(Jan. 20, 2012) — Who’s that man or woman you see in your neighborhood six days a week? It’s your letter carrier. Letter carriers like me are in every community delivering your mail almost every day. Some carriers have had the same route for 10, 20, even 30 years. Often letter carriers are so well known in the community that children are named after us, retirement parties are thrown for us and tears are shed when we are gone.
We care about the communities we serve. Letter carriers conduct the largest single food drive in the nation. We pay attention when our elderly customers don’t pick up their mail for several days. Letter carriers have rescued customers from burning buildings and provided aid when necessary.
But postal employees are under attack.
The U.S. Postal Service has been in the news lately. The primary focus of the stories is our financial troubles. There is no doubt the company is facing financial difficulty, but this is not the whole story.
The USPS has not used a dime of taxpayer money for more than 30 years. All of our revenue comes from postage and the few mailing supplies we offer. Of course, with email, Facebook and automatic bill-paying, Americans are sending less first-class mail through the post office.
The immediate financial trouble facing the Postal Service is the result of a 2006 law, which requires the USPS to prepay 75 years’ worth of future retiree health benefits within 10 years. This amounts to $5.5 billion annually.
This number will increase to $5.8 billion by 2016. No other company or agency has such a requirement. This law needs to be changed. With the recession, the USPS would have broken even if it weren’t required to make these prefunding payments.
In addition to changing this law, we also need to correct a financial miscalculation, one that led the USPS to overpay more than $50 billion in future retirement costs. This money belongs to the post office and is over and above what we actually need to cover our current estimated debt of $14 billion.
What is the answer? Other than legislative action, the company needs to find creative ways to cut costs and increase revenue. It is difficult to increase revenue by raising stamp prices alone, since every time postal rates increase our mail volume decreases. It is a vicious cycle.
We also disagree with cutting service to the point of causing irreparable harm to the company. Our country needs the Postal Service. The path to survival is not eliminating the service the American public has grown to count on. Closing post offices, reducing delivery standards and cutting out a day of delivery does not make sense. Rural communities, small businesses and older Americans rely on the Postal Service six days a week.
The drastic cuts proposed by postal management would also hurt postal employees. The proposals to cut service could result in an additional 120,000 unemployed postal workers. That is not good for our economy.
National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando stated recently:
The nation’s 200,000 letter carriers are doing their daily job of delivering 560 million pieces of mail to 150 million addresses. That’s 170 billion pieces of mail a year. They are driving the Postal Service’s fleet of 200,000 vehicles. They are operating out of 17,000 postal facilities in every village, town and city in America. They are doing it for half the price of the next cheapest postal service in the world.
In other words, we are a crucial part of the nation’s economic infrastructure. The Postal Service and its letter carriers lie at the heart of a set of industries — publishing, printing, advertising, commercial distribution and related sectors — that employ 7.5 million workers, generating $1.3 trillion annually. That’s 8 percent of the entire national economy.
The Postal Service has agreed to a moratorium on closing or consolidating any post offices or mail-processing facilities until May 15. Congress has also agreed to delay the $5.5 billion retiree benefits payment until August. Both of these delays are good for short-term survival, but May and August will be upon us very soon and we might be right back where we started.
Please call and write your congressional representatives and senators and ask them to help save the Postal Service without cutting the service you deserve. Please urge them to support HR-3591 and S-1853. These bills are titled “The Postal Service Protection Act” and they address the issues I’ve written about here.
Thank you for continuing to support the USPS and the members of the National Association of Letter Carriers who serve you. We’ll see you around the neighborhood.
Jo Ann Pyle is President of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 79 in Seattle. This column, which originally appeared in Real Change, is reprinted here with her permission.
Get more information at www.SaveAmericasPostalService.org