falls outside the postal world.

There’s one big hitch in Woodland Hills: the USPS signed a lease for only a year and a half and will have to find more permanent digs thereafter. That leaves some local postal workers and customers a little confused and rightfully peeved.

The overall march to close postal facilities is otherwise still going on unabated. For many years Save the Post Office (www.savethepostoffice.com) has been steadily tracking post office shutterings and selloffs. In some cases post offices are granted landmark status but quite often they just plain close.

Last month, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) reintroduced a bipartisan bill with Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to prevent the USPS to close post rural offices under the guise of “emergency suspensions,” which often never reopen, according to the Ottawa, KS News Herald (http://www.ottawaherald.com/news/local/sen-moran-introduces-bipartisan-legislation-to-preserve-rural-post-offices/article_e068b98e-9abf-5f56-9a9a-fd16c31667b4.html.

Around the same time, McCaskill met with members of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association to discuss the ongoing plight of rural post offices https://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/improving-rural-postal-service-is-focus-of-mccaskill-meeting.
Rural post offices often serve as community centers in their area and are have long been considered essential for binding them together. While they are inefficient and costly to maintain they are essential for ensuring universal service, a keystone of the USPS’s overall mission.

Consistent with its obsession with trimming costs and services, the postal service is also removing many street collection boxes around the country. In San Francisco alone, the USPS took away nearly40 of them in the past month, according to hoodline.com http://hoodline.com/2017/05/us-postal-service-removed-nearly-40-mailboxes-last-month.

From all this, it looks like the postal service is gonna continue to mindlessly shrink itself and render itself less and less relevant to the ordinary person. Instead it’s gonna keep stressing its profitable package delivery above its basic services which everybody still needs very badly.

And don’t expect Congress to take up postal reform anytime soon. It’s got at least two things working against it. First there’s the impending resignation of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, a postal reform advocate. The second reason is Congress’s obsession to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, which is likely to spark ever-increasing popular backlash.

Under such conditions, who’s gonna think about fixing the USPS?

Posted in Affordable Healthcare Act, Democratic Party Platform, Postal Accountabillity and Enhancement Act, postal finances, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, rural postmasters, service levels, Universal Servikce | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump‘s Budget Disses USPS, Other Agencies

Well, President Trump or, more probably, the likes of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and other reprehensible people in his inner circle have discovered the U.S. Postal Service and are proposing some tired old prescriptions that have been soundly rejected before.

Like cutting out Saturday delivery and otherwise reducing services.

If nobody has been paying any attention, the idea of cutting out six-day-a-week delivery died several years ago after Congress decided it was in their interests to keep mail service levels intact and that reducing it wouldn’t really save that much money anyway. Even Postmaster General Megan Brennan even dropped it from the USPS’s wish list.

Trump’s proposals, which are buried deep within his proposed budget, also mandate cutting out front door delivery and reducing employee benefits. Doing this is supposed to y save $46 billion over 10 years, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/management/2017/05/trump-suggests-usps-cut-retirement-health-benefits-46b-savings-package/138099/?oref=govexec_today_nl.

Other proposals are more pernicious like allowing the postal service to reduce delivery frequency when there “is a business case for doing so.”

Going this route would severely affect rural communities which have fought hard for years to keep what services they have. Ironically, these are people who voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

Other proposals call for allowing post office to offer local government services in addition to their regular offerings and adding extra “flexibility” to how the USPS finances are handled. This is something everybody has been seeking for more than 25 years and made more urgent after the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which established the more than $5.8 billion obligation to cover healthcare costs for future retirees, according to Linn’s Stamp News
http://www.linns.com/news/postal-updates/2017/may/president-trump-2018-budget-usps-cost-cutting-initiatives.html.

Does this wish list have any chance to see the light of day?

Not likely since so many other Trump proposals like gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and Planned Parenthood as well as food stamps and even Social Security Disability insurance are totally dead on arrival. Remember¸ all these programs are well entrenched and very popular. All Republican Members of Congress have to get re-elected in 2018 and many of them are still hearing from their constituents in town hall meetings in their districts.

Separately, postal reform suffered a serious setback when Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, said he would retire at the end of this month, according to Normangee Star http://normangeestar.net/2017/05/22/rep-jason-chaffetz-announces-resignation-from-congress-effective-june-30/.

For more than a year, Chaffetz has guided H.R. 756, a postal reform bill through his Committee that would reduce the postal service’s future retiree healthcare obligation and provide other reforms so much so that it even won support from postal unions, according to Federal News Radio Federal; Newsradio https://federalnewsradio.com/workforce/2017/02/postal-reform-legislation-continues-momentum-union-support/.

At this moment, it’s unclear if other committee members will have the same ardor for pushing through postal reform this year,
More likely, other issues will take center stage first, especially after the President unilaterally walked away from the Paris climate accords.

Posted in Congress, Donald Trump, Postal Accountabillity and Enhancement Act, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican Party Platform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Postal Reform Die Along With Chaffetz?

The postal reform bill currently working its way through Congress is seen to have a greater chance of passing than many previous efforts over the past several years largely because it has been championed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.

But Chaffetz now carries too much baggage from his stances on some higher profile national issues like repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act and may not be around after the next Congressional election in 2018.

For that matter, how many Republican members of Congress will be around at all after passage of their repeal of the Healthcare Act earlier this month? Already vehement efforts are underway in this regard, reports the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/obamacare-repeal-vulnerable-republicans_us_590f6625e4b0d5d9049d31ce?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009&ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009.

Even before the repeal vote Chaffetz was in trouble.

That’s because the Congressman had been so besieged by constituents and others that he decided not to run for re-election next year. And he more than deserves to be thrown out of office.

According to the Hill, Chaffetz, took some heat for declaring that loud attendees at the at a recent town hall meeting in his district were opposition political operatives who were paid to “bully and intimidate” him. But with a straight face, counseled them to pay for their own healthcare rather than the latest electronic gadgets showed how snotty, elitist and out of touch he is with ordinary Americans http://thehill.com/homenews/house/329458-chaffetz-wont-run-for-reelection-report.

This is the same man who shouted down protesters at a town hall meeting in his district, accusing them of being agents of the democratic left.

On top of that, his local approval rating was beginning to tank: a Utah Policy poll this month found that 52 percent of voters in his district approved of his performance in office, dropping 14 points from a Feb. 2016.

So where does that leave potential postal reform?

Since last year, Chaffetz has championed postal reform through H.R. 756, a postal reform bill that seeks at least in part to modify the postal service’s requirement to pay at least $5.8 billion a year to the U.S. Treasury to cover healthcare expenses for future retirees until the next century. That provision, part of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, was hardly a USPS reform measure unless reform meant severely crippling the postal service if not driving the final nail in its coffin.

The Chaffetz-backed postal reform measure even won widespread support from postal unions as well as the business mailing community, according to Federal; Newsradio https://federalnewsradio.com/workforce/2017/02/postal-reform-legislation-continues-momentum-union-support/.

Since Chaffetz was already a lame duck before the healthcare repeal vote how could he now have enough influence to push USPS reform through his Committee?

Will postal reform die along with Chaffetz? Probably not. Some other member of Congress will probably take up the cause and the whole process will start over. But one thing’s for sure: the process will take a really long time.

Just look at what eventually became the 2006 reform law. The then-idea of postal reform had originally touted by former Postmaster General Marvin Runyon as far back as 1995.

Posted in Affordable Healthcare Act, Postal Accountabillity and Enhancement Act, postal finances, Rep. Jason Chaffetz | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New USPS Service Takes E-Photos of Mail

For many high school students of a certain generation there was nothing like watching the mailbox like a hawk waiting for college acceptance letters and/or new drivers licenses.

The rule of thumb in the 1970s was that a thick envelope meant college acceptance and a thin envelope passing the driver’s test and getting a license.

But in today’s world where first class mail use has plummeted and most communications are electronic and immediate the U.S. Postal Service has come up with an online way to forewarn people about what they’re gonna get in the mail.

Dubbed Informed Delivery, the service, which went live on April 12 electronically photographs all the mail set to be delivered each day to individual mailboxes and lets them know a few days ahead of time through on online messaging https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action.

While this may seem like a good idea and possibly a way to give postal mail the illusion of the immediacy of email, texts and the like Informed Delivery could have privacy violation implications by making it easier for the government, corporations and, maybe even scam artists, to see exactly what people get and when.

When all the daily information is available at one’s fingertips those entities may be better able than before to target commercial offers to recipients and further refine their targeting.

On the other hand information gleaned from Informed Delivery could potentially be used against people. For exampl they might receive too many bad debt collection letters or correspondence from law enforcement agencies whether or not they’ve been convicted of a crime.

Or, more likely, how many bills do individuals get in the mail from hospitals and other medical providers? This data could very easily be used to discriminate against people even though the amassing of medical data is supposed to be against the law.

The list of possible abuses goes on and on.

Don’t kid yourselves: extremely detailed personal information has already been available for many, many years despite some self-policing rhetoric from mailing and online industry groups which say they want to protect individual privacy.

But Informed Delivery does provide another means for further profiling people that can very easily be used to corroborate existing information whether accurate or not.

Informed Delivery is not that new an idea. Since the 1990s the USPS has been photographing the outsides of most mail pieces it delivers to help route and sort mail. And for the past few years, the postal service has occasionally shared this information with law enforcement agencies investigating specific cases, according to Linn’s Stamp News http://www.linns.com.

Right now, the USPS is using Informed Delivery in a handful of locations around the country. Maybe it’ll take off and help people better appreciate their six-day-a-week mail service. Or it could fall flat like so many other ideas for enhancing the postal service.

At least Informed Delivery is not as absurd as the 2011 proposal to sell beer and wine in post offices.

Posted in postal facilities, Privacy, service levels, U.S. Postal Service | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Some Postal Workers Are Passionate About Their Jobs

You might be surprised but at least two postal workers in Washington State find fulfillment and feel passionately their abilities to serve people and relate to their communities.

Adeoye Ladipo, a Nigerian immigrant who was formerly a nurse decided a few years ago to take a job as a letter carrier. That was  after a patient in the hospital where he worked suggested that his ability to relate to and empathized with people made him a natural for a job where he would be in contact with them every day, according to the Woodinville (WA) Weekly
http://www.nwnews.com/index.php/local/news-features/14380-passion-for-the-post-office-two-employees-on-why-they-love-what-they-do.

Even though he’s not dealing with life and death issues every day on his route, Ladipo grasps the absolute necessity of his job and takes it quite seriously. “It is something to be protected, safeguarded like a baby,” he said.

Then there’s Lisa Curtis, who left her home in Salem, OR to become a clerk at the same office and loves the daily interaction with people.

Granted there are many stories out there about postal workers who are surly and otherwise dysfunctional, to say nothing about those who “go postal” shoot and kill people. This happened few times during the 1990s when the term “going postal” entered the national lexicon.

By and large most postal workers are helpful and in certain parts of the country, particularly rural areas they are a lifeline to the outside world

Maybe current-day conditions are not quite as dire as they were in Alaska in the 1920s when Balto and other sled dogs famously brought the serum to Nome to fight a diphtheria outbreak.

At that moment, when air travel was in its infancy, roads in the state nearly non-existent and communications archaic by today’s standards people absolutely depended on the mail for communication with the outside world, Gay and Laney Salisbury reported in their book The Cruelest Miles http://laneysalisbury.com/T.

Why blame postal workers as being especially dysfunctional and anti-social? There are many many more examples of random gun violence in this country–way too many to mention with no end in sight.

All these years later people tend to forget things how some postal workers died in the line of duty from exposure to anthrax-contaminated mail just after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

So why does the USPS and others always want to keep reducing their numbers?

It’s sorry rhetoric—and provably untrue—that electronic communications methods are making mail obsolete. Yeah it’s true nobody sends out first class letters anymore but the USPS has gradually been building up its package delivery services for many years now and also depends very heavily on standard mail, also known as junk mail to fill its coffers.

Last time I checked there’s no shortage of junk mail.

Since 2006, the postal service has carried multi-billion dollar deficits thanks largely—though by no means exclusively—to its annual $5.8 billion obligation to pay for healthcare expenses of future retirees until the next century. This provision was slipped into the last postal reform bill in 2006 and has singlehandedly made the USPS a perpetual debtor. Some say it may have been intended to destroy the postal service as we know it.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the USPS reported a net loss of approximately $200 million, drastically reduced from years past http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2017/pr17_007.htm.

A new postal reform bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R_UT) seeks to ease some of these obligations, according to USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/03/01/debt-plagued-us-postal-service-eyes-bipartisan-bill-solve-woes/97944594/.

But there’s no guarantee it will pass anytime soon. Especially with the onslaught new political crises in the federal government.

Whatever happens we’ll still need good postal workers like Ladipo and Curtis to keep things running smoothly.

Posted in Postal Accountabillity and Enhancement Act, Postal employees, postal facilities, rural postmasters, service levels | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

USPS-Staples Pact Nixed; But Trouble Looms for Union

The U.S. Postal Service cancelled its deal to sell postal products through Staples office products superstores, in a victory for the American Postal Workers Union. But that may be hollow in face of what the incoming all-Republican government wants to do with federal workers–including postal employees.

The USPS will discontinue selling postal products in all its nationwide locations in March, due largely to pressure from the APWU, which led a nationwide boycott against the company for about three years. On top of that, the union took this matter to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which in November ruled that the USPS’s arrangement with Staples violated collective bargaining agreements with the union.

The postal service had previously estimated that this arrangement with Staples could cut its labor costs by a whopping 66 percent. It would also undercut the power of the union.

OK score one for labor right now, maybe.

According to the APWU, the postal service informed it in writing that it would abort the deal with Staples. Maybe it wasn’t worth it to further engage in what was more than likely protracted legal battle with the labor group. Just the same, a rabidly anti-union Trump NLRB would surely have overturned the labor board’s earlier ruling.

But the APWU and federal government workers are likely going to have serious problems going forward.

As Trump prepares to take office, Congressional Republicans are wasting no time in trying to gut federal worker protections and compensation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has proposed a bill that would make it easier to fire government workers, cut their compensation and even remove many from Washington, DC, according to the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/01/10/beware-chaffetz-committee-plans-broad-agenda-affecting-feds/?utm_term=.1ff9f249a818.

Central to Chaffetz’s proposals are schemes to cut down on employee pensions and getting them to contribute more to their own retirement plans. A less generous pension plan may be on the offing for postal workers anyway.

More than a year ago, Sen Thomas Carper (D-DE) proposed a postal reform bill that would require newly hired employees to pay more out of pocket for their retirement plans. This practice has been going on for very many years in the private sector.

Then there’s the separate issue of making the USPS pay more than $5.8 billion a year to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees until well into the next century. This was part of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which many observers saw as a stratagem for killing off a public postal service and paving the way for a possible privatization.

Carper’s 2015 bill offered a way to modify this obligation. The measure did not seek its outright repeal but, hey, politicians always look for compromises. It didn’t matter anyway since the bill never saw the light of day.

The new all-GOP Congress will undoubtedly spurn any proposal that could in any way benefit workers or preserve a public postal service.

In fact, Chaffetz’s rhetoric sounds strikingly similar to that of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) his processor as Chairman House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa had a renowned hostility for unions and kept introducing draconian postal reform bills he knew well would never go anywhere.

The only silver lining here, if you could call it that, lies in the fact that Trump has his hands full with trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pursuing other pie-in-the sky ideas he thinks can become law instantly.

Does our incoming President have the patience to get involved with an issue as complex and unexciting as the postal service?

As if he ever knew or cared anything about the USPS.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, National Labor Relations Board, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, Staples | Leave a comment

Could Postal Reform Pass in a Lame Duck Congress?

New postal reform legislation could pass during the current lame duck session of Congress in which members of the outgoing body tries pass legislation they didn’t get to before the election.

Congress could conceivably sneak through a bill that could cut six-day-a-week mail delivery, replace door-to-door mail delivery with neighborhood cluster boxes, close more and possibly further tinker with or cut postal worker benefits and produce other abhorrent results, according to the American Postal Workers Union http://www.apwu.org/news/deptdiv-news-article/what-expect-lame-duck-congress.

All this is worth thinking about since last postal reform bill, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 was pushed through during that session. That’s the law that established the annual $5.8 billion obligation for the USPS to pay to cover he healthcare costs of future retirees until nearly the next century.

The PAEA, which took 11 years to pass, did do some good such as establishing small predictable annual postage increases in place of the random haphazard system in place beforehand.

But the law did sneak in some very dangerous provisions that essentially created the USPS’s financial calamities. Plus it was not well publicized: news of its passage, for instance, was buried deep in an inside page of the New York Times when it came out during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day that year

So it’s quite possible something like this could happen again.

Maybe not. After all, the legislative process leading to the PAEA was effectively completed when the pre-funding provision was slipped into it.

The current postal reform proposals have not cleared committee in either the House or Senate and the entire process will likely have to begin afresh next year.

Meanwhile, the USPS’s financial mess goes on and on even though the service has greatly cut its costs over the past few years.

For the year ended Sept.Sept.30, the USPS reported a net loss of $5.6 billion for as compared to a net loss of $5.1 billion last year. Without the healthcare obligation, the postal service would have reported net income of approximately $200 million in 2016 http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2016/pr16_092.htm.

Of course, a lot of this cost cutting has come from closing distribution facilities and post offices and lowering service standards made possible from firing employees. And the USPS shows no sign of stopping this despite persistent opposition from Congress as well as business and labor groups.

But the USPS’s well documented problems and efforts to stay alive in face of everything has not stopped ultra-right-wing bloviators like the American Spectator from calling for the abolition of the postal service’s mail monopoly which would supposedly open the postal service to competition and make it more efficient https://spectator.org/keeping-the-postal-service-from-going-postal/.

Besides deliberately misunderstanding the causes of the USPS’s persistent deficits, the publication reflexively calls for diminishing the nation’s oldest most trusted and even most reliable institution.

As ridiculous and deranged as this argument seems let’s hope it doesn’t come to the attention of President Trump.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Postal Accountabillity and Enhancement Act, postal facilities, postal finances | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump NLRB Likely to Scuttle Postal Union’s Staples Victory

A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that the U.S. Postal Service cannot sell stamps or other products through Staples office supplies superstores, in an apparent victory for postal labor unions.

But don’t expect that this ruling will stand up in a pro-corporate NLRB during the Trump administration.

The USPS will no doubt waste no time in appealing this ruling to the five-member board. When Trump takes office the NLRB will have three Republican members.

In the unlikely event that this decision stands the postal service will likely further appeal it to a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

So it looks like this case might be tied up in court for a long time.

What remains uncertain now is how Trump might resolve conflict of interest accusations against his two nominees for the NLRB. What does seem sure is that he might well be able to rework the agency that took action against him over alleged violations committed at two of his Las Vegas hotels, according to CNN
http://money.cnn.com/2016/11/17/news/companies/trump-hotel-labor-dispute/.

In his decision issued earlier this month NLRB administrative law judge Paul Bogas ruled that the postal service had violated a subcontracting provision in its collective bargaining agreement with the American Postal Workers Union http://www.apwu.org/sites/apwu/files/news-attachments/Administrative%20Law%20Judges%20Decision%20%283%29.pdf

Specifically, Judge Bogas upheld an earlier complaint charging that the USPS intentionally and illegally violated a provision in its collective bargaining agreement with the labor group by subcontracting work to Staples employees without regard to how this would affect postal employees.

The overall effect of the postal service’s arrangement with Staples and others was to undermine the strength of the unionized workers and have the USPS replace them with inexperienced retail employees whose wages—and benefits, if any—were much lower. The postal service estimated that doing this could cut its labor costs by 66%.

For the past few years the APWU and other unions have been demonstrating at individual Staples locations in several cities across the country with support from such other unions as the American Federation of Teachers.

Going forward, labor groups are generally girding their loins for what they see as a long uphill fight over the coming years, according to Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-unions-idUSKBN1343LU.

Another thing standing in the way of protecting postal jobs overall is the USPS’s massive deficit caused by an obligatory annual payment to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees until the next century. In year ended Sept. 30, the USPS reported a net loss of $5.6 billion, driven almost entirely by this requirement
http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2016/pr16_092.htm.

The mandatory payment, which no other federal agency has, was inserted into the 2006 postal reform law and was widely as a way to help kill off the postal service, if not high paying unionized postal jobs.

Consequently since 2011, the USPS has been closing post offices and distribution facilities also resulting on the losses of thousands of union jobs.

Given his stated opposition to government jobs in general, Trump is quite unlikely to do anything to preserve unionized postal positions. But Trump probably has a lot more high profile issues he’d rather work on first.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Donald Trump, National Labor Relations Board, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, Staples | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Would Halt Post Office Suspensions

A new bill that would prevent the U.S. Postal Service from shuttering post offices under the guise of “emergency suspensions” has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) https://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/hundreds-of-post-office-closures-would-be-addressed-with-mccaskill-bill-to-prevent-emergency-postal-suspensions.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) would bar the postal service from suspending post office operations—which can last indefinitely—without informing communities and setting up an appeals process for post office closures.

Suspensions are euphemisms for the more or less permanent closure of post offices and are a backdoor way for the USPS to shed post offices.

Such accountability is sorely lacking right now and could make the USPS more responsive. So if this bill goes anywhere you can bet the postal service and its allies will resist the hell out of it.

This legislation goes to the heart of the USPS’s move to winnow out rural post offices, regardless of their longstanding importance to their communities as both a commercial necessity and as an anchor and meeting place.

Since 2011, the USPS has closed 650 post offices and 511 remain shuttered.

This antipathy toward smaller post offices has been growing over a least the past five years when the USPS began closing facilities around the country in attempts to save money. They began under the direction of former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe who was widely seen as an advocate for postal privatization.

Since then, protests of varying degrees have erupted in many areas of the country leading a group of Senators led by Jon Tester (D-MT) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) who formally complained to Postmaster General Megan about how much these closings hurt people in rural locations http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.

The USPS said in 2015 that it put a moratorium on additional closures until this past May.

Despite all this backlash the USPS is still running headlong into shuttering as many post offices as possible. Even during a Presidential and Congressional election year.
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With the Senate currently out of session before the election, it’s not likely much will happen this year who knows whether a lame duck Congress will take this up after the election. Congress is more likely to focus on more high profile issues such as the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Looking ahead, McCaskill’s Senate term does not expire until 2018. Moran is up for election this year but is considered likely to be re-elected. If so, one would hope they reintroduce this bill in the next Congress. But who knows in this turbulent election year?

Posted in Congress, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, service levels, U.S. Postal Service | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

USPS Cluster Boxes Drawing More Fire

Dissatisfaction with U.S. Postal Service’s cluster boxes is growing with at least one member of Congress introducing a bill to roll back their installation in new housing developments.

Cluster boxes are centralized mail drop-off points now used mainly in newly built suburban developments. They are seen as a way for the USPS to begin reducing delivery to people’s front doors.

They came about thanks to a 2012 USPS rule change that permitted their installation in new suburban housing developments. This rule change was supposed to improve postal efficiency.

Besides reducing American mail delivery standards to levels prevalent in countries like Pakistan cluster boxes are increasingly making mail more vulnerable to theft and generally less private.

This situation led Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) to introduce H.R. 5750, a bill that would force the postal service to deliver mail to individual addresses in new housing developments instead of to these centralized drop-off points https://dougcollins.house.gov/press-releases/collins-bill-rolls-back-postal-service-overreach-provides-relief-to-local-homeowners/.
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Since Congress is now out of session it’s uncertain whether the House will take up this legislation during the lame duck session after the election or if it will be introduced again next year. That assumes Collins is re-elected.

Once again the USPS failed to take into account the needs of disabled and or elderly people who may not have the ability to walk to these boxes. And why should they have to?

The postal service’s rule change came about 22 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act https://www.ada.gov/. This law requires government agencies and corporations to accommodate the handicapped.

Did the USPS’s legal staff ever think of this? Did its lawyers think the postal service’s quasi-governmental status exempted it from complying with this civil rights legislation?

In any case, his rule change could possibly bring about lawsuits under the ADA, if anybody knew about it and its possible illegality.

Of course any lawsuit likely to take a long time to resolve and may not end the cluster box practice.

For ostensibly political reasons, Collins characterizes cluster boxes as USPS overreach that also infringes on the rights of private property owners. Many Republicans often resort to this kind of rhetoric when they come across regulations they don’t like.

But in this case, their criticisms are valid.

This is hardly the first case of the USPS trying to shove cluster boxes into new housing developments.

About a year ago, the USPS was planning to install them in eastern Pennsylvania, according to Lehighvalleylive.com http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breakingnews/index.ssf/2014/10/us_postal_service_wants_new_de.html.

The USPS is shooting itself in the foot if it continues to plant cluster boxes by diminishing the traditional functions that people have expected from it for more than 200 years.

The country cannot allow this to happen.

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Postal Service Still Needs the Human Touch

The corporate powers that be never miss a trick in calling for the automation of functions now carried out by human beings all in the name of improving efficiency.

In the latest case, 247wallst.com reports that Swiss Post has already begun testing automated systems to have robots take over postal functions including delivery to homes and businesses http://247wallst.com/services/2016/09/13/can-robots-replace-thousands-of-us-postal-service-employees/.

Citing this, the online global equity investment journal asks if such things are not far behind for the U.S. Postal Service. After all, if driverless cars are coming on the scene so why not robotic postal workers?

The e-newsletter invokes the usual tired rhetoric and blather about how the USPS is overstaffed, bleeds money and so forth. It also plays down the effects of the annual $5.8 billion healthcare costs it must shoulder for future retirees until the next century. It also refuses to acknowledge how much this obligation was the creation of hostile members of Congress when the last postal reform law was passed in 2006.

Or even how much the USPS has actually recovered financially in the past few years.

Perhaps most importantly, 247wallst.com ignores how important postal workers have always been to their individual communities, especially in rural areas where the USPS has been trying to drastically cut back on services for years.

A few years ago, the postal service would have shuttered dozens of postal distribution facilities—and even more post offices–if it had not incurred the wrath of several Senators led by Jon Tester (D-MT) http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.

These Senators probably wouldn’t have taken up this issue if their constituent businesses had not complained loudly about it.

Historically, postal workers have always been the only agent of the federal government that interacted with individual people and in some cases the sole link to the outside world.

In Alaska in the 1920s postmen filled this role when they had to deliver mail using sled dog teams. This was true even before famed sled dog Balto led the team that brought diphtheria serum to the remote outpost of Nome, Alaska in 1925, as Gay and Laney Salisbury reported in their book The Cruelest Miles http://laneysalisbury.com/TheCruelestMiles.html.

For other less dramatic postal duties the human brain supersedes machines.

Case in point: the USPS actually employs people whose sole job is to decipher badly written addresses http://wap.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/us/where-mail-with-illegible-addresses-goes-to-be-read.html?from=homepage

Maybe machines could eventually do this. Although this idea sounds good in theory perfecting such devices may take a while. Just look at how often global positioning devices provide automobile drivers wrong or misleading information.

At the heart of this robotization issue is greed, the and desire to privatize the USPS and turn it into a cash cow that would ultimately make it function with few, if any, employees. Most likely this would benefit large corporations and make the USPS even less accountable to ordinary people.

For at least the past 20 years the federal government has been selling off to for-profit operators many functions including prisons and military operations. There’s probably no turning back.
Since businesses—and even public entities– are always looking to cut costs a totally automated workerless postal service may come about some time in the future.

One hopes this day will never come. But who knows? Acclaimed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury predicted 24-hour-a-day robot bank tellers in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.

Who today isn’t totally dependent on automated teller machines?

Posted in automation, Congress, Postal employees, postal finances, robots | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

USPS Suit Claims Supremacy over Berkeley Post Office

The U.S. Postal Service is once again proving its disdain for the wishes of ordinary people and how much of a sore loser it is.

The USPS has just filed suit against the City of Berkeley, CA, contending that the municipality has no right to restrict commercial development of its landmarked main post office building, according to Berkeleyside.com.

But if the suit is successful it may doom nationwide efforts to stop post office closures and selling them off to private real estate developers.

At any rate, the postal service’s latest action suggests how much the agency is in thrall to politically-connected private real estate interests.

This whole issue began back on 2014 when a group of local activists began protesting the postal service’s plans to close that city’s main post office and sell it off to private developers.

Specifically, Berkeley had just passed legislation that year restricting the post office and eight other surrounding buildings to such civic uses such as museums, libraries and performance venues.

That law pertains only to the main post office building. In passing it the city violated the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

The Supremacy Clause states that the U.S. Constitution takes precedence over state and local laws and even state constitutions, according to the Cornell University Law School https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/supremacy_clause.

This lawsuit may help clarify the reach of the Supremacy Clause.

Protests against shuttering Berkeley’s main post office building sale got so heated that longtime consumer rights and political activist Ralph Nader got involved. Two years ago he went to the city to encourage local activists in their fight to prevent the deal from going through.
..
Nader should know about uphill battles. In the 1960s he wrote the Book “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

The famed consumer advocate and one-time Presidential candidate did warn the activists to keep plugging away because this fight if far from over. He should know.

Because about a half century since he came out with this book “General Motors’ Corvair car http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsafe_at_Any_Speed#.22The_Sporty_Corvair.22 the automotive giant apparently hasn’t learned its lesson.

Over the past few years, GM installed faulty ignition switches in many cars which allegedly led to deaths, product recalls and lawsuits.

These postal activists belong to the National Post Office Collaborate, http://www.nationalpostofficecollaborate.com, an organization that’s battling post office closures all across the country. But the organization has strong forces working against it in resisting the USPS’s selloff plans.

One of them is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She’s married to Richard Blum, chairman of CBRE, the real estate giant that has a contract with the postal service to sell off its properties without competitive bidding.

The USPS put the building up for sale because it used less the USPS put the Berkeley building up for sale.  Because the USPS used less than 10 percent of the building’s available space. the deficit-ridden agency thought it might be able to make some money and help improve its financial position.

That’s a specious argument considering that the USPS’s deficit was artificially created in 2006 when Congress slapped the postal service with an annual $5.8 billion obligation to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees.

No post office building sale I likely to bring in quite that much despite the ever increasing prices of commercial real estate even if it’s landmarked.

What’s more, the outcome of this suit could affect other potential post office building sales across the country many of which are not landmarked but have served their communities well for years.

One small example is the shutdown of the Stuyvesant Station Post Office on New York’s east side.

Despite years of loud neighborhood protests, the USPS has seen fit to sell off the building and convert it into condominiums for the wealthy in about two years, according to local newspaper Town & Village https://town-village.com/2016/08/12/east-14th-street-slated-to-open-in-2018/.

These post office selloffs could go unchecked for years and line the pockets of wealthy developers at the expense of local communities.

Posted in postal facilities, U.S. Postal Service | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Banking Could Strengthen Core USPS Services

Now Hillary Clinton seems to be embracing the idea that U.S. Postal Service could begin offering financial services can we believe her?

With the Democratic Presidential nomination wrapped up she may be able to ignore many campaign platform ideas put forward by former competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that included strengthening and preserving the U.S. Postal Service. These include establishing financial services intended to serve the needs of lower income people shunned by traditional banks.

All too often political parties ignore their platforms—which are nonbinding anyway– as they move into campaigning in the general election.
Even if the financial powers that be accept idea of a postal bank, they are adamantly opposed to reviving the Glass-Steagall Act, the Great Depression-era legislation that separated retail banking from investment banking, as CNBC points out http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/24/why-hillary-clinton-thinks-making-the-postal-service-a-bank-too-is-a-good-idea.html.

And how could the USPS even get it off the ground and wouldn’t take years before a postal bank would be operation and wouldn’t Congress have to approve such a major undertaking anyway?

Agreed. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

Remember, the Office of the USPS Inspector General estimated such a financial services operation could easily reach people through its network of more than 31,000 post offices across the country. What’s more such an entity could reap potential revenue of more than $1.3 billion a year.

Just the same, the USPS still wants to cut back on providing basic door-to-door mail delivery services in selected areas

One of the biggest examples of this is the practice of installing cluster boxes in places like suburban developments. . Instead of delivering to each door as it has for more than 200 years, the USPS would deliver mail only to centralized drop boxes, in effect ending the privacy of personal—and business—mail delivery.
Doing this would effectively lower service standards to what exists in counties like Pakistan where everybody’s mail is delivered once a week in large piles in village squares.

This issue has been seething for nearly two years now when it was reported that the USPS had begun doing this in at least one housing development in eastern Pennsylvania.

What’s worse is that gradually shifting delivery to cluster boxes has been proposed in bipartisan bills now pending in Congress. Surprisingly, the National Association of Letter Carriers seems to largely go along with these measures, although the labor group does oppose the cluster box provision, according to The Hill http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/289933-bipartisan-usps-reform-legislation-will-strengthen-agency.

Meanwhile, the postal service wants to broaden its new experimental grocery delivery service to more cities. The postal service teamed up with Amazon.com more than a year ago. While the parties are keeping financial results under wraps, the mere fact that they’re looking to expand the venture strongly suggests profitability potential, reports Consumerist https://consumerist.com/2016/07/12/u-s-postal-service-asks-to-continue-grocery-delivery-experiment-until-fall-2017-expand-to-more-cities/.

This experiment shows exactly what the postal service can do through its vast presence and historically well-proven delivery abilities. Building on these strengths makes more sense. Scaling back services can only make overall matters worse.

Posted in Amazon.com, Congress, Democratic Party Platform, Hillary Clinton, Office of the USPS inspector General, Postal banking, Postal employees, postal finances, service levels | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pence Likely Hostile to Postal Workers

To cap off his extremist Paleolithic platform and views GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump has chosen as his running mate a man who wants to gut the federal workforce.

One can only shudder at what Indiana Governor Mike Pence may want to do to postal jobs if the pair was ever elected. First off they want to cut salaries and make it easier to fire most federal employees, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2016/07/gop-platform-cut-feds-pay-and-benefits-while-making-it-easier-fire-them/130032/?oref=top-story.

While the federal government has no direct authority over USPS day-to-day management personnel reductions in the rest of the government could have a spillover effect on the postal service—especially if both houses of Congress remain in Republican hands.

It’s well-known Pence is closely allied with the ultra-conservative libertarian Koch Brothers who generally oppose and government of any kind, especially one that stands in the way of their business operations, which include a lot of fossil fuel concerns, according to the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/us/politics/mike-pence-kochs-fundraising.html?_r=0.

Pence also peddled false conspiracy theories linking ex-Iraq leader Saddam Hussein to the 2001 anthrax attacks at postal facilities and Senatorial offices in Washington DC and elsewhere in which at least five people died, says Wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_attacks.

Those biological warfare tactics began about a week after the Sept. 11 terrorism at New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA.

Was linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 a responsible position for a then-Congressional Representative? Especially one now potentially a heartbeat away from the President who could end up as the effective President when Trump gets bored with the day-to-day duties of the office as some observers now point out.

As it turned out a former federal employee was responsible for the anthrax attacks. That investigation lasted nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, the House Government Oversight Committee has passed two separate bipartisan postal reform bills just before Congress was set to go on a break.

According to Federal Soup, the bills seek to rejigger the way postal pensions are calculated and administered and call for reducing the size of the USPS Board of Governors https://federalsoup.com/articles/2016/07/13/house-committee-passes-postal-reform-bills.aspx?s=FD_140716.

There may be some merit to adjusting postal pensions but any bill that does not abolish the postal service’s annual $5.8 billion obligation to cover future retiree healthcare costs is totally meaningless.
And reducing the size of the USPS governing panel doesn’t count for much when the Senate has sat on naming new members for about a year and a half.

But at least some members of Congress are trying to do something besides spouting caustic, hurtful and ultimately unworkable political blather.

Posted in Congress, Democratic Party Platform, Donald Trump, Gov. Mike Pence, Postal employees, postal finances, USPS Board of Governors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could a Public USPS Survive in a Trump Presidency?

Predictably, the Republican platform plank on the U.S. Postal Service spouts mindless corporate drivel about how outmoded the USPS is in the internet age and how private enterprise should make more incursions into its operations.

That is, if GOP platform drafters even thought much at all about the postal service and what it means to the country as a whole.

More seriously, the platform ignores the needs and wishes of the more than $9 billion-a-year mailing industry that depends on a public postal service for its survival.

Mind you, most of the people in this business are conservative Republicans themselves. While many toe the line that the USPS is overstaffed and could use downsizing, they dislike not having their mail on time, especially if it’s first class mail like bills and such.

Delivery delays can have potentially lethal consequences. What if people in rural and otherwise outlying areas can’t have medicine delivered on time?

That’s to say nothing about ordinary people getting slapped with late fees on credit card bills that arrive late because the USPS lowered delivery standards in 2012 after it closed distribution facilities and post offices.

This issue was first reported by Omaha.com.

Needless to say, the GOP platform completely ignored the proposal from the Office of the USPS Inspector General to set up banking operations that would serve lower income people usually shunned by commercial banks.

The Republicans are not known for thinking so progressively.

The platform sneers at the postal service, stating that, “in a world of rapidly advancing telecommunications, mail delivery from the era of the Pony Express cannot long survive.”

Never mind that the postal service has done and continues to do so. Or that technological advancements in communications can shut out vast segments of the population that can’t necessarily afford or use them.

The position document also refers to the “downsizing made inevitable by the advance of internet communication.”

In code words, this sounds like a swipe at the highly unionized postal workforce which the GOP would like to get rid of. The Republicans have made no secret of their hostility to postal labor groups. That was especially true with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) former Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee who continually proposed unworkable measures to curtail their power and essentially privatize the USPS.

“In light of the Postal Service’s seriously underfunded pension system, Congress should explore a greater role for private enterprise in appropriate aspects of the mail-processing system,” the platform continues.

The platform does not go into any details here. But this position totally ignores the $5.8 billion-a-year obligation for to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees stuck into the 2006 postal reform bill that has helped bankrupt the USPS ever since.

In the past few years the USPS has been able to cut expenses and nearly break even, if not for this financial millstone that no other federal agency carries.

Overall, the GOP platform contains a lot of shrill rhetoric including a section devoted to “American Exceptionalism.” Trouble is many people may take this too seriously.

Posted in Congress, Donald Trump, Postal banking, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, Republican Party Platform, rural postmasters | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Democrats Keep Postal Planks in Platform?

The draft of the Democratic platform calls for maintaining a public postal service, restoring previous service levels and eliminating “the unsustainable” $5.5 billion a year obligation to pre-pay the healthcare costs of future retirees and even offering new financial services https://demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2016-DEMOCRATIC-PARTY-PLATFORM-DRAFT-7.1.16.pdf.

The convention takes place later this month in Philadelphia.

This platform plank may have come about as a result of pressure from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a longtime advocate of the public who is staying in the Presidential race to influence policy positions. Sanders has still has not endorsed the presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton though at deadline this is reportedly causing friction within the party, according to the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-house-dems_us_577d2625e4b041646411587d.

The prefunding requirement was slipped into the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. While this law did reform the USPS in many ways such as establishing a regular predictable postal rate increase schedule it so far has contributed massively to the agency’s deficits seemingly perpetual financial deficits. Some have alleged its purpose was to destroy the USPS.

What’s more, this mandate has essentially given the USPS carte blanche to close postal facilities and reduce service levels. These have been going on for at least the past five years and have only been slowed down, thanks in part to pressure from a handful of Senators and others.
Will this platform item make the final cut intact and be incorporated into the Party’s overall position?

Let’s hope so but there are many forces out there that would like to keep things the way they are.

Take for example the banking and financial services industries. Even though a postal bank would aim at low-income customers traditionally shunned by banks they still aren’t likely to tolerate any competition from anybody.

Suppose other people think they might get better financial services via the USPS?

On a more basic level, the Democrats say also they favor maintaining six-day-a-week door-to-door mail delivery and a fully staffed Postal Regulatory Commission and USPS Board of Governors. The BOG has had only one member as nominations have been tied up in Congress.

Over the past few years, the postal service has repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, pushed for five-day mail delivery. The USPS has also experimented with dropping mail in centralized boxes in housing developments instead of individual addresses, hence reducing normal American delivery standards to third world levels.
Meantime, the same lame postal reform proposals keep coming up that only want to reduce the prefunding requirement.

In the latest one, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have come up with a new bill that would allow Medicare to absorb some of these healthcare costs and effectively end the prefunding requirement, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/management/2016/06/bipartisan-house-leaders-introduce-new-proposal-overhaul-postal-service/129122/.

This measure is all well and good but it misses the point: the original 2006 provision was put in the law with the not-so-subtle intention of destroying the public postal service. Only repealing it will ensure the survival of a public postal service.

In any case, it seems unlikely that any postal reform bill could pass this year. No one really knows what the political landscape will look

Posted in Congress, Democratic Party Platform, Hillary Clinton, Postal banking, postal facilities, postal finances, service levels, USPS Board of Governors | Tagged | Leave a comment

U.S. Postal Service Well Worth Fighting For

At last somebody recognizes the value and tradition of the public post office and how it kept the country together—and really still does.

In a new book, author Winifred Gallagher outlines how the U.S. Post Office began by keeping the 13 colonies from falling apart. Part of this stemmed from allowing the free flow of radical-for-the-times ideas in newspapers which were delivered by mail. This often brought on the consternation of the European governments of the day. She also describes how the post office grew over the intervening years to keep all the new states and territories connected, according to savethepostoffice.com http://savethepostoffice.com/how-the-post-office-created-america-book-review/.

Unfortunately, today there are many out there who want to privatize the U.S. Postal Service and further degrade it in the process. But they are not completely getting their way. At least not without a fight.

In one egregious example over the past couple of years, Mickey Barnett, a top executive in payday lending industry, was nominated to the USPS Board of Governors.

Payday lenders are some of the sleaziest and exploitive financial outfits around. So much so that new legislation has been introduced to rein them in and already that’s generated opposition from entrenched interests, according to PBS http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/house-panel-moves-to-block-obama-regulations-on-payday-loans/.

Do we really want these people overseeing the USPS?

Since that nomination was put forth last year, the Senate has not acted and the board of governors still has only one outside member despite steady rumblings from the mailing industry.

Don’t these idiots in Congress realize how important the mailing industry still is to corporate America? Or do they mistakenly think their long-term interests might be better served by a weakened USPS?

With Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) all but having bowed out of the Presidential race, maybe he’ll go back to the Senate and resume his advocacy for postal issues. His term does not run out until 2018.

Before he jumped into the Presidential race Senator has been a staunch believer in a public postal service, reports the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/11/09/bernie-sanderss-passion-for-the-prosaic-or-why-the-post-office-is-part-of-what-makes-america-great/.
The nomination to the Postal governing panel may seem like pretty small potatoes considering Congress has not confirmed or even held hearings on U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee Merrick Garland.

Even if Congress doesn‘t want to fill high profile positions, it has no business leaving vacant lower posts in the federal government which often directly affect our lives and businesses more closely.

This is a huge gamble since it’s not at all certain that Republicans will win either the Presidency or keep control over both houses of Congress.
Separately, the National Labor Relations Board may hold up the integrity of USPS employees later this year.

Earlier this month, the NLRB said it had wrapped up hearings on the complaint brought by the American Postal Workers Union that charged the USPS with violating collective bargaining agreements by allowing clerks in Staples office supplies stores to sell postal products there, according to the labor group http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/nlrb-hearing-staples-concludes.

The APWU originally brought this action, arguing that Staples personnel lacked the proper training of postal employees and are paid much less.
Staples’ postal sales efforts may be further complicated with the recent departure of its CEO Ron Sargent, following the collapse of Staples’ proposed merger with Office Depot, according to Armnet.com http://www.arnnet.com.au/article/601215/staples-global-boss-ron-sargent-departs/.

In any case, there are still many people out there who still want to preserve the Postal Service as we know it against the relentless corporate greed that apparently guides American society and wants to privatize everything in sight. Let’s hope they can prevail.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Postal banking, Postal employees, postal facilities, Uncategorized, USPS Board of Governors | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

USPS Should Stay Away From Bitcoin Technology

One of the stupidest ideas to save the U.S. Postal Service has just come to pass: to develop a digital currency modeled on Bitcoin (https://www.bitcoin.com).

Trouble is this idea comes not from the USPS itself but the office of the USPS Inspector General which should know better https://uspsoig.gov/document/blockchain-technology-possibilities-us-postal-service.

Specifically, the Inspector General’s office is proposing that the postal service begin adopting what is known as blockchain technology, systems that reportedly will enable it to streamline and possibly even develop its own brand if digital currency tentatively named Postcoin modeled on Bitcoin.

Simply put, Blockchain technology is a system that allows entities to pay others though a new system of special digital exchanges that could potentially further automate and streamline postal service operations and international financial transactions.

Down the road, this technology might also help the postal service improve operational efficiencies by better tracking the movement of mail if not make it easier to transfer money to foreign postal authorities or banks, the report continued.

However, blockchain-based services are not regulated by any governments of anybody else and many are being investigated for possible fraud and financial improprieties. In fact this problem has grown so much that many banks are now calling for new digital technology that would create parallel systems to monitor such fraud, according to Bloomberg.com http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-22/fraud-in-4-trillion-trade-finance-turns-banks-to-digital-ledger.

It’s painfully obvious that blockchain technology is way too risky for the USPS to fool with right now.

What’s more, blockchain technology and the idea of virtual currencies are barely comprehensible to the average person. So how the hell can we expect postal executives and/or employees to understand and work with this newfangled technology?

The USPSOIG did however caution that there might be regulatory and other barriers to overcome before they can be accepted, let alone adopted.

Let’s step back for a second: blockchain technology lacks paper records let alone as-yet undeveloped digital tracking systems to monitor transactions.

Even if the USPS could get this off the ground how well could the postal service handle it?

For starters, the postal service would have to stave off almost certain opposition from the financial industry which would probably foam at the mouth and lobby viciously to take over any such potentially lucrative and unaccountable system.

The Inspector General’s office came up with a much better idea in 2013 when it proposed that the postal service develop a new banking system designed to give poorer and less creditworthy individuals shunned by mainstream banks an alternative means of handling their finances https://www.uspsoig.gov/story/white-papers/examining-road-ahead-postal-financial-services#.VYGQLIVTN_M.

This banking system would also keep with the USPS’s core mission of serving the people—especially the poorer and less educated. Does anybody in positions of power or influence remember them?

Maybe the USPS won’t have to worry so much about blockchain technology if Congress got off its hindquarters and passes a postal reform bill with backing from the Republican Party, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2016/05/house-unveil-smaller-scale-postal-reform-soon/128222/?oref=relatedstories.

The as-yet to be introduced House bill would reportedly be more modest in scope than a Senate version proposed by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and passed last year http://www.carper.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=9502B56A-351E-478F-9400-A046079CF3DE.

With 2016 nearly half over and Presidential politics taking many unforeseen turns it’s doubtful if the current Congress could get its act together enough to take on new postal reform legislation in time to be acted on before the election.

Are those ideas is just as pie-in-the-sky as Postcoin?

Posted in Bitcoin, Blockchain technology, Congress, Office of the USPS inspector General, Postal banking, Postal employees, postal finances, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Staples’ Selling of USPS Products Unclear After Blocked Merger

A federal judge’s ruling this week scuttling the proposed merger between office products giants Staples and Office Depot probably won’t end Staples’ efforts to sell postal products in its store but it’s likely to put a crimp in it.

In his decision earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington D.C. upheld the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling that this merger would drive up prices so much so that they would violate antitrust laws, according to news reports https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/talking-points/2016/05/13/ruling-prompts-staples-office-depot-call-off-merger/zxQNBDq8M1VTQLFl18f4sJ/story.html

If the two mega-companies were allow to join forces, they would have had many more outlets through which they could try to sell postal products and services. This would effectively privatize and diminish the role of the U.S Postal Service by putting inexperienced lower-wage workers in place of experienced unionized employees.

Doing this would further eviscerate the traditional role of the USPS and its necessary functions.

The FTC had originally blocked this merger last year for the same reasonshttps://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/12/ftc-challenges-proposed-merger-staples-inc-office-depot-inc.

As of right now the companies said they will not appeal the judge’s ruling. This is probably because they don’t think they can win and spending more money here might further cut into their bottom lines and erode their stock prices.

What might help stop—or at least slow down–this movement toward migrating postal sales and services to private entities is a favorable outcome to the American Postal Worker Union’s unfair labor practices action before the National Labor Relations Board which it filed nearly a year ago.

The case began after the NLRB originally ruled that the USPS’s contract to sell postal products through Staples office product stores is illegal
http://www.apwu.org/sites/apwu/files/resource-files/NLRB%20Complaint%20re%20Staples%20062615.pdf.
The agency, which charged with enforcing fair labor standards, filed a complaint in late June charging that the USPS illegally subcontracted work to the office-supply chain without first bargaining with the union. The labor board also ordered the postal service to resume offering services the way it did in July, 2013 before it began the test with Staples.
The labor group, which has been fighting the postal service on its Staples venture for the past two years, hopes the NLRB action might put an end to the USPS’s bald-faced attempts to sidestep its contractual labor obligations.

The case is still pending before an NLRB judge.
This case could drag on for years. Even if the NLRB judge finds in favor of the union the postal service will likely take this decision to a federal appeals court and will probably seek to further litigate this case in a jurisdiction with a greater pro-business and less pro-labor temperament.

Some industry observers said the judge’s ruling will cause further harm to the two companies which have been gradually money and market share to online competitors, especially behemoth
Amazon.com.

This may well be true but these for-profit companies should not be allowed to destroy which is likely the country’s oldest and most trusted public agency even if doing so seems like an easy low-risk business decision.

Posted in Amazon.com, service levels, U.S. Postal Service | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rural Postmasters Blasted for Large Salaries

Postmasters in small rural towns are making top salaries, sometimes much more than their counterparts in larger cities.

According to a recent survey reported in Linn’s Stamp News, postmasters in small towns often in the middle of nowhere sometimes with populations of fewer than 1,000 ;people can make salaries above $100,000 while workers in the same facilities make only hourly wages http://www.linns.com/news/postal-updates/2016/march/postmasters-working-for-the-u-s–postal-service-in-small-towns-e.html.

So what? Is this story intended to provide the U.S. Postal Service and/or some unscrupulous members of Congress another excuse to close down rural post offices and remove the lifelines of many smaller communities that have always depended on them?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with exposing the workings of public agencies. But one wonders if such a story may have been deliberately planted as part of an agenda to further whittle away at the postal service.

This antipathy toward smaller post offices has been growing over a least the past five years when the USPS began closing facilities around the country in attempts to save money.

Since then, protests of varying degrees have erupted in many areas of the country leading a group of Senators led by Jon Tester (D-MT) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) who formally complained to Postmaster General Megan about how much these closings hurt people in rural locations http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.

The USPS said last year it put a moratorium on additional closures until this May.

With all the backlash so far, will the USPS really try to pull this off during a Presidential and Congressional election year?

Not very likely as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are questioning not only the postal service’s closure plans but the wisdom behind them, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2016/03/lawmakers-both-parties-renew-pushback-postal-closures/126544/?oref=govexec_today_nl.

Still, the USPS must contend with powerful private sector forces that want its destruction, according to the Grand Alliance to Save a Public Postal Service, a nonprofit non-corporate advocacy organization.

The group pointed to a recent editorial in the Washington Post that mindlessly and predictably excoriates the USPS for its business practices without taking into account all the constraints it works under http://agrandalliance.org/the-washington-post-doesnt-like-the-postal-service/.

This comes from Post owner Jeff Bezos, CEO of online marketing powerhouse Amazon.com. Bezos’ stance is quite hypocritical considering that Amazon relies heavily on the postal service for delivery of its products and a few years ago even developed a joint venture with the USPS to deliver its products on Sunday.

In fact, Amazon just looks on the USPS as its personal delivery arm, according to Bloomberg News http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-30/it-s-amazon-s-world-the-usps-just-delivers-in-it.

Ah, such grandiosity and megalomania.

Posted in Amazon.com, Congress, Postal employees, rural postmasters, service levels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

USPS Actually Loses Money on ‘Cost-Cutting’ Closures

On the face of it the U.S. Postal Service can’t do anything right.
Since 2012 the USPS has closed more than 141 of post offices and mail distribution facilities all in the name of saving money and purportedly making its more efficient.

And now a new report comes out saying the USPS actually lost a bundle in this misguided venture.

According to Government Executive, the postal service lost about $66 million due to higher transportation and other costs engendered from the facility cuts it was able to make last year http://www.govexec.com/management/2016/02/postal-service-lost-money-its-facility-closures-last-year/126238/?oref=govexec_today_nllf..

All this came out in recent USPS testimony before the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Quite disingenuously, a USPS spokesman blamed the moratorium on closure of the additional 82 postal facilities as an excuse for the postal service’s inability to save any money here. The postal service also cited technical obstacles surrounding the operations of distribution centers as reasons for deferring the further closure of mail facilities this year.

Yeah, you don’t expect the postal service to say it caved under political pressure from key Senators and others in 2015.

Last year, several Senators led by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Heidi Heitkamp(D-ND)sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan about how much these closings hurt people in rural locations http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.. After that the postal service tabled those closings until May.

And that’s not to mention the numerous smaller protests from local business groups frustrated by ever-slower mail delivery in their areas.
Undeterred, the postal service said it’s gonna go ahead with this new phase of closures anyway as if nothing had happened.

Let’s just see how this plays out in an election year when the postal service likely will face fiercer and larger political pressure. Ironically, this could come from members of Congress whose campaign mail is unnecessarily delayed.

Posted in Congress, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, service levels, U.S. Postal Service | 1 Comment

USPS Posts Huge Profit, Keeps Downsizing

The U.S. Postal Service reported a massive profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31 but it’s doing so on the backs of their workers and are still closing post offices in defiance of pressure from some members of Congress and others.

What’s more, even President Barack Obama is calling for further reductions in the number of postal workers—and even the eventuality of curbside mail delivery– in his latest budget proposal, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/management/2016/02/usps-records-first-profit-five-years-obama-calls-shedding-12k-postal-jobs/125825/

The outgoing President wants to cut more jobs and initiate curbside delivery?

Not only are these proposals total nonstarters, they are tone deaf to the wants of business, let alone ordinary people. And the USPS has already shot them down.

If Obama wants to burnish his legacy and help Hillary Clinton get elected President then why is he turning his back on his party’s traditional base of organized labor?

Maybe he’s just kowtowing to the Republican-dominated Congress or he sees a future for himself in corporate America as do so many other federal officials.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the USPS reported net income of $307 million, a $1.1 billion improvement over a net loss of $754 million for the same period last year http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2016/pr16_006.htm.

The change in net income “was most significantly affected by a $1.2 billion favorable change in the workers’ compensation expense,” said the USPS in a statement. In other words it got away with paying workers fewer benefits.

The postal service also benefited from 4.3% exigent rate increase last year ridiculously low interest rates. If they get any lower depositors may even have to pay banks to hold onto their money. But that’s a subject that’s too complicated to address here.

Of course the USPS is still crying wolf, saying that it would have lost billions if it weren’t for those two factors.

“While net income is favorable compared to a net loss, it unfortunately does not reflect the end of our losses,” said chief financial officer and executive vice president Joseph Corbett. “Excluding the favorable impact of interest rate changes and the exigent surcharge, the organization would have actually reported a net loss of approximately $700 million in the first quarter.

Predictably, the postal service reported revenue of $19.3 billion for the quarter driven by a record amount of package revenue.

Even with the USPS’s improved finances, it is continuing to close facilities despite its official moratorium on doing so until the middle of this year. Only the postal service calls them “emergency suspensions,” according to savethepostoffice.com http://www.savethepostoffice.com/emergency-suspensions-post-offices-fy-2015.

These look like semantic games to cloud bad faith efforts to destroy the postal service and deprive people of jobs.

And the whole issue of trying to sell postal products through Staples office supply stores just isn’t going away even though it’s being litigated now through the National Labor Relations Board, according to KDKA radio in Pittsburgh http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2016/02/21/postal-workers-protest-operations-being-diverted-to-staples/.

The postal service will still be faced with these issues no matter who’s president or how many attempts Congress may make to enact further postal reform.

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Postal, Postal employees, postal facilities, postal finances, U.S. Postal Service | Leave a comment

Does ‘Secret’ USPS Memo Say Anything New?

Evidence keeps mounting that the U.S. Postal Service is planning to go private and wants to do so as secretly as possible.

Last July the National Labor Relations Board ruled that The USPS’s contract to sell postal products through Staples office product stores is illegal.

Now the American Postal Workers Union, which brought the complaint to the NLRB says it has unearthed a “secret memo” that the U.S. Postal Service has formulated plans to privatize itself and do destructive things like eliminate more and more post offices. This development reportedly came up during proceedings before the board http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/secret-document-exposes-usps-privatization-planning. Of course, an outside consultant advised taking this action.

But so what?

Even if this secret memo exists, does it expose anything that hasn’t been painfully obvious for at least the past half-decade?

In 2011, then-Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe unveiled plans to begin closing post offices and postal distribution facilities in an effort to save money and cut out inefficiencies in its workings.

That grand scheme, which also called the shuttering of 82 new distribution facilities on top of the 141 closed in the past five years–has run into serious roadblocks.

Last year, several Senators led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan about how much these closings hurt people in rural locations http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.. After that the postal service tabled those closings until next May.

As it was downsizing its physical plant, the USPS began selling or at least trying to unload, post offices and distribution facilities to private real estate developers some of which were politically well connected.

Since then the USPS has been able to sell off many but has often met with fierce local resistance, particularly in places like Berkeley, CA and others.

The alleged leak of this memo at the NLRB hearing comes at the same time as the Senate Government Reform and Operations Committee began holding hearings on iPost, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) about reforming the financially floundering USPS which lost $5.1 billion for the year ended Sept. 30 http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_060.htm.

The primary driver of this loss is the more than $5.8 billion payment the postal service must make to prefund the healthcare expenses of future retirees until nearly the end of this century.

Carper’s well-intentioned bill only calls for the gradual elimination of this monstrosity, not its immediate repeal which would really restore he USPS to financial health.

Question is, will Congress do anything before the election when conservative Republicans expect to win really big. But judging from the party’s antics thus far such an outcome is far from certain.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Commercial Mailers Break Silence on Postal Governors Issue

Mailing industry groups are finally trying to light a fire under the collective hindquarters of the Senate to up and approve new members of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors.

The Board is supposed to make sure that the public’s interests are properly taken into account in USPS decision making.

In a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, a group of nine mailing industry trade groups urged the Senate go quickly vote on all of President Obama’s nominees for the BOG as soon as possible.

Right now the board has only one member.

“One Governor alone, no matter how competent, may be unable to perform the responsibilities of the Board,” said the group in a statement.

The lack of a fully staffed board could possibly lead toward further degradation of the USPS and force marketers to seek other channels, warned the group, which is made up of such entities as EPICOMM, the
Association for Postal Commerce, Major Mailers Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Direct Marketing Association and others.

Some other people in high places think they might like this as they await a fully privatized postal service. That is until they begin suffering its effects. How will they react once generally expected USPS services really further go downhill?

It’s refreshing to see representatives of business groups that depend directly on a healthy postal system finally step up to the plate and make their voices heard.

The Senate should remember the mailing industry accounts for more than $9 billion a year and employs thousands of people around the country.

But one BOG nominee, Mickey Barnett, a lobbyist for the shadowy payday loan industry, which opposes recent efforts to establish a postal banking system that would aim at poorer people shunned by commercial banks.

His approval has been held up for that very reason.

Yes these mailing industry lobbyists are justified in demanding a restored BOG. But they must also recognize that the USPS represents to everybody in the country and not just their parochial interests. A solid banking system would raise at least $1 billion in annual revenue for the USPS, according to the Office of the USPS Inspector General https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf.

Don’t commercial mailers see how banking operations could strengthen the USPS in the long run?

By the way, the idea of postal banking may be spreading beyond our borders.
In Canada, for instance, the same types of operations exist and prey not only on low income people but those in rural and far-flung areas as well., according to the some readers of the Halifax Chronicle Herald http://thechronicleherald.ca/letters/1332902-postal-banking-would-dent-payday-loan-business.

Canada, with its large area and small population, has lots of remote places that tend to be unprofitable to the country’s chartered banks.

It may be an uphill battle to prevent Barnett’s approval to the board of governors and establish postal banking services for the poor. But mailers could help their cause if they got behind the proposal.

Just saying.

Posted in Canada Post, Congress, Office of the USPS inspector General, Postal banking, postal finances, service levels, U.S. Postal Service, Uncategorized, USPS Board of Governors | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

USPS Remains a Treasure to the Country

Sometimes it takes a foreigner to make us appreciate what we’ve got and why we shouldn’t squander it.

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish immigrant and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, recounts how amazed she was when she came to this country and found something as powerful and efficient as the U.S. Postal Service and how she might benefit from it and what a unique national treasure it remains
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/why-the-post-office-makes-america-great.html.

Where she comes from mail service is probably nowhere nearly as reliable or regular.

Quite rightly she points out that we would not have the likes of Amazon.com or eBay without a sturdy and far-reaching postal service to deliver the goods to the customers in the end.

We agree wholeheartedly with you, Zeynip.

Trouble is, not everybody in powerful positions in this country shares her views. That includes some members of Congress—and even the USPS itself.

One of the larger issues last year was that of delayed mail. After the USPS began closing post offices and distribution centers a few years ago it purposely enacted lower delivery standards because, quite frankly, postal workers physically could no longer handle the workload.

This has angered postal customers, especially rural and smaller, local businesses that are heavily dependent on the USPS for their survival. Many of them have repeatedly complained to their Congressional Representatives and Senators.

These conditions prompted Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) last summer to introduce a bill to stop the USPS from closing anymore postal facilities, give local authorities a say in such decisions and permanently preserve six-day-a-week delivery http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=4043
He was joined by at least three other Senators on this bill.

But Congress in its infinite wisdom and chronic lassitude failed to even address this tardiness issue in its recent appropriations bill, according to Government Executive http://cdn.govexec.com/interstitial.html?v=2.1.1&rf=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.govexec.com%2Foversight%2F2015%2F06%2Fhouse-panel-backs-faster-mail-more-usps-facilities%2F115738%2F.

For its part, the postal service also seems intent on whittling itself down. Just over a year ago, it proposed ending door-to-door delivery in favor of dumping all a neighborhood’s mail in centralized boxes.

At least in some new suburban developments in Pennsylvania, reports have circulated that the USPS wants to stop delivery to the door and drop all correspondence in centralized cluster boxes, according to Lehighvalleylive.com http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2014/10/us_postal_service_wants_new_de.html.

This is the way mail is delivered in countries like Pakistan where whole villages have to rifle through all their neighbors’ mail in hopes of maybe finding their own. So much for the privacy of mail.

Have postal standards in this country, in place even before we were a nation, deteriorated so badly? Should they be allowed to get worse?

Most postal systems throughout the world can’t hold a candle to the USPS in terms of reliability, trustworthiness and the capacity to spawn and maintain a host of other businesses.

Just like the song says: you don‘t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Posted in Congress, Postal employees, postal facilities, service levels, U.S. Postal Service, Universal Servikce | 1 Comment

Sanders Balks at Payday-Lender BOG Nominee

Congress obviously does not want to do anything about the financially foundering U.S. Postal Service right now, preferring to let it twist in the wind and not approve new members of its Board of Governors. Some are blaming Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) who’s been called “obstructionist” for blocking the nomination of at least one new member, according to Linn’s Stamp http://www.linns.com/en/news/postal-news/2015/12/u-s–postal-service-board-of-governors-shrinks-to-one-member.html.

Congress hasn’t named anybody to the nine-member BOG in five years and now it has only one member. As such, the board lacks a quorum to make any decisions. Nevertheless, the USPS named a temporary emergency committee to stand in for the board.

Sanders is running for President as a Democrat and just received an endorsement from the American Postal Workers Union so it’s easy to dismiss his opposition as just plain politics.

But let’s look at what Sanders is objecting to: putting Mickey Barnett, a lobbyist for the payday loan industry, on the BOG.

Appointing Barnett to the BOG would remove any pretense that the postal service is there to serve the people and not corporate interests.

Not that many people believe this anyway.

About two years ago, the Office of the USPS Inspector General proposed the postal service establish banking services aimed at poor people shunned by commercial banks who are forced to turn to usurious, if not downright sleazy operators like payday lenders who help keep this disadvantaged demographic group ever poor and dependent.

The idea of postal banking has been well received in many sectors of the U.S., according to the Atlantic Monthly http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/bernie-sanders-lets-turn-post-offices-into-banks/411589/.

But postal banking has raised the hackles of some conservative commentators who raise the point that poorer people are higher credit risks than more conventional banking customers and that’s why they should have to pay higher interest rates.

This may be true to a great extent but the current overall economic system in this country has largely created these conditions. But that topic that goes well beyond any discussion of the USPS.

Leaving the BOG rudderless since 2010 is another example of Congress dropping the ball in regard to the postal service. Of course the much larger financial issue facing the postal service is coping with the more than $5.5 billion obligation it must pay every year for more than 70 years to cover the healthcare expenses of future retirees.

In fact, Congress created this problem nearly 10 years ago when it passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that reformed the USPS in many other ways.

Longtime postal advocate Sen. Thomas Carper, a fellow Democrat, has even criticized Sanders for his outspoken opposition to Barnett and what he represents.

Let’s hope as the new year begins that the USPS can come up with a new board nominee who’s more palatable to ordinary people. Then, USPS can get on with the tackling the many serious problems it faces.

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Office of the USPS inspector General, Postal banking | 1 Comment

Inspector General to Postal Service: ‘Sell’ Your Brand

The Office of the USPS Inspector General has come up with a new idea that could help the U.S. Postal Service raise money that’s not likely to ruffle that many feathers at least among corporate types: to “sell” its brand
http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2015/12/usps-looking-ways-sell-its-36b-brand-boost-revenue/124423/?oref=govexec_today_nl.

Earlier this year the USPSOIG estimated the postal service brand is worth $3.6 billion and is now seeking companies that could help the postal service make some extra money.

Among ideas for accomplishing this are: licensing out its logo, uniforms and trademarked names as well as finding new and different ways to capitalize on its position as the most trusted government-related agency.
Selling its brand, the Inspector General said, could also help the USPS pay down its more than $5 billion-a-year obligation to pay for the health care benefits of future retirees for most of this century. This obligation, stuck into the 2006 postal reform act, has been a steady drain on postal finances for many years and is impeding the USPS from becoming profitable again.

For the year ended Sept. 30, the USPS reported a net loss of $5.1 billion http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_060.htm.

That’s of course if the USPS, or more specifically Congress, really wants to do anything to benefit the postal service. So far, Congress isn’t showing much inclination despite Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)’s repeated efforts to introduce new postal reform legislation.

One doesn’t see Congress doing much, if anything about postal reform on the eve of a Presidential Election year.

What’s more, extolling the merits of the postal service isn’t likely to run into entrenched opposition such as that of the Inspector General’s two-year-old proposal to establish banking services aimed at poorer Americans shunned by large commercial banks.

But efforts to sell the postal service brand would probably run into fierce opposition from unions who might see it as a backdoor route to postal privatization.

Speaking of privatizing, the Federal Trade Commission has come out against the proposed merger of Staples and Office Depot on anti-trust grounds https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/12/ftc-challenges-proposed-merger-staples-inc-office-depot-inc
Such a merger would effectively create an office supplies monopoly and possibly make it harder for the American Postal Workers Union to continue its campaign to prevent the USPS from selling stamps and other postal products through non-union Staples stores.

The APWU has been locked in this battle with Staples for the past few years.

Maybe the FTC’s opposition to this merger will help stem the tide of the postal service’s longstanding movement toward downgrading and essentially trying to make post offices obsolete, says savethepostoffice.com http://www.savethepostoffice.com/bill-rights-post-office.

If the postal service is going to promote its brand in good faith, maybe it should start by halting its longstanding efforts to dismantle itself. Ironically, that could even make the USPS more attractive to potential buyers

Posted in American Postal, Congress, Office of the USPS inspector General, Postal banking, postal finances | 1 Comment

Postal Survey Recycles Stale Arguments

A new survey has come out suggesting that Americans want the U.S. Postal Service to operate “more like a business” and have greater freedoms” and other tired rhetoric. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/citizen-cabinet-survey-bipartisan-majority-favors-giving-us-postal-service-more-freedom-to-act-like-a-business-300179656.html.

Couldn’t the survey’s designers come up with any more original language? Did they ever consider that the USPS is, and has always been the country’s most trusted public agency and that it is clearly “not a business enterprise conducted for profit for raising general funds,” as stated in the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

So either these survey respondents were misinformed about the role of the USPS or blindly seduced by ceaseless corporate rhetoric about the alleged superiority of private enterprise.

This poll comes on the heels of the USPS’s reporting a net loss of $5.1 billion for the year ended Sept. 30, an improvement over a loss of $5.5 billion last year. http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_060.htm.

Why is this survey coming out now? Does this
current regular financial report show anything substantially different from how the USPS has performed for many years? Even when the USPS is apparently doing better financially thanks to growth in its package delivery services and the like?

In its report, the postal service alludes to “certain statutorily mandated payments over which the Postal Service has no control.” This, of course, refers to the more than 5.5 billion-a-year payment the USPS must make to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees for the next 70 or so years.

Without this healthcare millstone, the postal service would probably have made a profit.

Conservative Republican lawmakers slipped this massive sum into the 2006 postal “reform” law which helped create a good deal of the USPS’s fiscal troubles.

The mentality that loaded the postal service with unpayable debt for the bulk of the 21st Century may be in line with what Les Leopold, executive director of the Labor Institute, characterized “runaway inequality.” This phrase refers to a movement that seeks to spread debt throughout society and impoverish and subjugate people to the whims of Wall Street which continues to grow richer and richer, according to the Huffington Post https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&gl=us&tbm=nws&authuser=0&q=LES+LEOPOLD+GROWTH+OF+DEBT&oq=LES+LEOPOLD+GROWTH+OF+DEBT&gs_l=news-cc.12..43j43i53.4139.19153.0.22699.26.6.0.20.20.0.84.477.6.6.0…0.0…1ac.1.JaXK3ruSFo4&gws_rd=ssl.

Granted, a public institution such as the postal service would likely never be forced to suffer as would ordinary indebted people. But maybe contriving conditions to further financially weaken the postal service might foster a political environment where the USPS could fall prey to unscrupulous operators and politicians.

Another piece of stale rhetoric is that the growth of electronic communication has rendered the USPS obsolete.

Yeah, nobody sends letters by first class postage anymore. But millions of people and businesses still depend on a robust public postal service for their livelihoods and the corporations know this very well. Even large corporations like the United Parcel Service and FedEx, need the USPS around to make it profitable. So maybe it’s time to retire the old rhetoric and acknowledge how important the service the USPS renders is to all of us.

Posted in Congress, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Boost Passport Services, Says USPS Inspector General

There’ve been a lot of harebrained schemes over the years for the U.S. Postal Service to boost its revenue. Many of them like selling beer and wine in local branches and delivering groceries to front doors were patently unworkable, if not downright stupid.

But now the USPS Office of the Inspector General has come with what seems like a plausible idea and one that wouldn’t stretch the postal service very far out of its comfort zone: expanding passport services.

In a report released last month the USPSOIG encouraged the postal service to expand a test program it started in California in 2013 where it began testing longer hours and more thoroughly trained staff https://uspsoig.gov/document/optimization-passport-facilities.

In fiscal 2014, USPS generated $129.4 million in revenue from processing about 5.2 million passport applications, according to the Inspector General.

At present, the USPS accepts passport applications on behalf of the State Department at more than 5,000 post offices across the country. Those facilities accept passport applications for at least five hours per day, charging a $25 fee for first-time applications and no fee for renewal applications. Some locations also take passport photos for $15.

The USPSOIG recommended that postal management look into rolling out a successful pilot program that offers expanded passport services at five Southern California locations.

That’s a rather tepid approach.

In truth, the USPS should massively expand this program nationwide. Maybe providing enhanced passport services could help deter—or at least slow down—its program to close and consolidate post offices.

Between 2013 and 2014, the
number of passport applications processed at the centers increased by almost 150 percent, and revenue increased by about $1.2 million, said the Inspector General.

This report led the USPS to say it would increase the number of passport centers nationwide by fiscal 2016 but didn’t say when or how many.
The Inspector General may have done the postal service a favor by identifying
more than 180 locations that, like the five pilot passport centers, are close to a U.S. border or a shopping center and take passport photos.

To be fair, receipts from passport fees and pictures may not make much of a dent in the postal service’s overall deficit.

But it’s an idea that’s workable, a modest proposal that could bring in
money steadily that doesn’t butt heads with any private industries nor is likely to draw much opposition.

In fact, making it easier to get passports seems pretty inoffensive.

Posted in U.S. Postal Service | Leave a comment

Postal Labor Group Endorses Sanders for President

Predictably, the American Postal Workers Union, the largest such labor group, has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President http://www.apwu.org/news/news-bulletin/executive-board-endorses-bernie-sanders-president.

One could attribute this to the Vermont Senator’s consistent advocacy for the cause of a strong governmental (or quasi-governmental) institution dedicated to serving the people as opposed to corporate interests.

As an example, Sanders sent a letter earlier this year to Postmaster General Megan Brennan specifically opposing the USPS’s reduction of delivery standards and the annual $5 billion-plus payment it must make to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-sends-letter-to-postmaster-general.

Some could dismiss the APWU’s endorsement as just simple Democratic Party politics and poo poo it as ineffective in the next election cycle as much larger unions like the United Auto Workers and National Education Association have endorsed Hillary Clinton, according to the Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/postal-workers-endorse-austerity-foe-bernie-sanders/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign.

Truly the union’s endorsement may be nothing more than symbolism in a race that at least so far seems dominated by big money candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties with grander agendas than postal reform.

One issue that could raise the profile of postal reform next year is that of having the USPS provide banking services for poorer people. Commercial banks tend to shun these people who are forced to rely on such predators as payday lenders.
Last year, the Office of the USPS Inspector General proposed that the postal service establish a financial services operation to meet the needs of these populations https://ww according to nj.com http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/11/postal_banking_would_defeat_predatory_lending_for.html.

One likely obstacle to the postal service developing banking services is the impending nomination of Mickey Barnett to the USPS Board of Governors. Barnett is a lobbyist for the payday loan industry.

For what it’s worth Sanders has reportedly has led opposition to Barnett’s appointment.
Nevertheless, calls are rising for the USPS to jump into this game according to nj.com http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/11/postal_banking_would_defeat_predatory_lending_for.html.
And Social Security Works (www.socialsecurityworks.org), an advocacy organization, is also calling on the USPS to establish banking services.

“Postal banking is an affordable, nonprofit, consumer-driven financial service for all U.S. residents including seniors living on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, veterans, and people living in rural areas.

But Sanders may not totally squeaky clean on using the Postal Service over corporate carriers when it comes to shipping campaign merchandise, according to the Postal Reporter http://www.postal-reporter.com/blog/postal-retiree-hillary-ships-only-usps-and-bernie-offers-ups-option-for-online-campaign-merchandise/.

Maybe this is true but this smacks of nitpicking when much larger and more important issues are at stake.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Postal Union Files Second Unfair Practices Claim with NLRB

The American Postal Workers Union is filing and unfair labor practices claim against the U.S. Postal Service over its apparent plan to undercut the union through surveys of new and part time employees http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/apwu-files-unfair-labor-practice-charge-response-%E2%80%98stay-survey%E2%80%99.

This is the second such claim the union has filed against the USPS with the National Labor Relations Board in recent months.

The first, filed back in July, contested the legality of the USPS’s contract to sell postal products through Staples’ office product superstores without first bargaining with the APWU. That case is still pending.

In this latest filing, the union has charged that the postal service’s “Stay Survey,” where it asks newly hired non-career employees about their job satisfaction and the quality of their working conditions compromises the union’s power when it comes to arbitration over labor contracts.

The union is discouraging postal support employees, i.e. clerical staff, from answering these polls.

The NLRB has ruled that employers may not “‘attempt to erode a union’s bargaining position by engaging in a direct effort to determine employee sentiment rather than discuss such matters solely with the union,” said the APWU, in a statement.

It looks like the USPS will do anything it can to undercut the labor group and diminish the effectiveness. And this in spite of the fact that the USPS has cut out 250,000 jobs over the past 20 years, according to Government Executive http://www.govexec.com/management/2015/11/heres-how-postal-service-shed-250000-employees-1995/123484/.

As if this were not enough, the postal service has upped its reliance on non-career employees.

The postal service is hell-bent on cutting worker benefits and compensation and further weakening their power to negotiate a decent standard of living, all in the name of trying to save itself a little money. To justify this, the postal service always falls back on its rhetoric about the eroding use of first class mail and growing use of email and the like.

Yes it’s true that people don’t write letters anymore and rely more and more on email.

But this is a misleading and disingenuous argument. Standard, or advertising, mail is growing as of course is package delivery. In fact, the USPS is touting the fact that it will process and more than half a billion packages this season. That’s nearly 11 percent more than last year.

Non-career workers serve in part time positions, but “can often perform the full range of duties of career counterparts at lower wage rates.” The employees generally receive some benefits, but are not eligible for federal life insurance or participation in the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Issues like these are at the heart of the APWU’s labor complaints. It remains to be seen just how much the labor board agrees with them and stem the tide of disempowering workers.

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Can Canada Post Restore Mail Service Levels?

It looks like Canada Post might just abandon its plans to deliver people’s mail to cluster boxes and will keep putting it in front of peoples’ front doors with the election of liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who pledged to restore previous service levels.

But don’t be so sure.

Reports have surfaced saying that Canada Post waited a full week after the Oct. 19 election before it “temporarily” halt these conversions In other words the postal authority is treating at least some of these cluster boxes as a fait accompli, according to the Prince Edward Island Guardian http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Editorials/2015-10-29/article-4325853/Canada-Post-snubs-Trudeau/1

Cluster, or “community” boxes are general delivery locations in areas such as suburban developments. Supposedly, it’s cheaper and more efficient to drop mail in those central containers. Canada Post started conversions to cluster boxes two years ago.

In some ways delivering to cluster boxes is little different from what they do in countries like Pakistan where all the mail for whole villages is dumped in the local square once a week, heedless of personal privacy and respect.

Does a highly industrialized progressive country like Canada want the standards for its national postal service to fall so low?

Canada Post’s attitude has eerie similarities to what’s going on in this country. Here the U.S. Postal Service cuts back local services despite flurries of protest from area business people. This has even attracted the attention of some Senators, particularly from rural and less populated areas whose constituents depend heavily on the USPS.

I daresay Canada has many more areas that are remote and sparsely populated than the U.S.

Trudeau, who was elected in October, replaced Stephen Harper, the conservative who favored privatization and a downgrading of Canada Post with cluster boxes to replace at-home delivery.

Already the Canadian Postal Workers Union has filed a lawsuit to stop these conversions http://www.cupw.ca/en/campaign/resources/statement-cupw-canada-posts-temporary-suspension-plan-end-home-mail-delivery.

“We would also like the post office to restore delivery to people who have lost it since the cuts were announced in 2013,” said the labor group in a statement.

For its part, Canada Post says it’s holding off on converting about 460,000 addresses nationwide to community mailboxes. “As a result, all conversions planned for November and December 2015 and those announced for 2016 will be placed on hold. Customers affected by this decision will receive a letter within the next few weeks advising them of the status of their mail delivery service.

But in locations where the 10-month internal and community conversion process is complete, customers will collect mail and parcels at their community mailbox. This includes customers set to begin receiving their mail and parcels in their boxes in October https://www.canadapost.ca/web/en/blogs/announcements/details.page?article=2015/10/26/statement_from_canad&cattype=announcements&cat=newsreleases.

So tough luck for those people who’ve already lost home delivery.

On the other hand, mail delivery north of the border is an ongoing and costly political headache the party in power may just not want to deal with, argues the Toronto Star http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/10/28/justin-trudeau-inherits-the-canada-post-home-mail-delivery-fiasco-walkom.html.

Given all these pressures one wonders if, and how long the Trudeau government can hold to its pledge to reinvigorate Canada’s postal operations.

And you can bet the USPS is keeping a close eye on this.

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Brookings Keeps Banging USPS Privatization Drum

Here comes another proposal to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. Only this one comes from the supposedly liberal Brookings Institution which essentially argues that the USPS should be broken in half.

USPS should be divided into two parts: a public entity that would just deliver the mail and another private one that would deliver packages and supposedly compete with all the for-profit companies in the field.

Brookings senior fellow, Elaine Kamarck argues that the USPS, not really a governmental entity, is hobbled with an outdated structure and cannot effectively compete in the marketplace with corporations http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/09/18-political-stalemate-us-postal-service-kamarck

True enough. But Kamarck’s arguments sound like tired corporate rhetoric that’s been around for at last 20 years much of which is easily disprovable.

If these ideas become law the profit-making types will never leave this arena but will seek to expand their foothold.

For any liberal pretensions Brookings might have Kamarck’s proposal sounds extremely pro-corporate.

Yeah, let’s put the money-making part of the postal service into private hands and let the government or some as-yet undefined public entity perform its basic functions.

Kamarck also seems to ignore the more than $5.8 billion a year the USPS must pay to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees for the next 70-plus years.

This provision, stuck into the 2006 postal reform law, accounts for quite a chunk of the USPS’s deficit. For the quarter ended June 30, the postal service reported a net loss of $586 million for the third quarter of fiscal 2015 (April 1, 2015 — June 30, 2015), a reduction of $1.4 billion from the net loss of $2 billion for same period last year. http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_046.htm.

Without this millstone the postal service might even be in the black again.

There’s no question electronic communications have cut into first class mail which has been declining steadily for years.

But the USPS still uses first class to deliver bills and not all people are online. Also not everybody wants to relinquish control over their own money as often happens with electronic bill-paying.

Kamarck believes postal service privatization is inevitable.

Not necessarily.

Brookings’ current report is it second in recent memory that castigates the USPS. Earlier this year, the think tank basically questioned if we still need the postal service or first class mail, according to Newsweek.com http://www.newsweek.com/do-we-need-postal-service-319243.
Kamarck’s proposals look disingenuous and short-sighted at best. They’re also uncaring and out-of-touch with the needs of ordinary people

Why does the USPS have to make a profit anyway? What about the idea of providing a necessary service to everybody?

With these reports, Brookings, looks more and more like those who call for the privatization of Social Security which is not likely to happen.

But they keep banging the drum.

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Board Nominees Favor Privatization, Oppose Postal Banking

No wonder the U.S. Postal Service came out so strongly against the proposal earlier this year for it to develop banking services aimed at poorer people generally shunned by commercial banks.

Mickey Barnett, a recent nominee to its Board of Governors is a lobbyist for the payday loan industry.
This is important because a new postal banking system, or more accurately, the revival of a postal banking system would benefit this group which is too often victimized by unscrupulous payday lenders and other usurious entities, according to the U.S. Inspector General’s Office https://www.uspsoig.gov/story/white-papers/examining-road-ahead-postal-financial-services#.VYGQLIVTN_M.

Already, Barnett’s nomination has run into opposition from the Leadership Conference, an organization of civil and human rights groups, according to the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-johnson/dont-put-privatizer-and-p_b_8245300.html.

This organization (http://www.civilrights.org/, also opposes the nomination of James Miller, a longtime postal privatization advocate and former member of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Right now, the USPS offers money orders, electronic funds transfers, and the cashing of U.S. Treasury checks. Widening its services could bring in as much as $1.1 billion a year after five years, the USPSOIG argues.

These new services could include payroll check cashing, domestic money transfers between post offices, bill payment services, international money transfers to more countries, and other affordable products.

This latest USPSOIG paper follows a 2014 report encouraging the postal service to start offering financial services to as many as 68 million people who typically don’t have access to conventional banking services in their neighborhoods https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf. All too often, these people are forced to rely on such abusive and exorbitant operators as payday lenders and pawn shops.

But how could the postal service go in this direction if the deck is stacked against it with the likes of Barnett and Miller on the BOG?

And how likely will the Republican-dominated be willing to vote in favor of plans that benefit disadvantaged people over powerful financial interests, even if it could make the deficit-ridden USPS more solvent?
Obviously they want to further the cause of postal privatization.

The Senate is set to confirm these nominations soon. It remains to be seen if they public can muster any opposition against them.

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New Senate Postal Reform Bill Probably Dead on Arrival

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) has introduced a new bill to ostensibly save the U.S. Postal Service from rack and ruin http://www.carper.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/a84f951e-448f-4ea4-b836-d077b5f28456/ipost-one-pager.pdf.

I guess you’ve got to give Carper, a longtime postal reform advocate, some credit for trying. Too bad many of these ideas are probably doomed in Congress.

One of them is to lift existing legal restrictions and letting the USPS ship liquor. Maybe he USPS could make a buck or two here but it would have to face down likely opposition from the liquor industry.

The postal service floated this idea a year or two ago after it essentially walked away from its ridiculous 2011 proposal for selling beer and wine at post offices.

The Senator also calls for things like reforming the existing postal pension systems that would have newer employees paying more out of their own pockets. That might be inevitable since it’s been going on in the private sector for quite some time.

But Congress is gonna have one hell of a fight on its hands from the postal labor unions if this proposal sees the light of day.

This is not at all to be confused with the USPS’s annual burden for paying the healthcare costs of future retired employees for the next 70-plus years.
But Carper calls only for modification, not the outright abolition, of this unpayable obligation.

This provision, inserted into the 2006 postal reform law massively helped worsen USPS finances which were already under pressure from fast-growing electronic communications.

Which may well have been this law’s intent all along.

Carper’s measure also calls for a two-year “pause” in the shuttering of postal facilities. This is intended to help restore earlier USPS service standards.
Why not permanently stopping these cutbacks? The public and businesses just might get behind such an idea, not a lily-livered pause in closures.

Even the postal service opposes this bill, saying it does not go far enough to clean up its financial mess, according to Govexec.com http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2015/09/usps-opposes-latest-postal-reform-bill-others-open-proposals/121481/.

But none of this may make any difference in an increasingly intransigent and reactionary Congress. This is especially true in the House where a loud minority may feel further emboldened after it just helped oust Speaker John Boehner.

Prospects are no better in the Senate where Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson has long said he’d rather see the USPS perish than get rescued, according to the Federal Times http://archive.federaltimes.com/article/20141110/MGMT04/311100010/Incoming-oversight-chair-eyes-Postal-Service-bankruptcy-cutting-job-protections.

One of Johnson’s goals is to eviscerate the unions. That’s not gonna happen.

But now Johnson’s going chair the Senate Governmental Operations Committee which oversees the postal service.

At least Carper is still trying to rescue the USPS. And who knows? Maybe this bill will get some traction when he reintroduces it next year in the middle of the Presidential election campaign.

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USPS Said to Take Revenge on Some Slow Delivery Critics

Negative public reactions to U.S. Postal Service plant closures are growing so much that even the postal service is beginning to notice. In at least one recent case a local Congressman and some of his constituents suspect the agency is trying to exact revenge on those who are complaining about slow service.

In Omaha, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican, complained to the local Postmaster that slow deliveries were causing his constituents to receive credit card bills late subjecting them to unnecessary overcharges.
More importantly, this tardiness also led to prescription medicine arriving too late, and things like that, according to Omaha.com http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/fortenberry-takes-complaints-of-slow-mail-delivery-to-u-s/article_f2eeaba6-1bdd-55b9-afdf-bcddfcf9d70a.html.

For his trouble, the postal service allegedly delivered invitations to a local town meeting Fortenberry sponsored in Bellevue, NE on the exact day of that meeting, making it nearly impossible for people to make it on time.

While local USPS officials apologized for the screw-up they didn’t explain why those invitations, which were due to out several days before the event were held up.

Draw your own conclusions.

More importantly, delays in the delivery of mail order medicine can endanger lives—especially those in remote and rural areas that depend on getting refrigerated medicine on time, say pharmacists in Idaho, according to the Idaho State Journal http://www.idahostatejournal.com/members/pharmacists-say-postal-service-closure-delays-medication/article_d743c85d-2a99-5b6f-ac74-ab570dda871a.html.

In some of those locations, there are no retail drug stores and pharmacists are urging their patients to plan ahead to avoid getting stuck.

But how are these ordinary, often elderly people supposed to know about things like USPS nationwide service cutbacks when all they want is to get their medicine on time as they always did?

Maybe somebody has to die before the USPS relents? And would that even make a difference to detached bureaucrats in Washington. And then what?

No matter what the postal service remains intent on cutting services, even though last May it delayed until next year its latest round of closing 82 distribution facilities. But that only came about after several key Senators from rural states raised enough hell.

Maybe the USPS hopes no one will notice plant closures next year.
If so, the postal service is likely to face an even stronger backlash from disgruntled customers. And that’s dangerous in a Presidential election year.

USPS closures are affecting booming urban areas too. One key example is Phoenix, AZ where Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, recently reintroduced a bill forbidding the USPS from closing post offices in such locations http://grijalva.house.gov/news-and-press-releases/grijalva-to-reintroduce-bill-preventing-post-office-closures-in-highgrowth-zip-codes/.
Maybe these efforts will help raise the profile of postal issues in the next Congress?

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Conservative Think Tank Blasts USPS Delivery Cuts

It’s no secret that the U.S. Postal Service seems much more interested in building its package courier services right now than in boosting its regular plain mail delivery.

Just look at the USPS’s latest quarterly financial report for the period ended June 30 that recorded a nearly 11% increase in package revenue over the same period last year http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_046.htm.

“The continued growth of our shipping and package services is a direct result of the Postal Service’s continued efforts to offer consumers more choice, excellent value and reliable service in a growing and competitive marketplace,” said Postmaster General Megan Brennan, in a statement. “We are investing in our network and continually enhancing our services to best compete for America’s shipping and package delivery business.”

There you have it. And this attitude is nothing at all new.

This, of course, is coupled with deliberate cuts in service and lower delivery standards all over the country, which are definitely reversible, according to savethepostoffice.com which strongly asserts that the USPS can afford to bring back its previous service standards http://www.savethepostoffice.com/true-cost-restoring-service-standards-and-why-postal-service-can-afford-it.

Things are so bad that George Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom—a conservative-leaning think tank–has decried how the postal service—the country’s oldest institution—is failing America http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2015/08/07/us-postal-service-failing-ky-united-states/3132024/.

It’s refreshing to see someone on that side of the aisle to espouse such views when some similar groups often call for privatization, if not the eventual abolition of the USPS, with the usual tired disingenuous rhetoric of how the USPS is obsolete in the digital age.

Landrith offered these comments in an opinion piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal in which he blasted the effects of USPS delivery cuts in rural areas of that state.

He joins a growing chorus of voices that include many now-underserved customers, business people and Senators, including Jon Tester (D-MT) to last month propose legislation to restore prior standards http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=4043.

If an organization dedicated to limited government, free markets and the like is calling for the USPS to resume its earlier performance standards, then you know it’s what everybody in the country wants and needs.

Meanwhile, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) launched a petition drive and has called on the Federal Trade Commission to nix the proposed merger of office supplies giants Staples and Office Depot. The union contends this merger would give the combined entity a virtual monopoly in that business.

More importantly, this would strongly hamper the APWU’s efforts to fight Staples’ drive to sell postal products at its stores and pay its employees far less than union wages that postal workers http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/apwu-launches-petition-drive-against-staples-office-depot-merger.

This week, the National Labor Relations Board is supposed to take up the APWU’s complaint that the postal service’s arrangement with Staples violates its collectively bargained labor contract with the USPS.

Wouldn’t be interesting if the FTC took on the proposed Staples-Office Depot merger as well? Maybe that would restore some faith in the federal government’s responsibility to rein in abusive business practices.

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PRC: Staples Deal Suggests Master Postal Privatization Plan

Documents released earlier this summer by the Postal Regulatory Commission reveal the extent to which the U.S. Postal Service wants to privatize the service and muscle out unionized labor.

After the American Postal Workers Union a filed a lawsuit and made a Freedom of Information Act request the Postal Regulatory Commission coughed up documents with damning allegations. Mostly, the legal papers spelled out how the U.S. Postal Service’s arrangement to sell stamps and other products through Staples office supply megastores was a major step in a concerted effort to gradually change the USPS into a private unaccountable commercial entity http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/prc-documents-shed-light-shady-staples-privatization-deal.

In fact, the Staples deal was reportedly supposed to serve as a model for how the USPS was going to overhaul its retail operations.

This push all allegedly started in 2011 when the postal service and then-Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe began closing post offices and postal distribution facilities in an effort to save money and cut out inefficiencies in its workings.

For-profit corporations often downsize employees when they’re about to be sold. Are the USPS’s actions any different?

The labor union will no doubt introduce these PRC documents into its complaint against the postal service before the National Labor Relations Board later this month. In that case the APWU accuses the USPS of illegally circumventing its established collective bargaining agreement.

But the NLRB isn’t likely to rule on this case anytime soon.Even if the NLRB rules in favor of the union the postal service is likely to appeal the decision to a federal circuit court. And the USPS more than likely will shop around for a conservative jurisdiction that’s disposed to uphold its anti-labor positions.

We may be getting a little ahead of ourselves right now but don’t think for a minute that the USPS’s corporate lawyers haven’t thought of this already.

At the same time the postal service is still hell-bent on downsizing although it was forced to suspend its plans to shutter 82 more distribution facilities back in May after enough Senators from rural states raised enough hell.

But that suspension only lasts until next April.

Rural communities will suffer greatly from these cutbacks in staffing and service standards. They still depend heavily on their post offices partly because they are less likely to be heavily wired into online delivery and Internet culture than larger metropolitan areas, according to the Concord Monitor http://www.concordmonitor.com/home/17650342-95/my-turn-postal-service-shortfalls-impact-rural-areas.

This trend is getting so out of hand that four Senators recently introduced a bill that would:
*Restore stronger service standards, and place a two-year moratorium on the closure of additional mail processing plants.

*Permanently preserve six-day mail delivery, instead of renewing it every year in appropriations bills.

*Protect rural post offices from closures, require specific procedures before reducing operating hours at rural post offices.

Enable communities to formally petition the Postal Service to undo closures or reductions in hours
http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=4043

Those Senators are Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jon Tester (D-UT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Unfortunately this measure may be only symbolic since both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans who are generally considered pro-business and often think the USPS is obsolete and out of date.
Maybe the APWU’s legal actions and continued pressure from Senators can help impede the USPS’s relentless march toward privatization.

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Postal Union Takes Staples Matter to National Labor Board

The U.S. Postal Service has received a setback to its not-so-secret privatization efforts this week when the National Labor Relations Board rule d that its contract to sell postal products through Staples office product stores is illegal http://www.apwu.org/sites/apwu/files/resource-files/NLRB%20Complaint%20re%20Staples%20062615.pdf.

The agency, which charged with enforcing fair labor standards, filed a complaint in late June charging that the USPS illegally subcontracted work to the office-supply chain without first bargaining with the union. The labor board also ordered the postal service to resume offering services the way it did in July, 2013 before it began the test with Staples.

A hearing is scheduled before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge on Aug. 17.

The union, which has been fighting the postal service on its Staples venture for the past two years, hopes the NLRB action might put an end to the USPS’s bald-faced attempts to sidestep its contractual labor obligations.

During this time, the APWU has tried to fight Staples largely through boycotts and protests at stores around the country. It even enlisted the support of other unions including the more than 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers and others.

The union is keeping up with these efforts.

The outcome of this action before the NLRB could influence how much power labor may still have or not have in society today. But who knows what arguments the postal service will come up with to justify its position?

If the action before the NLRB is successful maybe it could help impede efforts to dilute postal labor organizations. But the process could be very slow and the outcome is far from certain.

A source very familiar with the workings of the NLRB said as much and noted that the USPS often has cases before the board. So do postal workers displeased with the practices of unions such as the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Mail Handlers Union.

In fact, the USPS even has lawyers dedicated to handling disputes with the NLRB. So it stands to reason the postal service is not exactly quaking in its boots over the action before the board.

Most likely this case will not be resolved at the August hearing. But maybe this litigation will help pave the way to keeping USPS service standards at their current levels.

The Staples venture represents another way in which the postal service is weakening itself and reducing services all in the name of saving money. One estimate said the USPS could cut its labor costs by 66 percent by using Staples employees.

Meantime, USPS delivery standards continue to decline—especially in rural and less populated areas, notes the Bangor, ME Daily News http://bangordailynews.com/2015/06/29/opinion/contributors/postal-service-wasnt-created-to-deliver-teddy-bears-in-san-francisco/?ref=OpinionBox.

Maybe the USPS is hoping that, over time, people and businesses will get used to laxer mail delivery standards and that they’ll stop caring and will accept these degraded conditions.

Or maybe they’ll use existing legal avenues like the NLRB and messier but still effective means such as protests to preserve our public postal service.

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House Measure Would Restore Old USPS Delivery Standards

The House Appropriations Committee has proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would force the U.S. Postal Service to return to its 2012 delivery standards, effectively nullifying all closures of its processing plants including the 82 it began earlier this year but stopped last month.

According to govexec.com http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2015/06/house-panel-backs-faster-mail-more-usps-facilities/115738/ this amendment, introduced by Rep. Fattah Chaka (D-PA), former head Democrat on postal issues, seeks to restore the delivery standards in place in 2012. This means that most first-class mail not leaving a city would have to be delivered overnight.

The Postal Service had downgraded its service by reducing the amount of mail it delivered overnight and shifted a large amount of mail from a two-day delivery standard to a three-to-five day range. Overall, the The postal service claimed those changes were necessary to enable it to consolidate facilities and rely less heavily on air delivery.

The USPS shuttered 141 processing facilities in 2012 and 2013, and had begun closing an additional 82 it originally planned for this year but reversed course, probably under pressure from the business community.

Fattah’s amendment is a great idea. But how can it survive in a House appropriations bill which will inevitably get watered down in the legislative process. Especially in a monolithically conservative Congress?

Not likely but at least somebody in Congress is thinking of the USPS, even if just symbolically.

The elephant in the room, as always, is who’s gonna pay for restoring postal delivery standards?

The USPS receives no taxpayer money and is supposed to support itself through selling products and services.
But in the 2006 postal reform law, the postal service was hit with a $5.8 billion annual financial obligation to pay the healthcare costs of retirees for 75 years.

Seventy-five years? Will the United States as we know it, let alone the planet earth still be here?

In May, the USPS reported a $1.5 billion loss for the quarter ended March 31and said it had less than a month’s worth of cash on hand to meet its expenses since it had already exceeded its borrowing limit http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_024.htm.

Maybe some of that annual $5.8 billion would be better spent on delivering the mail anyway, not on servicing as-yet questionable healthcare costs. No other federal agency has such a burden and Congress so far has not budged on this issue.

It doesn’t help matters when, the clowns at Forbes Magazine think the USPS should follow the privatization model undertaken by the U.K.’s Royal Mail which sold off shares to the public to raise money to cover deficits
http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken/2015/06/19/us-postal-service-40bn-ipo-royal-mail-sell-off-points-the-way-despite-hurdles/.

As usual the likes of Forbes and other corporate elites don’t have any vision beyond their own narrow greed. Do they even think about what effects postal privatization might have on ordinary people, notwithstanding the multi-billion dollar mailing industry which depends on a sound public postal service?

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USPS Publicly Poo-Poos Postal Banking Proposals

The U.S. Postal Service has been thrown on the defensive over a proposal to begin offering financial services to lower income people who banks generally avoid.

You know that because the postal service has come out with a rare statement attacking the Office of the USPS Inspector General for advocating that USPS provide financial services to this disadvantaged demographic group.

Last month, the Inspector General’s office issued a white paper calling for the USPS to deepen its financial service offerings which it believes the postal service already has statutory authority to do
https://www.uspsoig.gov/story/white-papers/examining-road-ahead-postal-financial-services#.VYGQLIVTN_M.

The USPS currently offers money orders, electronic funds transfers, and the cashing of U.S. Treasury checks. Widening its services could bring in as much as $1.1 billion a year after five years, the USPSOIG argues.
These new services could include payroll check cashing, domestic money transfers between post offices, bill payment services, international money transfers to more countries, and other affordable products.

This latest USPSOIG paper follows a report last year encouraging the postal service to start offering financial services to as many as 68 million people who typically don’t have access to conventional banking services in their neighborhoods https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf. All too often, these people are forced to rely on such abusive and exorbitant operators as payday lenders and pawn shops.

In its uncharacteristic rebuttal, the USPS reveals a reluctance to go against the financial industry even though doing so might help the deficit ridden postal service fill its coffers. The mere fact that the USPS felt the need to do this suggests that some very powerful interests may have gotten to it.

Overall, the postal service said it did not want to venture beyond its core delivery services. What about its abortive 2011 plans to begin selling beer and wine?

It’s quite disingenuous to speak of core products since the U.S. Post Office Department offered postal savings accounts until 1967, according to Slate.com http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2014/08/postal_banking_already_worked_in_the_usa_and_it_will_work_again.html.

At the time, President Lyndon Johnson said doing away with postal banking would help “streamline” government. But the department had offered these accounts since 1911.

Another reason the USPS said it opposed offering financial services is that they would bring in “a low return” of only 10 percent to 20 percent.

Low return it says? Most ordinary businesses would slobber such a profit margin. Besides the typical bank net income hovers around 18 percent, according to Investopedia.com http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/052515/what-average-profit-margin-company-banking-sector.asp

So the USPS isn’t even a good liar.

To be fair, the postal service did point out developing and implementing financial services would entail heavy
start-up costs and that it would probably take a long time before they showed any results.
This may well be true. But what the USPS so obviously lacks is any intention of helping people let alone good business sense at a time when it sorely needs both.

Interestingly, the USPS made this rebuttal at a time when public trust in banks and the financial industry is under increasing attack from political figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and others. She was an early proponent of postal banking last year.

Maybe postal banking will emerge as an issue in the 2016 Presidential election.

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Court Ruling on Postal Rate Hike Won’t Matter

The U.S. Postal Service is gonna have to give back some money it received from its “exigent” rate increase last year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit just ruled that the 4.3% increase that took effect in 2014 cannot last forever and that the USPS will have to roll it back. But it didn’t say when.

On Christmas Eve, 2013, the Postal Regulatory Commission found that the USPS had lost about $2.8 billion during the recession of 2008 and OK’d its request for a 4.3% rate hike but only until the postal service recouped this money. By last March, the USPS had amassed about 80 percent of it.

Casting aside for a moment the actual legal process for rolling back this increase one wonders if this ruling
will really make any difference to the operations and long-term prospects of the USPS.

Just look at how the postal service has had to scrounge for money by closing facilities, laying off workers and trying out new commercial ventures, many of which have been unsuccessful. Now it my have to try harder, I guess.

This ruling delighted commercial mail lobbying groups to no end. Several of them had filed legal challenges to this increase.

Overall, the mailing industry had fought for at least 11 years to get a stable predictable rates structure which came about in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which tied annual rate increases to the Consumer Price Index. Those increases usually ended up at less than 2 percent.

That same law also allowed the USPS to file for exigent rate increases when it felt overall economic conditions warranted them.

Nearly every year since the law took effect in 2007 the USPS filed for such an increase and was rejected every time until 2013 when regulators finally caved and did so big time.

The current rates are set to expire in August but it’s unclear if and when they’ll actually be rolled back since the court sent the case back to the PRC for further review.

Most likely the USPS will have to go back to its former rate formula and will continue to run up massive deficits as it pretty much has done since 2006. It also may be forced to come up with some new money-raising gimmick and quickly.

Or maybe not. The bureaucratic process involved with possibly rolling back rates is likely to take a long time and involve things like filing comments, legal briefs and other cumbersome steps.

Given this legal limbo it’s unlikely Congress will weigh in especially before next year’s Presidential elections.

The most damaging aspect of the supposedly reforming PAEA measure is the postal service’s annual obligation to pay more than $5.8 billion a year to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees for 75 years.

This more than anything provision has bankrupted the USPS. No rate increase whether exigent or not is going to make any financial difference at all. Without this burden the public USPS would likely be profitable again.

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Postal Labor Negotiations Stall

Contract talks between the U.S. Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union have stalled over demands for “unacceptable” concessions.

Those include scuttling cost-of-living adjustments and forcing employees to contribute more to healthcare coverage, all in an effort to save the USPS money when it’s been bleeding red ink for years.

One of the chief causes of the USPS’s perpetual deficit is its mandate to pay $5.8 billion a year to cover retired employee healthcare costs for 75 years. Does the postal service really think cutting its share of employee healthcare coverage in a union contract is going to reduce this obligation at all?

Or is this proposal just another cynical USPS management attempt to further water down the power of organized labor?

Only Congress can change or eliminate this mammoth obligation. This is not happening anytime soon. But the USPS is showing the excessive hubris in trying to foist higher healthcare costs onto workers.

Even if the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and other labor groups agree to givebacks on healthcare the annual obligation will still be in place.

Maybe this is conflating two separate issues. The $5.8 billion-a-year millstone, which was slipped into the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, covers only retiree healthcare costs and not those of current employees.
But one could contend that because the USPS has this unpayable annual obligation that the postal service can no longer afford to pay as much for current employee healthcare.

Nobody’s gonna buy that argument.

Many people contend that the 2006 healthcare obligation was essentially designed as a way to make the USPS even more insolvent so private operators could eventually step in. This view does have some validity.

The USPS also reportedly wants permanently lower pay and benefits for new employees, weaker protections against layoffs and an increase in more nonprofessional postal employees, in other words non-union. All of this would follow the postal service’s recently-enacted new more lax delivery standards.

Does this impasse represent typical labor/management negotiations or is it symptomatic of a more aggressive strategy to bust unions at a time when conservative politics seem to have gained ascendency with an all-Republican Congress?

Let us also not forget that the USPS wants to save money through scaling back on its delivery responsibilities. This is running into more resistance with each passing day and is going international.

Canada Post, which often imitates the actions of USPS, has already been through this experience in at least one city. The USPS could learn a thing or two here.

In Hamilton, Ontario, which is situated about halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, NY, Canada Post is said to have put on hold a plan to suspend mail delivery to homes and businesses and put them in centrally located drop boxes, according to the Canada Broadcasting Corp http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/union-claims-super-mailbox-plan-on-hold-in-hamilton-canada-post-denies-it-1.3098166.

Canada Post denied this.

For the past two years, the USPS has been selling stamps and other products and services through Staples office supply stores whose workers are not unionized.
This has led the APWU, the United Federation of Teachers and other labor organizations to stage nationwide protests and boycotts of Staples stores. So far at least the postal service and Staples have not really stopped this program.

Some could say these efforts have been ineffective and they’d be essentially correct. But what would have happened if the unions were not in place to at least try and stop these incursions?

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USPS Delays Some Facility Closings

Word came last week that nearly all the U.S. Postal Service facility closures have been put on hold until next April.

This action came after a number of U.S. Senators led by John Tester (D-MT) sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan earlier this year. They complained that the USPS closures and new more lax delivery standards are disproportionately hurting people in rural areas http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.

Maybe the USPS is finally beginning to get it. Or, more likely, it’s reacting to growing pressure not only from the Senate but business people as well.

Postal service management still apparently can’t see the ill will it’s creating from these shutterings. Or maybe they don’t care as they seem to have insulation from a conservative corporatist Congress and other political operatives that want to degrade the nation’s oldest public institution with an eye toward eventual privatization.

Certainly slower deliveries brought about from the USPS’s new standards are pissing people off. Once upon a time, one could expect mail sent from far-off locations in the country to arrive within three days. But now that only happens about 63% of the time, according to Omaha.com http://www.omaha.com/news/metro/u-s-postal-service-delivery-times-lag-more-than-expected/article_3d184144-3097-591c-801f-0f2026fcdc35.html.

So much for the postal service’s long-standing promise of universal and timely service, no matter the weather.

It’s one thing to cut services for residential customers. Who cares about them? But these slowdowns are affecting businesses also. You might think businesses would have more money, power and influence to fight the facility closures and diminished delivery standards.

At the same time, don’t think for a minute the USPS is done with closing facilities, especially local post offices. Keep in mind its desire of sell post offices to commercial real estate interests across the country. Abetting this movement is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) whose husband, Richard Blum, is chairman of CBRE, the real estate giant. The firm has a contract with the postal service to sell off its properties without competitive bidding.

Question: what’s gonna happen if these real estate companies cannot make enough money from taking over post offices?

The USPS or other public agencies could well end up taking them back.

What happened to passenger railroads in this country provides a cautionary tale. When they were no longer profitable, their operations fell into the hands of both the federal and local governments such as Amtrak and myriad local and state authorities.

Nobody sane is going to deny the need for rail and other forms of mass transit in our ever-urbanizing society. So what if they can no longer make any money?

The parallels with the USPS are striking.

Right now, it’s anybody’s guess what the postal service might do about plant shutterings in the middle of the 2016 Presidential election year when they are supposedly scheduled to resume.

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Disgraced Commissioner Blasts Post Office Closures

Another high-profile official has come out against the U.S. Postal Service’s selloff of historic and necessary post offices to private real estate concerns. This comes as more and more people are suffering from declining performance service standards.

Ruth Goldway, former chair of Postal Regulatory Commission, lashed out against the closure of the Stamford, CT main post office. She called this and other closures “short-sighted and myopic.” In addition to depriving local residents of necessary institution, she argues, closing that facility further diminishes the USPS by taking away space to display important artwork and other cultural artifacts, according to Post and Parcel http://postandparcel.info/64687/news/companies/usps-short-sighted-over-sale-of-historic-central-post-offices/

Goldway may indeed have lost some credibility after President Obama replaced her in 2013 as PRC Chair. This came following longstanding criticism that she ran up overly high travel expenses, according to the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/12/05/postal-commission-replaces-jet-setting-chair-amid-scrutiny-of-travel-habits/. She will remain a Commissioner until a replacement is found.Nevertheless, her observations about the USPS’s post office closure practices are right on the money.

Before closing main post offices, the USPS should consider using those buildings to house other businesses, notes Goldway, who remains a Commissioner, though no longer chair. Reconsidering its approach may ultimately make even better business sense for the postal service down the road.

Her pleas may be falling on deaf ears.

Last August, veteran corporate fighter Ralph Nader warned local demonstrators in Berkeley, CA that proponents of post office closings have friends in high places.One of them is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She’s married to Richard Blum, chairman of CBRE, the real estate giant that has a contract with the postal service to sell off its properties without competitive bidding.

Even though Feinstein is now part of the Senate minority it’s doubtful her, or her husband’s influence have abated very much. And who knows? CBRE could also find a way to make money through lining up companies to share space in post offices. Feinstein and Blum may not be the only well-connected people involved in these enterprises.

But all may not be lost.

Thanks to strong lobbying of both the postal service and local politicians USPS eventually backed away from selling this particular post office building. This led to a recent California court decision to dismiss a suit against the postal service over its previously intended sale of the building, according to savethepostoffice.com http://www.savethepostoffice.com/court-dismisses-lawsuit-over-berkeley-post-office-after-usps-rescinds-decision-sell-historic. This dismissal was a mere legal formality in the wake of the postal service’s walking away from this venture.

The Stamford post office is just one of such endangered facilities which include the Bronx General Post Office in New York and many, many others.In Houston, TX, for example, negotiations are still ongoing for how to unload that city’s main post office building, according to the Houston Business Journal http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/morning_call/2015/05/negotiations-reportedly-underway-for-downtown-post.html.

But it’s not just post offices that are closing. In April, the USPS said it plans to close at least 10 more processing and distribution facilities, according to the National Mail Handler’s Union http://www.npmhu.org/media/news/postal-service-announces-additional-changes-to-the-phase-ii-2015-usps-network-rationalization-consolidation-list.

So what’s the artificially debt-ridden USPS supposed to do to cut expanses? For the quarter ended March 31, postal service reported a $1.5 billion loss http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_024.htm.
That debt stems from an annual $5.8 billion-plus annual payment to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees. That obligation was central to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which stabilized previously haphazard postal rate increases.

Only new Congressional legislation can change and/or modify this provision. That won’t happen without
concerted and persistent public action.In the meantime, local activists can learn a thing or two about local post offices from what happened at Berkeley.

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Abolish the Postal Service: Right Wing Think Tank

Once again we have someone in a high place questioning whether we need a U.S. Postal Service.

In this case it comes from Newsweek magazine by way of the purportedly liberal Brookings Institution http://www.newsweek.com/do-we-need-postal-service-319243

But the opinion piece is penned Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a right-wing think tank that believes “free markets” are the panacea for all the world’s problems.

Kosar does concede the USPS “cannot be abolished; at least, not immediately.”

He should remember that, the U.S. Constitution mandates that Congress establish post offices and post roads. In 1792 Congress passed the Private Express Statutes which gave the then-Post Office Department a monopoly on the delivery of mail. These laws were amended in 1979 to allow private carriers to deliver mail under certain circumstances http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private Express Statutes\

Yes, these laws watered down the Private Express Statutes and allowed corporations to muscle in.

But to call for abolishing a public post office in favor of profit-making enterprises borders on the psychotic. For one thing, commercial mailers and other businesses still favor the USPS despite its defects.

Case in point: In 1988,–long before any postal reform legislation ever saw the light of day–the USPS was able to raise rates by 25%. This led to a movement to set up private delivery services, which soon fizzled out.

In the following years, many attempts were made to reform the USPS and establish a predictable rate increase structure. It took until 2006 for such legislation to pass and take effect.

But that law, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, also mandated that the USPS pay $5.8 billion a year to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees. Many have argued this was the first step in destroying the USPS. This obligation has certainly been a continued drag on its finances despite the USPS reporting a 4.3 percent increase in revenue, $754 million net loss for the quarter ended Dec, 31 http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_010.htm.

R Street’s proposals say nothing about what effect a privatized postal service would have on ordinary people who may not be all that technologically advanced. The USPS is supposed to serve everybody, remember?

For its part, R Street says it differs “from other groups on the political right in our dedication to building broad coalitions.”

If this is true, then why does this think tank offer unworkable extremist ideas that ignore the true needs of all the population?

It’s quite improbable the postal service will never be abolished. What’s more likely is that the USPS will continue to be watered down. This has been going on for a long time as the USPS continues to close post offices and distribution facilities, thereby reducing its highly unionized workforce. These moves are already running into public resistance.

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Protests against USPS Cuts Are Gaining Steam

Protests against USPS Cuts Are Gaining Steam.

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Can Grand Alliance Save the USPS from Destruction?

The American Postal Workers Union and more than 60 other organizations have formed the Grand Alliance (www.agrandalliance.org), an umbrella group to advocate for preserving the U.S. Postal Service

This may be an opening salvo in a strategy to fight back against the forces of the blind greed and destructiveness of the corporate/Republican establishment. They do not care about the destruction they would create as long as a few rich people can profit here.

Other members of this group include the National Council of Churches, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Alliance for Retired Americans, Greenpeace USA, Vote Vets Action Fund, and the AFL-CIO labor union.

Question is: what substantially can this alliance do besides launch a commercial hosted by actor Danny Glover—whose parents were both postal workers—against the much better funded opposition?

The postal service is still operating in its dysfunctional manner even though it’s showing some improvements in generating revenue and volume.

The USPS reported a 12.8 percent high in holiday season package delivery. The postal service even registered a 3.5 percent increase in standard mail (junk mail) volume http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2015/pr15_010.htm

First-class mail volume dropped 1.1 percent during the quarter. This result fits in with a steady decline in first class that has been going on for many years now. It also serves as a convenient excuse for the USPS to want to cut services because of the growing number of people who now pay their bills electronically.

The USPS continues to run at a loss. The elephant in the room—as it has been for the past eight years–is the more than $5.8 billion a year the postal service must fork over to the U.S. Treasury to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees for the next 75 years. No other federal agency has such an obligation.

It’s way too easy to make cheap jokes about elephants in the room now that the Republicans dominate both houses of Congress. But the temptation is there since it was Republicans—especially Darrel Issa (R-CA). He spearheaded ultimately unsuccessful efforts so far to totally privatize the postal service during the past few years as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa no longer holds that post which is now held by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). But Issa may have helped pave the way for a more thorough yet still gradual dismantling the USPS as we know it.

Chaffetz seems nearly every bit as conservative as Issa although his style may be less combative, according to the Daily Caller http://dailycaller.com/2014/12/16/jason-chaffetz-gearing-up-to-become-houses-top-obama-watchdog/

It doesn’t look like Chaffetz will be too interested in preserving a public postal service.

On the Democratic side, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper plans to reintroduce a bill to help out the USPS as he has for about the past four years. This may end up just as a formality in this hostile legislative environment.

In fact, Congress obviously doesn’t really want to help the USPS survive and thrive. Maybe the Grand Alliance can help move Congress in the right direction. But it’s gonna take a lot of work, fighting spirit and likely a good deal of patience and endurance.

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People Already Noticing Slower Mail Delivery

People and maybe more importantl some politicians have begun to notice that mail deliveries are getting slower thanks to the U.S. Postal Service’s shuttering of 82 mail processing facilities in January.

In Racine County Wisconsin local residents have begun reporting delays as long as a week for first class mail, which the USPS says should run no more than three days, according to the Racine Journal Times http://journaltimes.com/news/local/mail-seem-slow-postal-service-change-is-likely-the-cause/article_a6863276-fcc9-5fb9-9927-113a20beb50d.html.

Keep in mind most people still pay their bills via first class mail and not everybody is in a position or willing to pay their bills online. It’s unlikely that credit card, electric, or phone companies will accept slower mail service as a reason not to charge exorbitant late fees.

In fact, Senator John Tester (D-MT) said as much to incoming new to incoming Postmaster General Megan Brennan late last month, stressing how these new standards will disproportionately hurt people in rural areas http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3766.

As a member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Tester will be partly responsible for overseeing the USPS. But how much influence can he really have in the all-Republican Senate?

What’s more, it’s not likely one single face-to-face exchange between the senator and the PMG will immediately lead to changes in postal service practices.

Discontent with the USPS’s new service standards is growing among business groups as well. In Tucson, AZ, a local mail processing facility was closed down and its load was moved to a plant in Phoenix. This was causing delays of up to five days, which are bringing hardships and lost sales to local enterprises, according to the Tucson News http://tucson.com/news/business/mail-delays-detrimental-tucson-business-leaders-say/article_9b459f9d-d112-5969-aa40-e47394c2d965.html.

One other major way the USPS is downsizing itself is by closing post offices selling them to private developers, a movement that’s continuing despite growing public resistance.

In one case the postal service sold off its Stuyvesant Station post office in New York City to developers who are going to build a big luxury condominium on top of the building, according to the Town and Village newspaper http://town-village.com/2015/01/22/peter-stuyvesant-post-office-apartments/.

Whether it knows it or not, the USPS is enabling the local real estate industry in its cruel efforts to make the borough of Manhattan the province of only the very rich.
Those developers have no regard for the lives and needs of ordinary people and nobody is apparently advocating for the people either.

Eventually, this real estate boom is going to run its course and there won’t be enough rich people to come to New York and sustain it. Likely, the city if not the state governments will be forced to deal with the consequences.

But it is sometimes possible to fight entrenched interests and win.

After all, about six years ago, former insurance executive turned patient activist Wendell Potter testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that insurance companies quite frequently deny legitimate claims because they generally put profits over patients, according to Bill Moyers’ Journal on the Public Broadcasting Service  http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/07102009/profile.htm.

Moyers’ expose as wqell as the efforts of Potter and many other efforts that had been building for many years helped bring about the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

But passing this law took a long time and a lot of political pressure and activism. Many people still feel the Obamacare law is inadequate. To this day many members of Congress and the Senate still want to repeal or at least water down the ACA.

Granted the postal service may not seem like the same life and death issue as reasonably priced and available medical insurance. But this gradual evisceration of the USPS will bring about many predictable and unforeseen long term consequences to the health of this country.

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Unions Finally Join in Postal Banking Fight

It’s better late than never but why did it take major postal labor unions nearly a year to sign on with the idea of having the U.S. Postal Service begin offering banking services to the poor and underserved?

But the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), National Association of Letter Carriers and similar groups finally joined this coalition http://www.apwu.org/news/press-release/new-coalition-%E2%80%98campaign-postal-banking%E2%80%99-launches-strong-support-financial-reform.

In January, 2014 the office of the USPS Inspector General recommended that the postal service begin offering financial services to as many as 68 million people who typically don’t have access to conventional banking services in their neighborhoods. Too often, these people are forced to rely on such abusive and exorbitant operations as payday lenders and pawn shops https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf.

These labor groups and  other supporters probably lost precious time to lobby Congress and the public behind such a project that could benefit vast numbers of economically advantaged people. Other participants include the Alliance for Retired Americans, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Public Citizen.

By offering these services through its extensive number of post offices the USPS could increase its annual revenue by $8.9 billion per year, the Inspectors said.

Offering such services would provide the USPS with badly needed new revenue at a time when Congress just seems to showing a good deal of apathy and/or deliberate disregard about fiscally reinforcing the postal service.

On the face of it getting approval for such an endeavor was long shot anyway given strong opposition from the all-powerful and financial banking lobbies.

In fact, it was opposition from banks that caused Congress to direct the then-U.S. Post Office Department to discontinue offering postal savings accounts in 1967.

Will the newly elected Republican-controlled Congress be any more amenable toward signing off on anything the banks oppose?

Going forward, it’s possible that proponents of postal banking may get some additional support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who’s well known for championing financial reform for the middle class and opposing Wall Street excesses.

Last Spring on her blog, the Senator detailed her support for this proposal, according to the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/coming-to-a-post-office-n_b_4709485.html.

One can only hope that the unions’ endorsement of postal banking might lend some momentum to this movement. Maybe these efforts will lead to greater public awareness of and action on this issue. Public pressure can sometimes affect USPS decisions.

For example, the USPS may well have taken the main post office in Berkeley, CA off the selling block, according to the Berkeleydailyplanet.com http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-01-23/article/42963?headline=The-USPS-claims-historic-Berkeley-Post-Office-is-no-longer-for-sale–.

If so, this would represent a victory for local activists, the National Post Office Collaborate and other groups intent on preserving the postal service and its traditions. These actions also help thwart the USPS’s efforts to further downsize and deprive people and businesses of necessary services.

But, as longtime consumer and public activist Ralph Nader warned locals last summer, this fight is far from over.

 

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