There’s a really dirty war going on behind the scenes between the Postal Service and the right-wing. In the land of despicable Republican political practices I don’t think I find anything more despicable than what the GOP is already doing to the nation’s postal employees. Taking full advantage of an errant legislative move nearly 7 years ago before things collapsed completely, Congress brought us the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) by unidentifiable voice vote. That precipitated the current crisis.
This act called for the pre-funding in the course of a mere decade of some 75 years of retiree health care benefits, decimating the USPS budget. Without that ridiculous politicized mandate the Postal Service would be running a surplus today. Some 4 out of every 5 dollars of postal debt can be tracked to PAEA.
The wording of the bill also urged “streamlining efforts” and a long-term vision of the Postal Service for rationalizing (politispeak for downsizing) its infrastructure and WORKFORCE. And there’s more rationalization in a policy to remove excess processing and sorting capacity (the real prize for privatizers) and space from the network More downsizing. And of course comes the inevitable discussion of “what impact any facility changes may have on the postal workforce and whether the Postal Service has sufficient flexibility to make needed workforce changes.”
Thus was born a military boxing strategy to attack the entirety of the postal system on all sides.
But when the 113th Congress returns from its August recess, postal workers will possibly get shafted by their health care insurance (or imminent lack thereof) beyond imagination. Currently, thanks in large measure to union influence; workers have a smorgasbord of plans, deductibles and coverage. There are wide ranges of options to cover just about every individual and family contingency. If one plan turns out to be a dud, you can opt for another from a broad menu and most of the big names in the industry are included. You can also add dental and eye care at a nominal cost. Postal workers are quite attached to their coverage.
That may all go by the wayside as legislators bow once more to their corporate keepers. Here’s the plan. No more membership in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and they’re going to start effing around with Medicare. All supposedly in service to saving and/or increasing that money plundered from the nonsensical bill described above. And it would save money. Lots of it. So would repealing PAEA. That would save money; lots of it. But that would benefit the average working stiff and no right-winger wants that to happen under any circumstances.
The Government Accounting Office released a report recently assessing the impact of such a move. While conceding that postal coffers would suddenly be fattened up, the caveats are potentially hugely anti-productive for postal workers who are already suffering like dogs. At the current time monies from health-plan assets are invested in super-safe U.S. Treasury notes and bills. Try this one on for size; one of the proposed options for investing is to take Treasury funds and buy risky s**t like stocks, commodities, foreign currencies and God knows what else. I’m sure derivatives are in the mix. Market slump or crash? The GAO emphasizes the consequences would accrue directly to health care.
The idea of changing the health care coverage system is being credited to Postmaster General Patrick Donahue, who is constantly trying to slice and dice the Postal Service (remember his attempt to can Saturday deliveries?) But, while he can talk, he is still subservient to an omnipotent board. Since the Postal Service became an “independent” agency in 1970, the PG is second fiddle to the politically powerful USPS Board of Governors. This body ultimately has to answer to Congress, but its recent actions seems right down the extremist alley.
While all this goes on, workers continue to get fired, lose seniority, are forced great distances if they want to stay with the Postal Service, receive little to no help in doing so, have their full-time and flexible hours messed with and any number of other slights and insults.
USPS is on life support and until American voters wise up to the irreparable harm being done to postal employees daily lives, families, wages and futures by a radical fringe of political haters and corporate sycophants, things are going to get worse, not better.
There’s both mischief and hope coming down the pipeline. A Senate bill that will find the floor in September is S1486, the Postal Reform Act of 2013. Co-sponsors are (amazingly) the Democratic Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Delaware Senator, Tom Carper and the ranking Republican on the committee, Oklahoma Junior Senator Tom Coburn. You’re going to have to adjust your thinking a bit here. There are sections of the bill that call for 5 or FEWER days of delivery, co-locations among the Postal Service, retail and commercial establishments and something that is really going to take some getting used to: no more door deliveries for the most part. It’ll be curbside or converted to what’s termed a more “cost-effective” method. New customers may see cluster boxes. Centralized delivery is also in the mix, whatever that means.
There are some real cuts in postal worker disability and partial disability payments and plans to reduce area and district offices. You can look at the bill’s totality for yourself here. On the plus side, old faithful Bernie Sanders, that wonderfully consistent constituent-friendly Independent from Vermont is going to try to ride to the rescue with S316. The common sense centerpiece of Bernie’s bill is to trash PAEA and get the Post Office back on an even footing. Saturday mail delivery would continue to be protected and postal services would be considerably expanded. A commission would be appointed to pursue new profit-making avenues and shutdowns of mail sorting centers would be averted.
As I indicated the mail sorting centers are huge targets in this battle. Poised to take the lucrative scraps of a postal failure are UPS with their giant distribution network and surprisingly, Pitney Bowes, the postage meter company that also operates 41 mail processing centers according to a spokesperson from the American Postal Workers Union. Would those be union jobs in the private sector?
It’s a modern-day Maginot line with the Postal Service as France and the greedy corporations and their congressional lackeys as Germany. For the sake of postal workers, let’s hope the outcome is reversed.