Thursday, September 15, 2011

USPS: Vultures Circling the Eagle's Nest

Last night and this morning mandatory talks about so-called Network Optimization were given to US postal workers across the country about possible plant closings. According to the Associated Press, "the Postal Service says it may close more than 250 mail processing facilities [out of approximately 500] across the country in an effort to cut costs." Orwellian, isn't it? Calling the slash-and-burn proposals "network optimization" is like calling an epidemic "population optimization." Ouch. Once those plants are closed, the USPS will never get them back, thus permanently destroying its ability to provide first-class service. But some lucky private distributors will undoubtedly land many of those plants for a song. So even though the US population continues to grow, the postal service's processing capacity is about to shrink drastically. This is optimization only for the privatization vultures circling overhead.

In Wisconsin, mail-processing plants in Oshkosh (apparently this one is a done deal), Portage, and Wausau would be closed, as would the one in Rockford, Illinois. More closings are being considered in Iowa and Michigan. (Click here to see a list of all the possible closures.) The plant here in Madison, where Tom works, would have to process mail that is now being processed in Rockford and Portage. A few more mail-processing machines could be added in Madison, but overall mail volume at the plant would increase substantially more than processing capacity. Much of the mail would have to be transported farther for processing, requiring substantially more fuel and more time for every piece of mail that would have been processed at one of the closed plants.

The closings would severely cripple the USPS, making it impossible to maintain the current first-class-mail delivery standards. In other words, if they do this, you can kiss first-class mail good-bye. So what's a one- or two-day delay if it helps keep the USPS from closing its doors altogether? Well, first off, the closings don't even remotely address the root of the problem, which is the provision in the 2006 law requiring the USPS to prefund health care benefits of future retirees seventy-five years into the future, which in essence means that the USPS is required to fund health care benefits for workers who haven't even been born yet. This problem could be addressed easily with just a couple of fairly minor accounting adjustments. House Resolution 1351 would do exactly that.

Second, "the closings could cost as many as 35,000 jobs." If the volume of mail being processed every day decreases, then fewer workers will be needed to deliver each day's mail. So the USPS will lose workers that it currently needs. It's not that the USPS is just sloughing off unneeded workers. You'd think that in these days of record unemployment, Congress would move fast to ensure that not one job is lost from the USPS. You'd be wrong.

Furthermore, the reduced volume of mail per day will make it easier to make the case that mail should be delivered fewer than six times a week. With five-day-per-week delivery and slower delivery rates, other providers will seize the opportunity to pick up the slack. Imagine UPS and FedEx eagerly circling the ailing eagle's nest. The next thing you know, we're several steps closer to privatization.

Worse still, those who believe that "government is the problem" claim that this manufactured crisis is further evidence that government programs are destined to fail.
The centrifuge that is government is broken. Here. Let me prove it to you. *throws pitchfork into centrifuge* See there! It's broken!
So the salivating vultures who are greedily circling the post office are using its deliberately cooked-up financial difficulties as a reason to dismantle other government programs and services: Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid. Except war, of course—that's something the government can always do well.

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Please sign the petition to keep the US Postal Service from being destroyed. And share widely. We're going to submit the petition on September 27 to coincide with the USPS union rallies.

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