Nationwide “U.S. Mail is Not for Sale” call-in February 25
U.S. Mail Not For Sale Facebook page

WASHINGTON—One house of Congress won, the other to go along. That’s the objective of the “U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale” call-in day postal union members and their allies plan to stage on Feb. 25.

Their goal: To convince the GOP-run Senate to agree with the House, and end the biggest financial drain on the USPS. That drain, a $5.5 billion yearly prepayment for future health care costs, sends the Postal Service into the red – and gives right-wing privatizers and President Trump an excuse to sell the Postal Service.

The House passed the bill, The USPS Fairness Act, HR2382, earlier this year, 309-106. Now the Postal Workers (APWU), the Letter Carriers (NALC), other postal unions and other unions – notably the Office and Professional Employees, which posted the call-in on their website – want to push the Senate to pass its version of the legislation, S2965.

Details of the call-in number are on www.apwu.org, or by texting ACTION on your cell phone to 91990 to receive a reminder the day before about contacting your senators.

The mandatory yearly prepayment of future health care costs which the GOP-run Congress imposed on USPS in 2006 is responsible for the entire “deficit” the agency runs.

Without that paper “drain,” say both APWU President Mark Dimondstein and NALC President Fredric Rolando, the Postal Service would turn a real profit every year and be able to invest its money in buying newer vehicles, modernizing its machines and diversifying into other services – all of which would help it pay its workers and upgrade its services.

But citing that hemorrhage of red ink, Postmasters General since then have fired workers, closed post offices and distribution centers, tried to outsource stamp sales to low-paid non-union workers at Staples, and increasingly turned to part-timers, not full-time union jobs.

The red ink has also led Trump and his privatizers to advocate other cost-cutting moves, such as eliminating Saturday delivery and ripping up union contracts. And of course, more layoffs and forced retirements from a workforce that is majority female and people of color, combined, and a route for many of them into well-paying unionized middle-class jobs.

Stanch the source of the deficits, postal unions and their allies, including OPEIU and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, say, and the USPS workers and their agency could go back to delivering the mail with confidence – and drumming up more business. Ending that health care prepayment goes almost all of the way towards that larger goal, they add.

“Our members’, allies’, and sister postal unions’ efforts to speak to Congress and the public about the truth behind the Postal Service’s financial burden are paying off with this bipartisan legislation,” said Dimondstein, whose union is leading the joint drive.

“Again, we see the power of workers and collective action,” he added. Just one call-in day for the House bill, before it passed, produced more than 7,570 calls to Congress, on top of thousands of unionists’ in-person congressional visits, said Legislative Director Judy Beard.

“APWU members, along with our allies, will flood the phones in their senators’ offices and ask them to become a cosponsor of S2965,” Dimondstein said.

Letter Carriers President Rolando put the red ink the bill is designed to stanch in perspective. The deficit “underlines the need for congressional action on common-sense legislative reform. The first step toward such reform is the USPS Fairness Act,” which the House approved on Feb. 5, he explained.

“The entire first-quarter loss — $748 million — stems from the unfair obligation placed on the Postal Service by Congress in 2006 to pre-fund future retiree health benefits decades in advance. That mandate cost the Postal Service $1.2 billion in the first three months of the fiscal year.”

“This mandate, which no other public agency or private company in the country faces, imposes a crushing financial burden on the Postal Service. It accounts for most of the Postal Service’s losses over the past decade, creating an artificial financial ‘crisis’ that threatens services and prevents needed investments…HR2382 would repeal the mandate.”

“NALC calls on the Senate to quickly pass its version, remove this onerous obligation on America’s Postal Service” and “set the table for other consensus reforms to allow the Postal Service to continue to provide the American people and their businesses with the industrial world’s most-affordable delivery network.”

“Our sisters and brothers at the APWU need our help!” the Office and Professional Employees said in a website statement. “On Feb. 25, postal workers and the communities they serve will be standing up for our public Postal Service. See below to learn how you can help protect one of America’s most cherished institutions.”

“The message is clear. Our elected leaders must take the unfair prefunding mandate off of the back of the USPS. Let’s savor this win” in the House, “but remember there is more work to do. We need all of our strength to get the USPS Fairness Act’s companion bill, S2965, passed in the Senate.”

“Since 2013, the prefunding mandate is responsible for 100% of the Postal Service’s net losses,” CLUW convention delegates said in a resolution last year. “No other federal agency or private sector business prefunds its retirement benefits. The uncertainty inherent in satisfying the prefunding mandate is creating real instability in the Postal Service’s operations. The postal employees we represent see the consequences of this instability in their work, their workplaces, and in the service they provide the public. The solution is HR2382.”

But with or without the health care prefunding mandate, the USPS faces another existential threat, from Trump. His proposed budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 repeated it: More privatization, delivery cutbacks and “modernization” of labor relations – code words for ripping up NALC’s and APWU’s union contracts with the Postal Service.

Trump also claims other reforms – cuts — in USPS pension contributions on behalf of its workers could save the federal government $91 billion over ten years. And he advocates “more closely aligning Postal Service employee wages with those of other Federal employees.” That’s Trump, GOP and right-wing code for “pay cuts.”

Foreseeing the Trump privatization threat last March, a bipartisan group of 25 senators introduced a resolution to ban the administration’s move. Their measure is separate from HR2382. Their resolution also pointed out USPS receives no government subsidies.

“Privatization would result in higher prices and reduced services for USPS customers, especially in rural communities,” said lead sponsor Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.

“Since 1775, the United States Postal Service and its dedicated employees – including over 100,000 veterans – have performed an essential government service, maintaining an affordable and universal network that connects households and businesses in rural, suburban and urban communities. Congress should take all appropriate measures to prevent privatization and ensure the Postal Service remains a strong institution that will serve the people for generations to come,” Peters said.


CONTRIBUTOR

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.

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