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.
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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.

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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