In about-face, lawmakers uphold Saturday mail delivery

WASHINGTON – After lobbying by the nation’s postal unions – and questions from non-partisan auditors about savings claims – a key GOP-run House committee reversed course and voted June 25 to uphold 6-day mail service, including Saturday service.

The voice vote in the full GOP-run House Appropriations Committee restored the 6-day mandate to the money bill for the Postal Service and several other agencies.  Bowing to demands from the Postmaster General, supported by the Obama administration, the panel’s GOP-run subcommittee that deals with USPS money had eliminated the Saturday service rule.

As the House Appropriations panel restored the Saturday service – pickup and delivery – requirement for the year starting Oct. 1, Democratic-run Senate subcommittee that deals with the USPS affirmed that 6-day service rule, the Letter Carriers reported.

Saturday service has been a flashpoint in the postmaster general’s scheme to close a deficit by cutting service, firing 100,000 workers and letting another 100,000 go by attrition.  He also wants to close hundreds of post offices, replace full-time union workers with part-time temps, sell postage in Staples stores and switch all 500,000-plus postal workers to a yet-to-be-crafted USPS-run health care plan.

But Congress can block any or all of his moves.  Though the Postal Service is technically a quasi-independent corporation, Congress still can set its terms of operation, and still appropriates some money for it, for mail subsidies for the blind.   That lets lawmakers decide whether to keep Saturday service.

The four postal worker unions – the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, the Rural Letter Carriers and the Mail Handlers/Laborers – are engaged in a joint lobbying campaign to keep Saturday service and to stop the other cuts.  

They all point out that the only reason USPS runs in the red is because a GOP-run Congress, in a 2006 postal “reform” law, ordered it to pay $5.5 billion yearly to pre-fund 75 years of future retirees’ health care benefits.

Keeping Saturday service “is a clear victory for Letter Carriers and other supporters of a strong Postal Service,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said.  He praised the “bipartisan effort” by Reps. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and Tom Latham, R-Iowa, to restore the Saturday service rule.  “On behalf of the 270,000 active and retired members of the NALC, I thank all of our activists who urged representatives to support the Serrano-Latham amendment.”

Besides the lobbying, both panels learned that USPS estimates of $2 billion yearly “savings” from eliminating Saturday service are questionable.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office “declared USPS would only save about $10.9 billion over 10 years,” NALC reported.  The billion-dollars-a-year difference, the non-partisan auditors said, is because the Postal Service used 20-year-old service data for its calculations.

“Of course, CBO accepted the Postal Service’s dubious claim that eliminating Saturday delivery would not have a large effect on its revenues and volume, while NALC is convinced that ending 6-day service would lose more money than it might save,” the union added.

“It should be obvious to everyone by now that ending Saturday delivery and degrading the postal network would do nothing to solve the real financial problem the Postal Service faces,” that $5.5 billion yearly health care pre-payment, Rolando said.  That money “is 100 percent responsible for the Postal Service’s so-called “losses.”  Without that drain, USPS has reported a $1 billion profit so far this year, he noted.  

Photo: At a rally on the Boston Common, March 24, 2013, held to save six-day mail delivery service. Hundreds turned out for the rally to listen to speakers and demand that mail continue to be delivered on Saturdays in the U.S. Steven Senne/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.