Letter carriers step up drive to save Postal Service

MINNEAPOLIS – Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando is challenging his union to step up its crusade to save the Postal Service, saying that “if we don’t, no one else will.”

In a keynote address to the National Association of Letter Carriers convention the last full week of July in Minneapolis, Rolando described the threats to the Postal Service – and to workers’ jobs – coming from both Congress and from agency management.

Postal service managers want to ruthlessly downsize the USPS, cutting delivery, laying off 100,000 workers, letting another 100,000 go by attrition and closing post offices.  And House Republicans want to install a financial czar over the troubled agency, with the power to fire workers, rip up union contracts and cut benefits.

“But we have a secret weapon in the fight” to preserve the USPS, Rolando added: “Each other.”

The future of the Postal Service, which employs the union’s letter carriers plus members of the Mail Handlers and the Postal Workers, dominated convention discussions.  The NALC calculates it has 270,000 members and Postmaster General Thomas Donahue wants to cut many of them to solve yearly multibillion-dollar deficits.

The Letter Carriers say the main reason for the deficit is a yearly $5.5 billion advance payment of future health care costs for future retirees, imposed by a GOP-run Congress and GOP President George Bush in 2006.  Congress can solve the financial ills of the United States Postal Service by eliminating that yearly payment and by ordering the government to return billions of dollars in overfunded pension money to the USPS.  

Postal “reform” legislation pending in Congress only partially solves the health care payment problem and does nothing about the pension overfunding.  It also does not back ideas, which NALC has advanced, to let the Postal Service use its nationwide network for other profitable purposes, such as selling licenses and permits. 

“Remember to keep your head up, and remember the power of a union.  You have a way to overcome all the fear and uncertainty about the future by fighting for each

other today,” Rolando told his delegates.  But he warned it wouldn’t be easy.

“Fasten your seat belts, brothers and sisters…We are going to face extreme turbulence.  But make no mistake: Our primary task will be to determine the future of the Postal Service.  That is bold, some might think arrogant, talk.  But it is true.”

Other players who should be concerned about the Postal Service aren’t, Rolando said.  He said agency management is “hopeless” and “has no business plan,” that Congress is hostile or “deadlocked” and the Obama administration is “disengaged.” 

He was particularly irate about the management, whose solution, he said, is “cut service, cut Saturday delivery, close facilities, cut the workforce, reduce wages and benefits, contract out and shrink, shrink, shrink ourselves.

“If we do not seize the moment, show the way and demonstrate the service can be saved — and how — the sad fact is that no one else will do it.  Period,” Rolando said.

The NALC has hired Ron Bloom, who served as President Obama’s manager in turning around the nation’s car companies after the 2008 crash, to draft a new business plan for USPS that the union could promote.  In his own speech, Bloom warned the delegates the union might have to sacrifice, too.  The Auto Workers made sacrifices under Bloom’s successful rescue of GM and Chrysler, using a specially structured bankruptcy process for the two big auto firms.

Bloom, who once was an SEIU organizer before going into such areas as investment banking and industrial policy, said, “We need three things to succeed: A leader with vision who wants the Postal Service to win, a Congress that sees the value of the (postal) network, and Letter Carriers who stand up for themselves and this institution.

“The Letter Carriers are there, but Obama is indifferent and much of Congress is hostile,” Bloom added. “Congress created it,” he said of USPS, “and whether by action or inaction, indifference or malice, many people are prepared to see it fade away.”

Too many lawmakers, Bloom told the crowd, “either don’t understand the situation, don’t care, or understand it all too well and want USPS to fail.”

Bloom said the agency’s other key problem is the declining volume of first-class mail, which the union has repeatedly pointed out still makes money for the USPS.  “Nothing will arrest” that drop, Bloom warned.  But the Postmaster General and his team “have thrown in the towel” on reinventing the agency for the 21st century.

USPS can use its nationwide network for other profitable purposes besides delivering the mail, he said.  But there also must be shared sacrifice, Bloom said, with a hard look at collective-bargaining agreements. “Labor needs to be a part of the solution.  If we don’t lead this, it will not happen. If it’s not part of a bigger package of shared sacrifice, it is completely in vain.”

Photo: Sheila Steele // CC 2.0


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.