United States Postal Workers rallied in front of lawmakers’ offices across the nation on Tuesday to urge their Congressmen and women to support legislation that postal worker labor unions believe would solve the Postal Service’s financial problems. One such rally was in Sarasota where more than 100 postal workers showed up at the office of Congressman Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Longboat Key, to urge him to co-sponsor a union favored bill, HR 1351.
The postal service finds itself in severe financial straits as it expects to lose $10 billion this year. Mail volume has fallen over the last 5 years as consumers have largely stopped using paper mail in favor of its electronic cousin. However, unaudited financial information filed by USPS with regulators showed that only $2 billion worth of losses were seen as controllable – that is, related to mail operations and the 2.6 percent decline in mail volume this year.
Much of the postal service’s financial difficulties are the result of obligations to employee retirement accounts and healthcare benefits. Federal regulators and independent auditors say the Postal Service has overpaid into employee retirement accounts by anywhere from $50-$75 billion. Overpayments are the result of improper funding formulas used by the Office of Personnel Management.
Adding to the postal service’s financial woes is a measure passed in 2006 by Congress that mandates the Postal Service pay for future healthcare benefits of workers for the next 75 years. Because the account must be full by 2016, the Postal Service must pay more than $5 billion into the account each year. USPS must make the $5.5 billion payment for this year by November 18.
Representative Stephen Lynch, D-Mass, sponsored a bill, HR1351, that would allow for the Postal Service to recalculate its payments into employee’s retirement accounts, effectively allowing for the refunding of billions of dollars and freeing up money for the November payment.
“This bill would get the Postal Service on track toward fiscal solvency,” American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said in a press release.
Other House members seek to reform the USPS business model without resolving the accounting issue for employee’s retirement funds. Representative Darrell Issa, R-California, proposed legislation that would create a commission in charge of restructuring the Postal Service, eliminate Saturday delivery and possibly result in layoffs. Issa claims that the overhaul is necessary to prevent the need for a taxpayer bailout of the postal service writing in the Washington Times, “many in Congress would just as soon pass a bailout or simply postpone making tough choices. I and others would rather fix it right the first time.” Issa went on to claim that other proposals were simply a “bailout by another name.”
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Darrell Issa has got to go!” postal workers chanted in retaliation to Rep. Issa’s bill at a rally in downtown Washington D.C., according to the Washington Post.
“The bill puts too much control of the business in Congress’ hands,” said President of Sarasota American Postal Workers Union Kindra Obermeier.
In an ideological reversal, Rep. Issa, a Republican, is advocating for leaving in place the strict government regulation of USPS regarding healthcare funding, an obligation that union officials note no other business must contend with. Rep. Issa also asserts that Congress “must play a key part” in restructuring the postal service, and at the same time criticizes past Congressional interference in the operation of USPS, writing in the Washington Times, “the postal Service has been prohibited by law from altering services such as reassessing Saturday delivery or revising delivery-to-the-door (vs. curb) policies. It can’t address special-rate deals or even consolidate retail and processing infrastructure without bumping against policies put in place by Congress.”
It’s worth noting that Representative Issa omitted any mention of Congress’ mandate that USPS pay for employee healthcare benefits 75 years in advance.
The Postal Service has been slowly shrinking over the past few years, from closing smaller post offices, to reducing its workforce by 100,000 since 2008. USPS is considering closing a mail processing center in Tallevast, less than two miles north of campus, and relocating mail processing for the Sarasota-Manatee area in Tampa. Some warn that the move will come at a cost to the speed of delivery.
While some believe that the internet has made the postal service obsolete, Obermeier points out that many people do not have, or simply cannot afford access to computers and the internet.
Beyond the practical need for the postal service, Obermeier emphasized the unifying nature of a service that touches the lives of every person: “The postal service connects all our communities, no matter what your socioeconomic status is, no matter what your race or creed is.”