Neither Snow Nor Sleet

The Postal Service is one of the finest institutions we have.

Personally, I think forty-four cents to mail a letter to anyplace in the country is the bargain of the century. And they will take that letter to any address, no matter how far out in the sticks it happens to be.

But have you noticed lately all the talk about how the Post Office is a basket case, inefficient, poorly managed, and unable to pay its bills? According to this drumbeat they have to shut down a bunch of offices and lay off tens of thousands of workers, and even then they will have to reduce services to make ends meet. They just can’t compete with the leaner, smarter, market-driven private delivery services.

But did you know that beginning five years ago during the Bush Administration, a law was passed requiring the Postal Service to fully fund its pension plan 75 years into the future, and that they are required to accomplish this feat within the next five years? In other words they have to be 100% ready to pay a pension to workers who have not yet been born. And this at the same time that UPS and Federal Express are lobbying strongly to be allowed to use their pension funds today as operating money, claiming that it will enable them to be more profitable, thus “saving” their pension funds.

Meanwhile, the “bankrupt” U.S. Postal Service is sitting on 47 billion dollars, much of which won’t be needed for decades, and instead of being allowed to use it, they are told to sell off property and fire workers.

Put those facts together with the fact the the Postal Service is the second largest employer in the country, with by far the largest unionized work force, and I don’t know about you, but I smell something fishy. The drive to crush the labor movement and decimate the middle class would certainly count it as a major victory to see the Post Office dismantled, its workers laid off, its union shut down, its buildings and equipment sold off and private, anti-union, companies taking over the delivery of mail in the U.S. The nonsensical requirement that it overfund its pension and medical benefits plans so far into the future makes it little more than a large beautiful animal with broken legs, unable to defend itself as the hyenas of greed eat it, bite by bite.

Make no mistake — if we lose the Postal Service, we lose a precious American institution. The centuries have shown that the delivery of mail is a proper function of government. Privatization would put us at the mercy of delivery services which would no longer have to compete. Prices would rise, and with no mandate to deliver the mail, services would surely be reduced — except for those who could pay for them.

One step toward saving our Post Office (and the union, and all those jobs and all that tradition, and all those services) is House Bill 1351, which reverses the 2006 law mandating the benefits plan overfunding. You can read the bill here (PDF) and see some TV coverage of the subject here. If you care, consider contacting your member of Congress and asking them to support this bill.

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