Last year’s holiday season wasn’t exactly a happy one for the US Postal Service. As Christmas approached, overwhelmed postal workers had to leave gifts in sorting facilities for weeks. They delivered just 38% of first class greeting cards and other non-local mail on time.
What can we expect this year?
USPS executives say they’re ready for the rush. But customers have reason to worry about slower, more expensive service.
The service aims to hire 40,000 seasonal workers for the holidays. But that’s 10,000 less than last year – and given the wider pandemic staff shortages, recruiting and retaining for these demanding jobs won’t be easy. While the boom in e-commerce that strained the system last year has abated somewhat, postal workers are still delivering many more packages than before the crisis.
And COVID-19 isn’t the only reason for concern. In fact, the root causes of our nation’s postal problems are congressional inaction and the misguided action of the USPS leadership.
For more than a decade, Congress has failed to correct a policy error that requires the Postal Service to set money aside to pre-fund retiree health care more than 50 years in advance. This burden, which does not apply to any other federal agency or private company, accounts for 84% of the losses reported by the USPS from 2007 to 2020. If Congress had made the same request to America’s strongest companies, many would be bankrupt.
A bill to repeal this pre-funding mandate and put the USPS on a more solid financial footing enjoys strong bipartisan support. But House and Senate leaders did not put this bill, the Postal Reform Act, to a vote.
In the meantime, United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is using the agency’s artificially large losses to justify rising prices and slowing deliveries.
If you plan to send greeting cards a significant distance this season, say from Pittsburgh to Boise, the USPS delivery window is now five days instead of three. These reduced service standards affect about 40 percent of first class mail.
As part of a 10-year plan, DeJoy is also slowing down delivery by 1 to 2 days for about a third of First Class packages. These are small packages that are often used to ship very urgent medicines, as well as other light purchases online.
A big cause of the slowdown: DeJoy’s plan to cut costs by moving long-haul deliveries from planes to trucks. This is a step back from the introduction of airmail over 100 years ago, one of the many postal innovations that have strengthened the U.S. economy as a whole.
For worse service, we will have to pay more.
In August, USPS increased rates for first class mail by 6.8 percent and for parcel services by 8.8 percent. A holiday surcharge will increase shipping costs up to $ 5 per package until Dec. 26. In January, the prices for popular flat-rate boxes and envelopes will increase to $ 1.10.
Continuation of DeJoy’s plan: reduced hours at some post offices and the closure of others.
USPS officials say these drastic measures will increase profits. But even the regulator overseeing the agency criticized the underlying financial analysis.
Instead, DeJoy’s 10-year plan is more likely to drive customers away. This, in turn, will lead to a decrease in the good postal jobs that have been a critical path to the middle class, especially for black families.
Unless Washington lawmakers remove the financial burden they have placed on the USPS, DeJoy will be empowered to continue his doomed cost-cutting frenzy.
Postal workers and their customers have struggled to overcome the extreme challenges of the pandemic. Now is the time for Congress to act by passing the Postal Reform Act and urging USPS leaders to focus on innovations to better serve all Americans for generations to come.
– Scott Klinger is Senior Fair Development Specialist at Jobs With Justice. This editorial was distributed by OtherWords.org.