In unusual bipartisan harmony, House OKs postal reform
U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamesa Euler delivers mail in the rain in Atlanta. Six-day mail delivery will continue despite right wing attempts to have it reduced to five days. | David Goldman/AP

WASHINGTON—In an unusual bipartisan harmony, the U.S. House approved a massive postal reform bill whose main impact would be to end the heavy weight of a $5 billion yearly prepayment of future retirees’ health care costs.

The measure is also an implicit rebuke to the GOP-run Congress which imposed that “onerous burden,” as postal unions put it, in 2006. The payment’s so huge it’s driven the U.S. Postal Service into the red ever since, regardless of how much actual profit USPS’s union workers earn for it by delivering the mail. That includes results for the first quarter of its fiscal year, from October-December 2021.

Postal unions, led by the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers and the Mail Handlers/ Laborers have marshaled their members and their allies for at least a decade to end the prepayment while seeking more revenue sources to bolster the nation’s universal mail service.

Those could range from notary public services to shipping wine and beer to reviving postal banking, which ended in the 1960s. Doing so would bring basic bank services to the 29% of U.S. people without access to a bank branch. The bill, HR3076, endorses getting USPS into such alternatives if they don’t hamper the mail. It doesn’t list specific ideas.

Workers’ lobbying went on even as debate occurred on February 8, with NALC telling members and their allies to call their lawmakers via the U.S. Capitol switchboard, at 202-224-3121. Now that it’s passed the House, they’ll turn their attention to the evenly split Senate.

As a result of lobbying from workers and constituents, lawmakers ranging from retiring progressive Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich.–a 30-year Postal Worker–to Rep. Virginia Foss, R-N.C., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee and a notorious union-hater, backed the measure. The vote was lopsided: 342-92.

“Following years of debate to build consensus, it is time to pass this vital and carefully constructed legislation, a bipartisan compromise that will bring financial stability to the Postal Service,” NALC President Fredric Rolando, APWU President Mark Dimondstein, Mail Handlers President Paul Hogrogian, and Rural Letter Carriers President Ronnie Stutts said in a joint letter to lawmakers.

HR3076  “includes key provisions of importance to the men and women that we represent, the very backbone of the Postal Service,” the four added. Besides ending the health care prepayment, it “adopts private sector best practice by maximizing the integration of postal employees and retirees into Medicare.” That will start in 2025.

“Additionally, the legislation benefits all Americans by codifying into law the mandate to provide six-day mail delivery to all Americans Six-day service is critically important to the 159 million business and residential customers we serve every day,” the union presidents added.

While an NALC fact sheet makes those same points, both it and the letter politely avoid that the GOP-run Congress in 2006 imposed that $5 billion prepayment. USPS’s annual financial statement shows the prepayment is “responsible for 84% of USPS losses” since 2007 and “100% of losses from 2013-2018.”

Without it, postal profits would have totaled $4 billion.

That’s what happened in the first quarter of this fiscal year, too, Rolando said. “USPS had a highly successful holiday delivery period, continues to provide essential items so people can shelter safely at home, and now is delivering millions of Covid test kits to households. At the same time, the net loss” in the agency’s figures “makes clear the need for postal reform to address the artificial red ink caused by the 2006 congressional mandate.

The red ink led several Republican-named Postmasters General, especially current PMG Louis DeJoy, to propose letting thousands of workers go, closing distribution centers, employing part-timers with lower pay and no benefits, slowing delivery times and even—once—selling stamps in Staples stores, among other moves.

The PMGs, including DeJoy, a Trumpite and GOP big giver, also sought to kill Saturday delivery. HR3076 makes six-day delivery permanent in law, instead.

The House Government Reform Committee’s report on the measure orders the USPS to notify customers 60 days in advance if it wants to cut delivery times, close sorting centers, close post offices or otherwise slow down the mail. Customers get 60 days to challenge that.

The GOP backed the bill only after winning one big concession from the Democrats, forcing them to drop a rollback of DeJoy’s slower delivery standards. Neither the bill nor the lawmakers mentioned enormous citizen demand—more than a million signatures on petitions—to force the Postal Service board to fire DeJoy.

Former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump forced the board to accept DeJoy in the top slot in spring 2020, plus his “management” team. They promptly started yanking the ubiquitous blue mailboxes from central cities, especially those with high shares of people of color, closed distribution centers, let workers go, and slowed mail delivery times. DeJoy also had his honchos pull out sorting machines that could handle large envelopes, including ballots.

Right-wing Trump White House staffers and Cabinet officers advocated privatizing the USPS, raising rates, firing workers, tearing up union contracts, and selling profitable parts to the private sector, leaving the rest of the country hung out to dry. In budget documents, Trump agreed. Congress didn’t.

Lawrence, the former Postal Worker, told her colleagues HR3076 would protect the USPS “for generations to come.” She added:  “For more than two centuries, the hard-working employees of the Postal Service have lived up to the agency’s motto, ‘Neither sleet, nor rain, nor heat or gloom of night will stay the couriers from their appointed rounds.’”

With all the red ink, “It’s time for Congress to step in and ensure the Postal Service can maintain its commitment to providing prompt and reliable mail service. This bill will provide the Postal Service with the critical reforms to help address this long-term financial solvency… Today, we have the opportunity to deliver the package.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the measure’s lead sponsor there and a longtime advocate for unions and workers, is expected to weigh in on  S1720, the Senate version of HR3076.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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