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

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

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

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

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

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

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)

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

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.
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?

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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
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 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

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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