The Postal Service’s easy button

Think about the U.S. Postal Service and the words “bloated,” “bureaucratic” and “broke” come to mind. The agency has been in the red for years, as the age of the Internet has matured and the use of electronic mail has overtaken and largely replaced the use of first-class mail for almost everything except bill payment. Meanwhile, Congress has done very little to address the Postal Service’s problems. The result has been deteriorating service at ever higher cost. Indeed, many readers of the Baltimore Jewish Times are reminded of the situation every time their copy of this paper arrives days late.

So, any news that USPS is trying to do better is welcome. One innovation is a recently announced plan to let the Staples office-supply chain open USPS retail counters at 82 locations around the country — a pilot program that the Postal Service says could boost convenience and increase business. Whether Staples employees prove to be more helpful and efficient than the USPS workers behind the post office counter remains to be seen. Still, we welcome any action by the USPS to expand its service capability, make its products and services more user friendly and make postal operations more reliable.

Predictably, the deal is opposed by the American Postal Workers Union, whose members last week demonstrated outside Staples stores in cities around the country, including Baltimore. Labor supporters argue that the Staples agreement is a step toward privatizing the post office that will compromise users’ privacy and replace middle-class jobs with low-paying ones.

The union’s refrain about leaving postal services in the hands of the highly trained professional letter carriers and service personnel rings hollow. The real issue is the protection of union jobs. While that effort is laudable, it doesn’t address the concern of the exorbitant cost of running the post office and the difference in hourly price of paying a postal union employee versus a lower-cost alternative at Staples and other private businesses.

We want to see a solvent Postal Service. But we think it will get there faster without having its hands tied or otherwise restricting its ability to innovate and enhance service. Along with possibly ending Saturday mail service, Congress should revisit its 2006 mandate that requires the postal agency to prefund its retirement benefits at a cost of about $5.6 billion a year.

But let’s be clear: The front line in the battle for a better Postal Service is not Staples. It lies with Congress and the agency’s own management. We call on them to lead the way and can only hope that timely and better-priced delivery of this newspaper will follow.

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Comments

  1. grannybunny says

    I’m glad the article finally got around to mentioning the 2006 Congressional mandate to prefund 75 years’ worth of future retiree health benefits within 10 years. Prior to that outrageous misuse of Congressional power, the Postal Service was debt-free and profitable. Indeed, that single factor is responsible for 80% of USPS’ losses and 100% of its debt. Eliminate the mandate, and the Postal Service will be sustainable indefinitely. Otherwise, it will continue to be forced to cut facilities and staff, and your claimed deterioration in service will become a reality, much less the norm.

  2. Jamie Horwitz says

    I like reading the Baltimore Jewish Times on issues that pertain to the Jewish community and Israel, but I wanted to put a cancellation stamp on your editorial “The Postal Service’s Easy Button.” If you had done your homework you would know that the Postal Service’s no-bid sweetheart deal with Staples is bad for consumers as well as postal workers. The Post Office’s plans to get out of retail, to eliminate the local Post Office, and instead have stores like Staples operate postal counters.

    It’s a stupid idea. Staples isn’t accountable to the American people, they won’t even answer reporter inquiries about their “partnership” with USPS.

    Staples announced last month they were closing 225 stores on top of 40 store closures at the end of 2013. This company is on a path to becoming the next Blockbuster Video. On top of that, Staples has incredibly high employee turnover, no background checks for its workers, offers little training to counter personnel, is known for poor customer service and has far lower security requirements than a federal Post Office.

    The security of the US mail is important. Retailers don’t have the same standard as a government-operated postal facility. Imagine if Target, instead of Staples, had been given the same deal last year and everyone who used a credit card to pay for a mail transaction in their store became a victim of identity theft?

    I wouldn’t like to be dependent on a company like Staples or Target for my mail services. I would like to see the Post Office improve its services. If the editorial writers had done just a little research, it would have been apparent that the Post Office’s problems are largely manufactured by Congress, which imposed on USPS a requirement that the postal service pay for retiree healthcare 75 years into the future. In other words, USPS is mandated to pay benefits to workers not yet born! No company has this requirement nor government agency, only USPS. Without this $50 billion dollar weight, USPS would be in the black and the quality of postal service could be dramatically improved.

    The American Postal Workers Union and its president, Mark Dimondstein are standing up to the special corporate interests and others who are working to dismantle USPS. You should have done a profile on Dimondstein, who is Jewish and newly-elected to his position rather than use your editorial page to rant. Dimondstein is trying to save USPS, a national treasure, older than the nation itself and an important national institution that should have a long future — provided we stop Staples’ sweetheart deal.

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