APWU, allies slam slow mail plan

Business, political and labor leaders, and the public continue to complain of a drop in the Postal Service’s delivery speed and accuracy—citing an especially bad crash in service last year. Out front are the unions that represent hundreds of thousands of postal employees—such as the American Postal Workers Union (APWU)—who demand the maintenance of at least some of the staffing levels, equipment and processes they say the country still needs for speedy delivery. 

But instead of a recovery from 2020's slowdowns to normal delivery times this year, Postal Service management is sticking with its 10-year plan, announced in March. While envisaging some significant investments, the blueprint simultaneously calls for locking in unprecedented service reductions—first-class mail would have a targeted delivery time of up to five days—glaringly slow compared with a decades-old USPS target of one- to three-day transit times. 

So, APWU and its allies are now calling out Postal Service leaders on the even slower service of the near future. Most of the new reductions, the union notes, can't be blamed on COVID-era staffing challenges—which were a part of last year’s breakdowns—but instead to the planned, permanent self-slowdown. Postal Service management freely concurs—while arguing that paring staff and services down (and raising prices, we must add) are simply necessary survival moves in a world of free email providers and ultra-efficient private package shippers. 

Back and forth the missives from both sides have flown. The union, in its most recent salvo, rejects management's core arguments—and, armed with its own read of postal profit and loss, pointedly demands USPS recant the 10-year service cutback plan, and recommit to higher standards. Specifically, APWU like other unions says much of the tens of billions in red ink postal management uses to justify the plan really owes to Congress burdening the organization with excessive "pre-funding" charges to cover future retirees' health care costs. The cutbacks, the union says, will hurt employees and communities. 

“Postal workers are proud to serve our communities every single day,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein stated in a release. “These negative service changes could affect every community we serve and we’re proud to unite with the people in defense of the prompt and reliable service they deserve.”

Consumer groups are also weighing in. “As the 10 year plan calls for shifting away from moving mail via air transportation to ground transportation, trucks, this means that parts of the country will get impacted more than others,” Steve Hutkins, a critic of the plan who runs the advocacy organization Save the Post Office told FederalSoup. “The Western states especially will be hit. In California, delivery will be slowed by a whole day, and generally speaking the plan adds one or two days to delivery times. That means four- and five-day delivery. It's a sharp reduction, and geographic discrimination means certain whole regions of the country will get worse impacts.”

Most other postal unions for years now have objected to the long slide into service disruptions and lowered standards—some of which were even lambasted as interfering with the machinery of democracy in the context of mail-in voting last year. All unions and consumer advocates in the fight note, too, that millions of Americans rely on an efficient Postal Service for everything from their live-preserving prescription medicines, to hard copy retirement checks and financial instruments, to needed goods and communications from loved ones.

In March, for example, the National Association of Letter Carriers spotlighted “the deplorable service, mail delays, and non-delivery of routes in certain locations around the country.” But at the same time, the union signaled flexibility, conveying a willingness to be a partner in ongoing USPS promise to investigate and “make the changes necessary to restore timely service to our customers in these areas.” 

NALC’s mixed reaction telegraphed support for parts of the plan—and a belief that the delivery giant might gain some of the billions of dollars of new revenues promised by Postal Service forecasters in the plan. 

The APWU, on the other hand, has focused on criticizing the very clear service cuts enshrined in the plan—along with, as the union notes, 21 state attorneys general, the storied civil rights group NAACP and the nonprofit Public Citizen, all of which have petitioned the Postal Regulatory Commission in opposition to the proposed changes. APWU also notes that over 130,000 comments from the public have weighed in on the proposed changes. The union, in its releases, says standards can and must be maintained along with a stronger financial bottom line. 

As reported in the Washington Post a raft of lawmakers, particularly from rural states, continue to also warn of dire consequences not just to the Postal Service’s business model, but to businesses and the public who rely on USPS for reasonably fast service. 

Many critics say the controversial Postmaster General behind the plan, Louis DeJoy, must resign—and with little sign of that happening they want the Biden administration to press the PRC to force his departure. 

Experts note the Postal Service hopes to begin implementing parts of the plan in September. The coming months will bear witness to next steps in this duel of two visions for the nation’s mail system, with profound implications for the public and employees alike. 

2021 Digital Almanac

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