Under the radar: Partial postal reform has a chance in Congress
A U.S. Postal Service worker in Seattle delivers first class mail last March. The new bills would guarantee that six-day mail delivery never be cut back. | Paul Sancya / AP

WASHINGTON—Under the radar of increasing bitterness on major issues, a bipartisan coalition of senators is pushing a partial postal reform bill to get rid of the biggest source of red ink that weighs down the U.S. Postal Service.

Both HR3076, which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee OKd May 13, and its companion, S1720, unveiled 12 days later, would end the 15-year-old GOP-imposed mandate the USPS prepay $5 billion yearly for future retirees’ health care costs.

It also would write guaranteed six-day delivery and pickup into law.

Ending that money mandate, which has saddled the Postal Service with 84% of its overall deficits ever since its burden began in 2006, is a key goal of the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, the Mail Handlers/Laborers and their allies in the union movement.

“It’s not a perfect bill,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said of HR3076 on a monthly zoom call with members on June 1. And the Postal Service Reform Act still must jump through several more House hoops before it hits the House floor, he added.

“But we have to keep the major players together” to get a combination of it and the companion, S1720, through Congress and to Democratic President Joe Biden’s desk, he said.

The Letter Carriers and the Mail Handlers support the two measures, Presidents Fredric Rolando of NALC and Paul Hogrogian of the Mail Handlers said in statements.

The 20 senators, 10 from each party, who crafted their legislation, “put partisan tensions aside to show strong support for this bipartisan legislation that is crucial to help restore financial and operational stability to the Postal Service,” Rolando said. He then urged NALC members to contact their lawmakers to pass it, So did Dimondstein.

“No other private business or public agency prefunds their retiree healthcare, and postal employees have contributed over $35 billion to Medicare over the past four decades, while not fully taking advantage of its benefits. This is a commonsense solution supported by labor, management, Republicans, and Democrats alike,” added Hogrogian.

The bills are important. The USPS’s continuing red ink has forced it to make do with fuel-guzzling 30-year-old delivery trucks, and led GOP-named Postmasters General, including current PMG Louis DeJoy, to force tens of thousands of union workers out to cut costs.

The deficit also prompted a recent DeJoy 10-year plan to save millions by slowing down first-class mail delivery times, a measure the workers and unions are campaigning against. He also would eliminate thousands of jobs by closing 18 sorting centers, consolidating operations.

A close reading of the legislation shows it has two key sections:

One, which would save more future money, wipes out that “absurd and draconian” $5 billion yearly health care prepayment, Dimondstein explained. Past payments would be unaffected.

The other, which the unions also support, says future USPS retirees must enroll in Medicare Part B. Dimondstein described a complicated process that he said would result in them paying less for Part B than they otherwise would for private health insurance for the same services. Rolando explained the part B changeover in detail.

Dimondstein also noted 80% of retirees, whom APWU contacted during zoom meetings and in other ways, now participate in Part B, anyway and support the mandated changeover.

Together, those two provisions would save USPS about $46 billion over 10 years, House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said before her panel approved HR3076 on a bipartisan voice vote.

One check to ensure DeJoy, or future PMGs, think carefully before slowing the mail, is mandatory frequent reports to the postal Board of Governors, who could override a PMG. Slowdowns DeJoy recently instituted produced 70,000 protests in weeks, Dimondstein said. He can’t understand why the old board went along, commenting, “I can’t read their minds.”

Another check on slowdowns is a detailed section forcing USPS to create a consumer-friendly easy “dashboard” on its website where customers could track delivery performance down to the level of individual addresses, Rolando noted.

And Hogrogian said the legislation would also let USPS contract with state and local governments to provide non-commercial services, such as selling hunting and fishing licenses, that could bring more money into USPS.

“Compromises were made, but this is the best prospect we’ve had in 12, 13, 14, 15 years” to enact true postal reform, Dimondstein said. “We’re not there yet, but call Congress at 844-402-2101 and tell them to support HR3076 and S1720.”

Omitted were other provisions pro-worker lawmakers, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., have advocated for years to help bring in more money to USPS. One big one would let USPS resume postal banking, which ended 54 years ago. That would extend basic services, such as checking and savings accounts, to the more than 25% of the U.S. people who are “unbanked” and must rely on payday lenders, pawnshops, and similar exploiters.

Also left undiscussed: DeJoy’s future. The Senate has approved all three of Biden’s postal board nominees. The board’s new majority could fire the controversial DeJoy, a major GOP donor whom former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump foisted on USPS. Petitions at change.org and elsewhere, signed by hundreds of thousands, demand DeJoy’s dismissal.

Maloney never discussed firing DeJoy. And Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the top drafter of S1720, predicted it plus DeJoy’s 10-year plan could bring USPS back into the black.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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