With fears of an L-shaped "Great Recession" persisting well into 2011, and with local, state and federal budgets taking a big hit, resulting in thousands of layoffs, it is more important than ever to fight for public employees and public institutions.
Public institutions like the U.S. Postal Service employ hundreds of thousands of people, provide stable, long-term employment with benefits, health care and pensions, and provide essential national services. Public sector employment is the backbone of the economy right now; more layoffs in this vital sector could put additional strain on an already over-burdened social safety net.
Unfortunately though, the men and women who work at the USPS (and other public employees) have been under attack recently, as deficit "hawks" try to balance budget shortfalls on the backs of workers. The USPS wants to close neighborhood post offices, eliminate Saturday service and lay off more postal employees. The Postal Service claims these moves are necessary because it is expecting huge budgetary deficits.
The American Postal Workers' Union says this is a "phony crisis" caused by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health care costs.
No other government agency - or private business - bears this kind of burden.
As a result of the pre-funding mandate the USPS begins every fiscal year more than $5 billion in debt. In fact, the act requires the USPS to pre-fund 75 years' worth of retiree health care costs in just 10 years.
If the pre-funding requirement weren't in place the Postal Service would actually have a $3.7 billion surplus - over $1 billion each year for the past three fiscal years - despite declining mail volume due to increased use of electronic mail and an economy in crisis.
Faulty Postal Service deficit projections are feeding the frenzy to stop Saturday deliveries. The USPS is asking Congress to eliminate Saturday mail service because it claims the Postal Service "could" amass a $238 billion deficit over the next 10 years.
USPS officials claim stopping Saturday deliveries would cut operating expenses by $3.4 billion. However, according to the Postal Regulatory Commission, stopping Saturday service would only save about $1.9 billion.
According to the APWU, the Postal Service would have to run a $23.8 billion deficit each year for the next 10 years to meet USPS projections. However, during the current recession, the worst economic downturn in over 70 years, the Postal Service lost only $7 billion - $16 billion short of the $23.8 billion yearly average projected by the USPS. The Postal Service would need to lose $39 billion in 2011 - double the combined wages and benefits of all clerks, mail handlers and letter carriers - to fulfill those deficit projections.
The APWU warns that if Saturday deliveries are stopped, high-priced private services would step in and customers would pay a lot more.
Additionally, the union notes, the USPS projections ignore the PAEA mandate, the real cause of the Postal Service's budget problems.
Furthermore, the APWU points out, the Postal Service provides a powerful economic engine for the country, operating a vast network and infrastructure, enabling citizens, businesses and government to communicate quickly and inexpensively.
Postal employees, like other public sector employees, are facing a hard road ahead. With the November elections a few months away, right-wing Republicans and a few Democrats are willing to sacrifice public services - and public employees - at the deficit altar. They want to use public employees as a scapegoat for bad fiscal policies.
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