by David Yao
The May 7 appointment of Louis Dejoy, a major Trump donor, to be the 75th Postmaster General of the United States, should raise alarm bells for anyone concerned with the future of the U.S. Postal Service. He is a Trustee for the Fund for American Studies, a right-wing think tank whose vision is “to win over new generations to the ideas of liberty, limited government, and free markets.”
The Trump Administration had already displayed its designs on privatizing postal services. Then in April, it rejected a unanimous request for $75 billion in stimulus relief from the Postal Board of Governors, threatening to veto the entire bill, and ultimately granting only a loan, for $10 billion. That loan itself became a political football, as Trump asserted he would not release the loan unless the Postal Service quadrupled its parcel rates, a misguided attempt to harm Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, for which the Postal Service does some parcel delivery. The media has been quick to point out that Trump’s attacks on Bezos have more to do with his ownership of the Washington Post than Amazon.
The pandemic has severely damaged postal revenue, as advertising and business mail has shrunk with the rest of the economy. Outgoing Postmaster General Megan Brennan stated that the pandemic would cost the Postal Service $22 billion in losses in the next 18 months, and $54 billion over the longer term, “threatening our ability to operate.”
Ironically, the pandemic has only served to reassert the importance of the Postal Service to bind the country together, as quarantining and stay-at-home orders have magnified the importance of e-commerce. Post offices have been flooded with parcels, and not just orders from major retailers. We have seen a surge in shipments from small businesses, as well as care packages with face masks, hand sanitizer, and comfort food, mailed by individuals to beleaguered family and friends.
In previous stimulus negotiations, it became clear that congressional leaderships — of both parties — were willing to throw the Postal Service under the bus, unwilling to stand up to the threat of a presidential veto. Yet as more stimulus bills are prepared, the need for the public to speak out to save the Postal Service is quite clear. A poll done by YouGov for the American Postal Workers Union showed 67% of Americans supporting additional relief for the Postal Service, with only 15% opposed. Tellingly, half of those polled said they would be less likely to vote for members of Congress who vote against funding, should the Postal Service go broke this summer.
While the internet has increasingly substituted online bill payments and communication for the paper varieties, there are marginalized communities that still rely for these functions on their local post office — the poor, the elderly, and rural populations who have minimal broadband access. The ongoing census, the mass mailings of “President Trump’s Coronavirus” advisory postcards, as well as stimulus checks, are reminders of the vital importance of a reliable, universal form of communication.
A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service is a coalition of 80 local and national organizations that has publicized ways in which the postal network can expand its functions for the greater good. For example, postal banking, championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren among others, could expand affordable financial services to underserved communities that are now being victimized by predatory lenders.
There are 630,000 postal employees, whose unionized jobs provide stable incomes to residents of every city and county. One hundred thousand are military veterans. And the postal workforce has a high percentage of women (40%) and minorities (39%), for whom equal pay is granted for equal work. The diverse nature of the workforce is due in large part to open, competitive hiring based on test scores. It’s “what you know,” not “who you know” that counts. In 2019 a USPS report stated that “21 percent of employees are African-American; 8 percent are Hispanic; 8 percent are Asian American/Pacific Islander; and 0.67 are American Indian or Alaska Native.
The pandemic has also raised alarm among voting rights advocates. Trump’s attempts to starve the Postal Service come at a time when mail-in ballots in all states may be necessary to ensure that all voters can safely participate in the November presidential election. Trump and other Republicans believe that high voter turnout decreases their electoral chances, and have acted accordingly.
While executives of the Postal Service and the mailing industry, as well as union leaders, call for a strong postal component to new stimulus proposals, it is the voices of the people, pressuring both parties in Congress, that can thwart the designs of politicians who are hostile to public services, and protect this vital and historic part of our nation’s infrastructure.
I encourage you to reach out to your local officials:
A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service: www.agrandalliance.org
Your member of Congress: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell: firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Senator Patty Murray: email@example.com
More information, and a link to contact Congress, can be found at usmailnotforsale.org.
David Yao has been a postal worker since 1986 and is vice president of the Greater Seattle Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).
Featured image: by Ben Skirvin.