By Jeremiah Tattersall
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is set to cut $20 billion from its operating budget by 2015 due to an increasing deficit. In order to accomplish this goal, USPS, a public entity that receives no tax dollars, plans to close more than 3,600 facilities, 252 postal sorting locations and to eliminate Saturday service and first class mail.
Gainesville’s downtown post office was already shut down in September, and now its sorting facility is on the chopping block. USPS will make a final decision on May 15, and if the currently proposed plan goes through, mail will be shipped to Tampa and Jacksonville to be sorted and then shipped back to Gainesville to be delivered.
What is at stake?
Gainesville is set to loose 232 good, local jobs. And because the national American Postal Workers (APW) Union reached a new four-year agreement last May, the majority of these employees cannot be laid off or transferred more than 50 miles away. Those currently under this contract would be sent to other cities to work, most likely Jacksonville or Tampa.
Postal workers at a Dec. 1 town hall forum stated concerns that workers in Jacksonville are still waiting for the placement from downsizing earlier this year. The new increased capacity in Jacksonville will open more jobs, but Gainesville postal workers are worried about becoming surplus labor as Jacksonville workers will get first priority for placement.
Closing the sorting facility would also mean no more overnight local mail. All mail would take 2-3 days minimum.
According to plant managers, closing this sorting center would lead to a net $5.8 million in savings. But, there will also be an increase in $2.3 million for transportation costs. Many have pointed out that the price of fuel is expected to increase, meaning the savings will be lost in the coming years. There is also the unnecessary environmental toll from driving mail out of town and back.
Fiscal irresponsibility or manufactured crisis?
The yearly operating budget of $75 billion per year has been met (or nearly met) until 2008 by a nearly identical revenue. Because of falling volume, revenue has been declining since 2008 hitting a $5.1 billion operating deficit for 2011.
But this crisis traces it’s roots not only to falling demand but also to the 2006 passage of H.R. 6407: Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA). This law forced the postal service to pre-fund future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years. The pre-funding of retirees benefits for workers who have not even been hired yet is something unknown in any government or private industry.
Without this bill, the postal service would have a $1.5 billion surplus today.
Postal workers at the Dec. 1 town hall forum speculated as to why the bill was passed. Some expressed concerns about “bleeding USPS into privatization by FedEx lobbyists.”
The current narrative has been captured to make it seem that the postal service is a greedy, irresponsible dinosaur that needs to adapt to the times.
Not so, according to Brian O’Neill, president of American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Local 3525. According to him, Congress can act to save the post office.
The passage of H.R. 1351: United States Postal Service Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act of 2011 would allow USPS to use money that it overpaid into the retirement systems to pay toward its deficit. This bill currently has 227 cosponsors, does not use any tax payer money, and would save more than 28,000 jobs nationwide.
Congress has already started to act. A decision to close the Gainesville sorting facility was to be made by mid February but the actions of 15 senators has postponed any facilities closing until May 15. This agreement was reached in order to stall, allowing time to pass comprehensive reform that could save the postal service.
How You Can Get Involved
To help get H.R. 6407 repealed and pass H.R. 1351 in order to allow the postal service to make itself solvent, you can write to or call your Representatives.