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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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