SAVING THE POSTAL SERVICE: The battle to protect the future of the U.S. mail system is Winnable.

AuthorLueders, Bill

The signs went up at post offices across the country early last year, just as COVID-19 made postal workers both more necessary and more at risk. There's no way to sort mail from home and, especially in the early days of the pandemic, hardly anyone else was going door-to-door.

"They came up with those signs to let people know that not just the nurses and the doctors and the medical staff are heroes," says Paul McKenna, who until recently was president of the American Postal Workers Union for Milwaukee Area Local 3. "We're just as essential as the grocery store workers and health care workers to keep the country open."

I first interviewed McKenna on March 23, a few days after his thirtieth anniversary as a postal worker and about a week ahead of his retirement. He began his career as a postal clerk in Milwaukee and joined the union soon after. He was elected as the local's president in 1997 and held that position afterward for all but four years. He worries about what he sees happening to the U.S. Postal Service.

"We are not performing at the level that we want to perform at as postal workers or at what the American people should expect," McKenna says. "Mail is as slow now as I've ever seen, and it's an embarrassment to say I worked for the post office because of the time it's taking for a letter to go from one town to the next town over. It's not good."

March 23 was also the day U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy unveiled his ten-year plan for reorienting the Postal Service. It calls for price hikes and service reductions. The on-time delivery window for a first-class letter would go from three to five days. McKenna and others believe these moves are meant to further erode public confidence in the agency so it can be put on the chopping block of privatization.

"They are shortening hours at the post office, extending delivery times. That's the last thing that they should be doing," McKenna tells me. "We should be trying to increase the proficiency and get the mail from point A to point B faster, not slower." He notes that the Postal Service enjoys overwhelming public support, more than any other federal agency. "We've been at the top for years and years. But if they keep degrading the service, we're not going to be there anymore."

DeJoy was appointed on May 6, 2020, by the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, led by an appointee of then-President Donald Trump. DeJoy's name was added to a list of potential candidates a few weeks after Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury Secretary, met privately with Republican appointees to the board.

David C. Williams, a former vice chair of the board, expressed concerns about Mnuchin's role and Dejoy's selection, and resigned. Williams later told lawmakers, "If this is the beginning of what the President promised, it's the end of the Postal Service."

DeJoy, a prominent donor to Trump and other Republicans, retains financial ties to a company that assists the Postal Service during busy periods. He and his wife have reported having between $30 million and $75 million in assets with Postal Service competitors or contractors.

As this issue of The Progressive goes to press, President Joe Biden's nominees to fill three empty seats on the board of governors appear headed for Senate confirmation. This would put Democrat-appointed board members in the majority. On April 28, a Senate committee recommended these nominees for approval by the full Senate. All were asked about Dejoy at a Senate hearing and were noncommittal.

But even assuming that Biden's appointees are confirmed, Dejoy's departure is no sure thing. On the same day that Biden announced his board picks, Dejoy defiantly told lawmakers he expected to be around for a good, long time. "Get used to me," he advised.

As even the American Postal Workers Union and National Association of Letter Carriers acknowledge, Dejoy's ten-year plan contains many good ideas. It calls for an end to a 2006 mandate imposed by Congress on the Postal Service to prefund its employees' health retirement benefits well into the future, something no other public entity--"or private, for that matter," McKenna tells me when I bring it up--is expected to do. And Dejoy has pledged to preserve six-day-a-week delivery, which President Barack Obama repeatedly pushed to end.

The Postal Service's problems run deep and will remain present even if Dejoy does not. As Kimberly Frum, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, puts it in an...

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