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The Republican plans to weaken the United States Postal Service are starting to get more and more attention, including Sam Seder's Majority Report, Thom Hartmann, Nicole Sandler's radio show and Allison Kilkenny's brilliant Truthout article:
It was only a few years ago that the USPS was considered not only stable, but thriving. The biggest volume in pieces of mail handled by the Postal Service in its 236-year history was in 2006. The second and third busiest years were in 2005 and 2007, respectively. But it was two events: one crafted during the Bush years and another supervised by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, that would cripple this once great institution.
Perhaps it was its booming history that first drew Congress' attention to the Postal Service in 2006 when it passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA), which mandated that the Postal Service would have to fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees. That's right. Congress was demanding universal health care coverage.
But it even went beyond that. Congress was mandating coverage for future human beings.
"It's almost hard to comprehend what they're talking about, but basically they said that the Postal Service would have to fully fund future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years and they would have to do it within a ten-year window," says Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union.
It was an impossible order, and strangely, a task unshared by any other government service, agency, corporation or organization within the United States. The act meant that every September 30th, the USPS had to cough up $5.5 billion to the Treasury for the pre-funding of future retirees' health benefits, meaning the Postal Service pays for employees 75 years into the future. The USPS is funding the retirement packages of people who haven't even been born yet.
We keep being told that email and the Internet have killed the Postal Service and it's simply not true. Adjusting for the economic downturn, it appears the USPS is busier now than it ever has been before. E-commerce has been a huge boost as all the items people purchase online have to get to people's homes and the cheapest way to do that is still through the Postal Service.
The more details that we find out about this law, the PAEA, the worse it sounds. It passed on a voice vote. Why weren't any Democrats or progressives in Congress asking questions as to the validity of this bill? Why didn't they do their homework on its effects?
And what about Postmaster General Tom Donahoe, who has been getting a lot of time on television in recent weeks, arguing for massive cuts to the USPS?
What empower meant was to starve the Postal Service and its union. Since that day, Donahoe has abdicated his responsibility as the postmaster general, according to Zlatkin. The APWU's collective bargaining agreements in the past have included layoff protections, which Donahoe immediately offered up as sacrifice to his Republican masters when he asked to bypass worker protection so he might obliterate 220,000 career positions from the workforce by 2015.
"All he's trying to do is appease that committee. He's violated a contract he's signed. He's violated labor law. From my understanding, by going to Congress and having them change the laws to change our contracts, he's violating the Constitution of the United States."
In fact, Zlatkin says his local union chapter is so disillusioned with the postmaster's behavior that they're putting out a press release to call for his resignation or termination. "He is either a well-meaning incompetent or a duplicitous front man for the people who want to privatize the postal service," says Zlatkin.
And, again, for those who don't recognize why this is so important, the Postal Service is a vital cog in the American economy and is constitutionally mandated. It particularly benefits the poor:
But as Marcy Wheeler explains, there are still tons of people who need the USPS's services: poorer people, people using a post office box, rural people who live outside delivery areas, eBay-type entrepreneurs, immigrants sending care packages to people from their country of origin and nonprofits.
"It's part of the class war and it's against the poor and it's a class war against working people," says Zlatkin. Of the 34 post offices the USPS is considering closing in New York City, 17 are in the Bronx. The South Bronx district ranks as the poorest Congressional district in America.