The USPS is the nervous system of democracy in the United States. It has won this round, but the long-running war against the postal service could have lasting consequences for this country.
President Trump has taken a break from his war on TikTok and turned his attention to the Post Office in a desperate bid to block mail-in voting. Trump has convinced himself that mail-in voting enabled by USPS during this pandemic will increase turnout and doom his hopes of continuing his authoritarian reign.
He has blocked needed stimulus funding to USPS due to losses caused by decreases in first class mail, ad revenue and other COVID related costs associated with over 40,000 USPS workers being quarantined since the start of the pandemic. The USPS Board of Governors, a majority of whom are Republicans, recommended that USPS be provided $25-50 billion in stimulus funding. In spite of the Board’s recommendation, Trump wouldn’t even approve a $10 million loan to USPS without stipulations regarding him getting access to their sealed contracts with Amazon and others as well as outrageous demands they make package rates four times higher and reduce wages by over 20%.
Last Thursday, on Fox Business, Trump stated, in regards to providing $25 billion in stimulus funding to USPS for COVID losses and $5 billion to states for expanded mail-in voting, “they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”
In spite of his personal use of mail-in voting, Trump’s disdain for the postal service is not new. In 2018, Trump appointed a task force led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and then White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to explore privatization of the postal service and of course their “investigation” found that it would be a good idea. In privatizing the post office they would be able to eliminate 600,000 union jobs with decent pay and benefits. After Walmart, USPS is the largest civilian employer in the country. They employ nearly 100,000 veterans and have quite possibly the most diverse workforce in the nation, 25% of postal workers are Black and 40% are women.
Before the pandemic hit Trump had claimed that USPS was losing money because they had given Amazon too good of a deal to deliver their packages. However, Bezos has expanded his own delivery network thus drastically reducing the volume of Amazon delivered by USPS. Were the privatization scheme to succeed, in all probability, Bezos would be the first in line to buy up postal properties in key locations all across the nation to expand his soon-to-be trillion dollar empire. A postal sell off would be a great deal for Bezos and another bad deal for the American public as privatization of postal services in other countries has led to increased costs to the consumer, reduced services, job losses and wage cuts. They’ve turned an “essential” public service into another avenue for private profits at the expense of postal workers and the communities they serve.
To help Trump ratchet up his assault on USPS a new Postmaster General took office in June: Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, Republican Party mega-donor, as well as former head of XPO Logistics, a USPS contractor and competitor. DeJoy, without warning or explanation to anyone, had mail sorting machines removed from processing plants across the country, cutting letter processing capacity. Coincidentally XPO Logistics provides mail sorting services. When mail volume inevitably increases and USPS doesn’t have enough active machines to handle it they will have to rely on contractors like XPO. DeJoy is estimated to have XPO assets worth up to $70 million as well as huge shares in Amazon and UPS. DeJoy’s directives to remove mail sorting machines and reduce workers hours even if it means delaying mail has caused huge backlogs leaving people waiting weeks on needed prescriptions, checks, packages, and correspondence. DeJoy has also ordered the removal of thousands of mail drop boxes on the streets so people have less access to drop off outgoing letters and presumably election ballots.
USPS delivers 1.3 billion Christmas cards per year and is a trusted steward of tax returns, passports, social security checks, birth certificates, and stimulus checks. So the ballots of 160 million voters is certainly not beyond its capabilities. There are already 5 states that conduct voting for all elections through the mail thus increasing turnout and avoiding the risk of their votes being hacked over the Internet. Only 8 states require a reason beyond COVID-19 to use absentee/mail-in voting and legislation is pending in some of those states to make access easier for voters. In a tactic without a doubt being used to discourage vote by mail, the Postmaster General sent letters to 46 states warning them that all mail-in ballots may not arrive in time to be counted. Predictably this has led people to lose faith in USPS’ ability to deliver ballots by Election Day.
DeJoy’s delays have not gone unnoticed, as protests at his DC home and his permanent residence in Greensboro, North Carolina last Friday and Saturday put the new PMG on notice that his nefarious sabotage of the Post Office hasn’t flown under the radar. Since these protests, the House Oversight Committee has moved up having DeJoy testify to explain his chicanery. Originally scheduled for mid-September, it now will occur next Monday. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has followed up by setting a hearing with DeJoy this coming Friday. The Republican Committee chairman stated the reason being that he wanted to give DeJoy an opportunity to explain himself before the House “show trial.” The vast public outcry and righteous outrage over DeJoy’s sweeping unilateral changes forced him to release a statement Tuesday that claims: “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.” He of course offered no specifics as to what precisely would be done and he didn’t bother to say that mail processing equipment would be restored before perhaps up to half of all registered voters decide to vote by mail. DeJoy also stipulated that he was only pausing his attacks until after the November 3rd election.
Move On has called for protests outside of Post Offices this coming Saturday demanding stimulus funding and an end to delays. There have also been Facebook pages created by rank-and-file activists and allies to share information on local actions and organizing around the fight to Save Our Postal Service. Continued public outcry and direct actions will be key in stopping this current onslaught on a public institution that pre-dates the Constitution and is enshrined within it.
Of course the assaults on this most-trusted of government institutions didn’t begin with Trump. In 2006 under George W. Bush, a lame duck Republican Congress with bipartisan support passed the Orwellian-esque titled “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.” (PAEA) At that time it had been discovered that the Post Office, due to accounting errors, had over-funded pensions somewhere between $55-75 billion and these funds were deposited in the government’s general fund along with tax dollars making it appear as though the deficit was less. Since the USPS was operating in the black they wanted to keep that money flowing into the general fund so they mandated that USPS create a retiree healthcare account for all current and future USPS employees for the next 75 years to the tune of $5.5 billion a year over the next 10 years, a burden required of no other government agency.
When the Great Recession hit in 2009 mail volume dropped leaving USPS unable to meet the funding requirements so they stopped making payments into the fund but it is still fully-funded for all current USPS employees. 90% of USPS’ pre-COVID losses were due to accounting losses generated by the PAEA obligation. In 2011, when media reports began to say that USPS was bankrupt and may go under, postal unions mounted a campaign to protest in front of every local congressional office in the country. They changed the narrative from USPS being bankrupt to the fact that Congress had broken it and also had the power to fix it.
Last Friday President Obama tweeted, “Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can’t be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.” This was a spot-on critique of the current administration, but coming from someone who chose to bail out Wall Street while USPS languished in the financial crisis they created as Obama made no effort to repeal PAEA in orer to stop the theft of postal assets. He chose instead to ignore it and recommended in his budget that USPS cut jobs and delivery to 5 days a week offering no financial relief in a cost-cutting move that would also cut revenue and create massive job losses. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) had to wage an all out battle in the streets with rallies across the country to “Save 6-Day Delivery,” and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) embarked on an equally massive battle to stop contracting out of postal counter-services to Staples with their successful “Stop Staples!” boycott campaign demonstrating in front of Staples stores across the US. Postal unions had to unite and fight together with labor allies in direct actions across the country to stop privatization schemes under Obama. The same kind of tactics are needed even more now in the face of Trump’s no-holds barred attempt to sink USPS. They cannot sit back and wait until November for an election to make this go away.
When Trump says the Post Office has been “horribly mismanaged,” he’s not wrong but what he’s offering up is even worse. Attempting to cut postal services and shed jobs is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Calls are going out to demand in addition to giving direct stimulus funding of at least $25 billion, the repeal of PAEA, and to fire DeJoy be fired for ethics violations and intentional delay of US mail.
Beyond those immediate demands, the postal service has a footprint in every community and they have the potential to be providing more jobs and critical services. 59% of post offices are in zip codes with one or no banks and 6.5% of US households have no bank account. Postal banking could offer low-cost small-dollar loans, an alternative to consumer-gouging payday lenders, as well as no-fee checking and savings accounts that offer debit cards, secure online government verified money transfers and no-fee ATMs. Post Offices could provide notary services, passports offices, community wi-fi hot spots and high speed internet kiosks for secure bill paying. Mounting solar panels to the roof of every Post Office would not only be beneficial for the environment but could be a part of a green jobs initiative. Post Offices could provide charging stations for electric cars and the conversion to an electric fleet of delivery vehicles could set a standard for reducing fossil fuel usage and carbon footprint reduction. The Post Office shouldn’t be saved just because of what it has done but what it can do going forward. It’s not some nostalgic relic from the pre-Internet world, but a vital public service that in a reimagined society would serve public needs over private profits and we are going to have to wage a massive fight to save it.
Melissa Rakestraw has been a United States Postal Service letter carrier for 25 years in the Chicago area. She is a trade union activist and a socialist organizer.