Unions: $500 billion went to corporations, Postal Service got nothing
The USPS has as its mission, written into federal law, "the binding together of the nation." That historic role and how it has helped preserve democracy is threatened now by the USPS possibly being forced to shut down by summer's end due to lack of funding. | Matt Rourke/AP

WASHINGTON—As the GOP Trump government and its congressional allies have ladled out tons of cash towards private businesses hit in the worst depression in years, they’ve given the financial back of their hand to the one institution all those firms depend on: The U.S. Postal Service.

And postal union leaders don’t like it one bit. Nor, they add, does postal management.

Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein summarized the contrast, at a time when the USPS has lost half of its money-making first-class mail to the business closures and resulting depression-ordered to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Five hundred billion dollars went to private corporations in the Cares Act. The Postal Service got nothing,” he declared.

Dimondstein’s right, and that brought the postal union leaders together in a May 27 telephone press conference to make the case for allotting $25 billion in cash to the financially beleaguered USPS in the next economic stimulus bill.

The money would not only aid the 600,000 people USPS employs, most of them women, people of color, veterans, union members, or combinations of those characteristics. It would aid the country, too, they declared.

That’s because the USPS, unlike its private competitors, delivers to every address in the U.S.: Letters, packages, and in the time of the coronavirus, medicines, checks, and other essentials.

But the Postal Service “is under attack, not just from the coronavirus, but from their own government,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who hosted the call. Some 4,200  USPS workers are self-quarantined right now, and 25,000 have been quarantined overall. So far, 64 have died.

“Postal workers take pride in picking up” and delivering mail-in “election ballots, packages, and prescription drugs” to customers, said Letter Carriers Vice President Brian Renfroe, another speaker. The lack of cash, he warned “is a threat to all of our services.”

Yet the workers, all deemed “essential,” keep delivering the mail, in the face of both the viral and financial perils to their jobs. “We have heroic workers putting their health and safety at risk,” Shuler said. “Where is the compassion?” she asked at another point.

Not with GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., so far. More importantly, not at all with GOP President Donald Trump.

The $2.2 trillion Cares Act, which Congress approved and Trump signed on March 18, contained no cash for the USPS. Meanwhile, the Postal Service is hemorrhaging money, with projected losses of $18 billion through the end of this calendar year.

The situation is so bad, said Dimondstein, NALC VP Renfroe, and Mail Handlers/ Laborers President Paul Hogrogian, that if USPS doesn’t get aid by Sept. 30, it might have to shut down. The $3 trillion House-passed new economic stimulus bill contains $25 billion in straight cash, not a loan or line of credit, for USPS.

And even the Trump-appointed Postal Board of Governors supports the request. Trump, however, doesn’t. And he’s the biggest roadblock to the aid.

Postal unions and their backers have a plan, however, to overcome opposition from Trump and his water carrier, McConnell. It’s called massive public pressure on senators – especially Republicans from postal-dependent rural red states – to defy Trump.

“But we also have to keep pressure on the House Democrats,” Hogrogian warned. “They can’t cave in this time.”

What workers and their unions seek is the $25 billion in the House bill and elimination of tight restrictions on the USPS $10 billion line of credit McConnell grudgingly included in the Cares Act. Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the union leaders said, is using those conditions to refuse to even let loose that loan – and Trump opposes all USPS aid.

Postal workers and the agency certainly have the public in their corner. A recent joint poll by a Democratic and a Republican polling firm showed more than 90% public support for direct aid to the USPS.

And activist women in Detroit organized a large recent car caravan – the best way to protest during the coronavirus pandemic – down to the city’s main post office, showing their support for the workers and the USPS.

The unions are also marshaling the public through a #SaveThePostOffice social media campaign and union leaders are making the rounds of talk shows about the cause. Some 60 union presidents, led by all the postal union presidents, signed a save-the-post-office letter to McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on May 25.

“At a moment when the federal government stepped up to support struggling businesses of all shapes and sizes, and invested in critical industries, from aviation to agriculture, it is both fitting and urgently necessary to address the needs of the USPS and its workers now,” they wrote. “The mission of the Postal Service, written in federal law, is ‘to bind the Nation together’ through ‘the correspondence of the people.’ It is our collective responsibility to preserve that bond.

“It comes down to the people of the country,” said Dimondstein. They now receive e-mailed petitions outlining the USPS’s financial dilemma and seeking signatures to solons. “And it’s really significant that it’s a non-partisan issue.”

Trump’s extreme stand, coupled with the president’s ideological push to privatize the Postal Service, rip up its union contracts, cut down mail delivery and fire thousands of workers, has even filtered down to the USPS rank-and-file, said Dwight Burnside, a veteran Mail Handler from Virginia.

“Most of the people on the floor feel the current administration doesn’t understand what we’re doing and how it important our work is to the country,” Burnside said.

The need for a functioning and financed Postal Service “is even stronger in this emergency,” said Dimondstein. The bipartisan backing, from the public, in Congress and from the USPS Board of Governors “should be strong enough to carry the day over those who would carry out an unpopular agenda to privatize the Postal Service and sell it off.”

Correction: When originally published, this article indicated that the U.S. coronavirus death count was over one million. The total number of confirmed cases was over one million at the time of publication, not the total number of deaths. The inaccurate information has been removed. We apologize for the error.


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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