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Postal Service Clinging to Blue Model

The slow-motion collapse of the U.S. Postal Service has prompted much discussion about how to reform the institution. There is broad agreement on the basics: services will be cut back, stations will close, and employees will be let go, while those who remain will see their benefits and salaries restructured. Many on the left in particular chafe at cutting back a service that has served as a gateway to the middle class for generations of postal workers. Yet plummeting revenues have forced them to face the fact that postal restructuring is inevitable.

Postal workers themselves, however, are in denial. In a new report set to be released today, the National Association of Letter Carriers, a union representing postal workers, took aim at rescue plans proposed by the USPS and Congress and suggested alternate reforms:

The Postal Service’s proposal to close thousands of post offices and cut back on the number of days that mail is delivered “won’t work” and would accelerate the agency’s decline, according to the six-page report by Ron Bloom, President Barack Obama’s former auto czar, and investment bank Lazard Ltd., LAZ -1.52% who were hired by the union in October.

Instead, the report says, the agency should raise its stamp prices, which are among the lowest in the world, and find new ways to profit more from its built-in advantage as the only entity to reach every American home every day. It should also replace its multilayered governance system with a corporate- style board of directors whose members have entrepreneurial experience.

The union is right to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and new services beyond simple mail delivery. Yet the proposal is relatively light on actual ideas in this vein, and where it gets more specific, the flaws become clear. Most obvious is the strict opposition to service cuts or cutbacks for postal workers. Despite the growing conventional wisdom that current levels of service are unsustainable, the union’s plan actually suggests expansions in mail deliveries (which, of course, would preserve endangered jobs).

While it’s striking that a major public union would issue ideas like this in a high profile report, it looks less like a visionary plan for the future and more like an attempt to stave off the inevitable pain for postal workers. The blue model may be collapsing, but it won’t go down quietly.

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  • Kenny

    “Postal workers themselves, however, are in denial.”

    They’re not in denial as much as they are in pure resistance mode.

    What do you expect the Postal workers to do?

    Even they know that they’re all but useless for the private sector work given their terribly low skill set and marginal work habits. If these people get pushed off the government gravy train, they’re screwed… and they know it.

    They’ll fight like dog to keep the show going but off the gravy train they must go.

  • Luke Lea

    I wonder how bad things would have to get before Mead decided that, yes, maybe we do need special intervention?

  • Andrew Allison

    Surprise, surprise: a consultant hired by the postal union recommended maintaining the status quo!
    The cost relative to other countries is irrelevant. All that matters is what people are willing to pay, and as the precipitous decline in first class mail revenue demonstrates, that price has been exceeded.
    In this day and age, there is no need for daily mail delivery, thus making half the carriers and their overhead redundant. The nonsense about eliminating Saturday delivery will have precisely no impact.If it’s urgent and can’t be delivered electronically, it’s going via Priority Mail or FedEx/UPS.
    The only way that USPS can maintain daily delivery is to make a deal with the competition to deliver all their packages too. This obvious step has only been partially implemented: I still see FedEx and UPS delivery vehicles in my (rural) neighborhood almost every day. This is asinine.

  • Dr. Wu

    How about they put their money where their mouths are and buy the postal service from the taxpayers? Then they can decide their own fate and compete on an even playing field with FedEx, UPS, and the others.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The monopoly on 1st class mail delivery needs to be broken, if we are ever to see improvements in the Quality, Service, and Price of mail delivery.

  • alex scipio

    Privatize it. Period. If such not-exactly-capitalistic countires as New Zealand and Sweden can priatize THEIR postal services – and reduce costs by 30% – then we can do it, too. And the ONLY reason we won’t? There are postal employees in EVERY Congressional district, pure and simple.

    If it doesn’t have to do with guns, it ought to be privatized, period. My city has no business having a street maintenance department, for example. Sub it out to the lowest, high-quaility bidder for a specific term (2 yrs? 5 yrs?) and let them deal with benefits, pensions, salaries on the private market and stop spending our money on it. Water department? Same.

    Maybe gov stays in the weights & measures business.. but given how corrupt they have become, maybe not….

  • Mahon

    There are diligent, courteous and effective postal workers. But what are the chances of any potential plan keeping them, as opposed to the others?

    Why not split every postal district in half and deliver mail in Part A Monday, Wednesday and Friday and in Part B (with the same people and trucks) Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday? Anything that has to be there at a particular time goes FedEx or UPS anyway.

  • Jbird

    I get 3 things by regular mail: bills, magazines, and advertisements. The only 1 of those I actually want to get I can get online if I want (I prefer a physical magazine to web based versions). The other 2 are available in other formats as well. I’d be happy with twice a week delivery with additional charges for important mail delivered on off days (priority mail). Sorta like how the garbage in my neighborhood is picked up twice a week. Businesses or other addresses that want daily mail could pay a membership fee for the extra deliveries. People in remote areas should be forced to pickup their own mail at post office boxes if they want it, or pay the excess cost of delivery themselves. Maybe once a week delivery to remote towns. If you choose to live in the wilderness, there’s no reason the USPS should have to use a prop plane to get your mail to your door.

  • Mark in Texas

    Here’s my modest proposal to improve the US Postal Service: Spam reduction.

    For $10 a month, the Post Office agrees to put only first class mail and magazines that I subscribe to in my mailbox. They get an extra revenue stream and a significant reduction in workload. I don’t get real mail every day but the postman delivers junk every time he drives down the street.

    Next step, for $20 a month double the cost of a stamp to deliver mail to me.

    People who don’t pay get the same service they get today.

  • val nostdahl

    I think there is a general lack of understanding of the postal service and the denial as you say of union members fighting ack so here is information that may enlighten you on the matter: In 2000, 2001, Postal Federal employee who previously had taken cuts in pay, health benifits and retirment benifits from employees, their families and retiees, in the 1980s, were made to pay in 15 percent more of their working taxpaying checks in order to balance the deficit for the country. They were thanked by then President and both sides of congress while others were getting tax breaks and a check back. Then in 2003, Congress was informed of overpayment to the federal retirement funds, both fers by anywhere from 7 billion to 11 billion and csrs by 55 billion ( with and overcharge of another 85 billion by the govt to usps) which was basically 104 billion. At the time a simple legislative process could of given some of the money back to the usps workers, but instead in congress a white paper was passed around saying if this happened the deficit would go up and the american public would be informed. So then a leading maine senator got together with the president since the USPS had made a huge profit for 2006. ( see misc)
    so then the paea or postal accountibility and enhancement act was passed, making a excrow account out of the profits forcing the usps to pay in to the tune of 5.5 billion a year and bankrupting the usps, and at the same time the PMG was given a bonus of 72 thousand dollars or 40 percent more, while workers below were being shorted staff, due to 3 overpaid retirment funds. AT the same time a letter from cato institute was said to potter newly hired to privitize the usps. and actions resulted from the paea within the workforce, for that you can go to to read up on, you can also find postal comments to the federal trade commission online written august 6, 2007 which told of the overpayment and more and what usps was not allowed to go before a private judge to testify about the matter with an accutary when most private companies would be allowed by law. On top of that you can go to federal budget treatment of the usps online to read the oig report made in 09. but recently also you can go to and read the following posted there on the matter: ALEC/Koch Cabal Privitizationg of the USPS for Ups and FedEX , which basically is not a privitzation but a corporate buy out of a federal agency, and a constutional one at that.

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