Postal workers rally to fight privatization

September 8, 2018 GMT

A day after U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pledged to help them “defeat Trump’s disastrous plan,” more than 2,000 postal workers and union supporters rallied Tuesday in Downtown Pittsburgh against the potential privatization of the Postal Service.

“The Post Office belongs to the people,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, among speakers at the afternoon rally held outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The APWU, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, represents about 200,000 postal employees.

“We feel this is a public good. The Post Office has been a real equalizer and a democratic right of the people in this country,” Dimondstein said, “and we intend to join together with the people to defend them.”

On Monday, Sanders made a brief appearance at the APWU’s annual convention, during which he announced plans to author a bill intended to block the Trump administration from advancing a proposal to sell off the Postal Service to private entities.

“I will soon be introducing legislation, which I think has a strong chance of passing, that will put the Senate on record in opposition to Trump’s plan to privatize the Postal Service,” Sanders, I-Vermont, told attendees, according to video of his remarks.

“We cannot allow Donald Trump to privatize the Postal Service ... We will stand up, fight back and defeat Trump’s disastrous plan,” Sanders said.

In June, the Trump administration’s Office of Budget and Management released a list of recommendations pitched as government efficiencies that included making reforms to the Postal Service before selling it off to private bidders.

The call for privatization, buried in the list of suggested government reforms, came amid ongoing work by a task force created by Trump in April to examine ways to improve the Postal Service’s financial position.

The task force presented its final report to President Trump earlier this month, but it remains unclear when its findings will be made public. The report was due Aug. 10.

While awaiting its release, the APWU teamed with coalitions of public sector workers as well as more than 100 environmental, religious, civil rights and community-based groups in an advocacy effort called, “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service.”

Dimondstein said he’s hopeful that Sanders and others in Congress -- including Republicans from heavily rural areas -- will succeed in blocking full privatization.

“There is bipartisan support, and we’re hopeful that, if the people speak up and stay united, that Congress will not make those kinds of legislative decisions,” Dimondstein said.

Private retailers such as Amazon also have formed groups voicing stark disapproval of privatizing the Postal Service.

“Without (the Postal Service), consumers would have fewer shipping options, reduced service in rural areas, and prices would drastically increase,” Blair Anderson, director of transportation policy at Amazon, said in a statement put out earlier this month.

Trump has argued the Postal Service’s current model is “unsustainable.”

Trump further suggested, but did not provide evidence to support, that Amazon’s deal with the Postal Service is a significant cause of the postal service’s financial struggles. Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, with whom Trump has feuded publicly not only over his role at Amazon but also as owner of The Washington Post.

The Postal Service, which employs more than 600,000 workers nationwide, does not get any federal appropriations or tax money. It has reported losses of more than $1 billion over the past 11 years.

But postal workers and advocates say the federal agency could be self-sustaining and even in the black if not for a 2006 law that requires the Postal Service to pre-pay 75 years’ worth of health insurance for future retirees -- something no other federal agency must do.

The Postal Accountability Enhancement Act cost the Postal Service $5.5 billion annually for 10 years.

“It has caused huge hardships and not only has it drained financial resources but, with that, it has lowered service already, which is why we don’t have overnight mail, even within the same town anymore,” Dimondstein said.

The union president argued it’s inaccurate to assume the Postal Service cannot thrive in the digital age. Far fewer people may be sending letters and marketing snail mail, but far more are using e-commerce to send and receive packages and goods.

First-class and marketing mail accounted for a $2.7 billion net loss on nearly $70 billion in revenue last year -- but packages grew by $2.1 billion over the same period.

“The Postal Service runs off zero taxpayer money. It runs off postage rates and postage products,” Dimondstein said. “So, we think there’s a vibrant future for the Post Office in the day of e-commerce, and we also think we can do a lot more than we’ve been doing.”

A bill pitched this past spring by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would expand the Postal Service’s ability to offer basic banking services and other products such as check-cashing. Others have called for additions such as gift-wrapping, notarization and vote-by-mail expansions.