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 NALC TITLETOWN BRANCH 619

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Branch 619 Picnic is July 10th at Bay Beach – 12:00 to 6:00 – Shelter #3. Auxiliary members can attend this event.619Picnic-page-0

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Federal retirees depend on their federal civil service annuity for much of their retirement income, but states facing financial problems may be looking to public sector pensions as a source of new revenue.

A state-by-state income tax analysis issued by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) shows that currently nine states have no income tax and nine more exempt the total amount of civil service annuities from their state income tax, but this equation may be changing.

A number of states are struggling to balance their budgets, and three states in particular – Illinois, Kansas, and Pennsylvania – are facing severe financial problems. Currently, both Illinois and Kansas exempt public sector pensions from state income taxes.

“Nowhere are federal retirees being singled out for higher taxation, but in some states there are moves to increase taxes on all retirees, which will affect federal retirees as well as workers in their state retirement systems,” according to Richard Thissen, NARFE National President. “NARFE is working with coalitions in the states to protect the pension rights of all public sector employees.”

One recent success for NARFE is in Alabama, where the association worked with other groups to defeat a plan that would impose a new income tax on federal and state pensions.

“Federal retirees must receive the same tax treatment as other public sector retirees according to the Supreme Court,” explains Mr. Thissen. This includes parity with the way military pensions are treated by states, although some states have chosen to ignore this requirement. Iowa has already decided to exempt military retirement pay, while taxing civil service annuities, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Barker et al. v. Kansas.

Related to general fiscal shortfalls, states are facing unfunded liabilities in their public pension plans after years of failing to make contributions needed to keep the plans solvent. As a result, politicians calling to reform insolvent state retirement plans are erroneously including the solvent FERS plan in their sights.

The jump in reported state and local government pension gaps is related to revised standards issued by Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) that are designed to “ improve the way state and local governments report their pension liabilities and expenses, resulting in a more faithful representation of the full impact of these obligations.”

While the federal government addressed this pension problem decades ago with creation of FERS, most of the public conflate state pension problems with the federal pension system. In fact, significant government and employee contributions have kept FERS in balance for future retirees.

It is important to remember that state income tax is only one form of taxation. Some states that lack a state income tax make up their revenue in a higher sales or property tax.

“Annuities are important, but NARFE is working with coalitions at the state level to reduce other taxes for retirees, like increasing the homestead exemption to reduce their property taxes,” said Mr. Thissen. “In states like Florida, which has no income tax but high property taxes, this can make a real difference to retirees living on fixed incomes.”

Finally, remember that a low tax state may also provide fewer services. Sometimes people moving from a high tax state to a lower tax state find they miss services that they had come to expect, such as more inclusive senior services. It is not unusual to find a transplant from a high tax state starting to agitate for more local government services after living a few years in a low tax state.

“NARFE is working hard with other groups in individual states to protect, and where possible, improve retirement benefits of federal retirees, employees and their families,” explained Mr. Thissen.

States With No Personal Income Tax States Exempting Total Amount of Civil Service Annuities
Alaska Alabama
Florida Hawaii
Nevada Illinois
New Hampshire Kansas
South Dakota Louisiana
Tennessee Massachusetts
Texas Mississippi
Washington New York
Wyoming Pennsylvania

Source: NARFE.org

© 2016 Michael Wald. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Michael Wald.

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– See more at: http://www.fedsmith.com/2016/04/17/state-fiscal-problems-threaten-higher-taxes-on-federal-pensions/#sthash.xs5pY8Fa.zKh2hMwj.dpuf

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Italian Dinner Night

Tuesday April 26, 2016

At

Josephine’s Pizza and Pastaria

2560 Glendale Ave, Howard

Hosted by Letter Carriers Auxiliary 413.

It is a fundraiser for projects worked on throughout the year.

Buffet style dinner includes: salad, garlic knots, chicken alfredo, spaghetti with meat sauce, sun-dried tomato primavera, dessert, Non-alcoholic sangria, and new this year a glass of wine.

Starts at 5pm

You can come anytime between 5-7 pm to eat.

$20 per adult

$10 per child under 12

Reservations are appreciated by April 22nd to Susan Calhoun 920-498-8735

2540 Rivergrove Ave, Green Bay Wi 54303

Or Walk-ins gladly accepted!!

This our 6th year hosting this event and appreciate your past support and hope you plan attending this years dinner.  If you haven’t attended in the past, please try to come.  It’s a very enjoyable evening.  Bring the whole family!!!

Hope to see you soon!!!

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Food Drive

2015 Top 10

It was another eventful year in the postal world. We saw 2015 open with mail service problems and a delayed price increase making news, and things never really quieted down from there. Speculation about Amazon’s intentions in the delivery industry reached a fever pitch in the latter part of 2015, and the Postal Service Board of Governors got more ink in December than all months combined when the board dropped to a single appointed member.

The year had its share of good news, too. Business First-Class Mail volumes had their first small increase in years, and hard copy found its mojo, experiencing a nice resurgence that should position it well in 2016. And just as the year was closing, the United States and Cuba reached an historic agreement on mail service.

OIG staff sifted through the news and put together a top 10 list of postal stories, in reverse order of impact. Share your thoughts on what you think is the top story of the year.

10.  Havana Postmarks — The United States and Cuba reached agreement to reestablish direct mail service to Cuba, another major step in the historic process of normalizing relations between the two countries.

9.    Surcharges Don’t Follow Fuel Prices — Despite a decline of about 35 percent in their fuel costs over the past year, both FedEx and UPS still raised their fuel surcharges in 2015, irking ecommerce retailers and other customers of the shipping giants.

8.    Foreign Posts Shake It Up — Foreign posts make changes while the U.S. waits for the next round of postal reform efforts. Canada Post initiated its plan to eliminate to-the-door delivery (only to later pause it); New Zealand decreased mail delivery from 6 days to 3 in urban areas. The Italian government sold a 40 percent stake in Italian Post while Japan Post is privatized in the world’s biggest IPO of 2015. And high performing posts around the world are diversifying beyond their core mail business.

7.    Third Time’s a Charm on Rates — It took three tries before the Postal Regulatory Commission finally approved the Postal Service’s proposed price increases for market-dominant products in 2015, causing a delay in implementation — and needed revenue. The commission sent the case back twice after finding serious problems in the Postal Service’s proposal around Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Package Services rates.

6.    Hard Copy Lives! — Don’t bury hard copy just yet. It’s enjoying something of a resurgence this year. Among the evidence: JC Penney resurrects its catalog; Netflix recommits to its DVD business;  digital books account for only 20 percent of the market despite predictions that 2015 would be the year e-books outsell print books; and research indicates hard copy ads are remembered better than digital ads.

5.    First-Class Bleeding Stops? — For the first time in 7 years, Presort First-Class Mail letters showed a small increase, raising hopes that the freefall in First-Class Mail might finally have ended. Another reason for optimism? The Postal Service ended fiscal year 2015 with an operating profit of $1.2 billion.

4.    Amazonian Takeover? — Amazon makes moves that lead to speculation that the ecommerce giant is launching its own shipping network. First was its retaining a top recruitment firm to help it assemble a team of senior executives from the small package industry. Then came the announcement it will add thousands of branded trailer trucks in its delivery fleet that will be driven by third-party carriers. And in December, the Seattle Times reported that Amazon could soon be leasing 20 cargo planes with the goal of building its own air-logistics operations in the United States.

3.    End of an Era for LLVs — The Postal Service’s workhorse long-life vehicle (LLV) delivery trucks head to the Big Garage in the Sky as the organization issues requests for proposals for vendors to build new prototypes. After tests, a contract of up to $6.3 billion will be awarded over several years beginning in 2017.

2.    Dude, Where’s My Mail? — Mail service suffers after the first phase of plant consolidations, prompting the Postal Service to suspend phase two of its network consolidation plan. Service gets so inconsistent in 2015 that members of Congress push riders to return service standards to 2012 levels — the year before consolidations began.

1.    And Then There Was One — The $69 billion, 240-year-old U.S. Postal Service is down to only one appointed member of its Board of Governors to make important decisions about one of the nation’s most valuable infrastructures at one of its most critical times.

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Letter Carrier Political Fund

(formerly known as Gimme5 or Colcpe)

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◊♦Letter Carrier Thank You Cards♦◊

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An Added Benefit for joining the NALC Health Plan

If it’s guidance you’re seeking, our online Health Risk Assessment (HRA) continues to be a great tool, providing you with a personalized plan to meet your specific mental and physical goals. When you complete the HRA, you can choose from free enrollment in the CignaPlus Savings discount dental program, a $40 CVS gift card, or a wearable activity tracking device. Family dental enrollment, up to 2 gift cards or 2 devices are available when two or more covered family members take advantage of this valuable incentive.

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The Carrier Caddy

I am a rural carrier near Chattanooga. I build these one at a time in my garage when you order one. They Fit on the dash of your LLV. Lifts off easily. Holds pens, 3849’s, other forms, cell phone. Scanner pouch clips on the front and comes with a sturdy cup holder that will hold those large foam cups, the YETI cup, bottles etc… Cup holder can be on the right or leftleft, click on the photos tab for pictures of each. $25+postage. Painted ones are $30+postage. I also sell the cup holders separately they are $8+postage and $9+postage for a painted one click on photos tab for pictures. For more information! email me at carriercaddy@gmail.com or send me a message on Face Book. THANKS

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2015 EMA Mailing Industry Job Study

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Click the button to start giving to CFC DLAEn_DLAImage1_261012031046

Combined Federal Campaign

As federal employees, letter carriers can participate in the world’s
largest annual workplace charitable giving program, the Combined Federal
Campaign (CFC).
Pledges made by federal civilian, postal and military donors during the
campaign season (Sept. 1 to Dec. 15) support eligible non-profit organizations
through donations deducted voluntarily from their paychecks each pay period.
“The CFC is a wonderful way to help make the world a better place, a few
dollars at a time,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said.
Carriers can choose a charity, or several, to support, and an amount they choose will be deducted from their
paychecks and automatically sent to each charity.
“By giving automatically, a little each pay period, you probably won’t even notice the money coming out of
your check,” Rolando added. “But the charities notice, because the steady support of millions of participants
makes a big impact on their ability to help people and do good throughout the year.”
All letter carriers can participate in the CFC, and Rolando recently sent his annual reminder asking NALC
members to contribute through the CFC in addition to the other ways they support the community.
“Each day, many of us encounter people enduring real life problems within the communities where we live
and deliver the mail,” Rolando wrote. “Throughout the year, we help by collecting food, providing clothing, men-
toring children and looking after those who are vulnerable. We must continue to be good citizens by involving
ourselves in these and other community efforts. However, it does not end there. The Combined Federal Cam-
paign allows us easy access to contribute to charities that we care about through payroll deductions.”
Rolando asked letter carriers to consider donating to three charities in particular: the Postal Employees’
Relief Fund (PERF), the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and United Way Worldwide.

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Watson wins special election for NALC dir. of retired members

 

Pursuant to an election complaint received by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), NALC entered into a voluntary agreement with OLMS to conduct, under OLMS’ supervision, a new officer election for the position of NALC director of retired members.

The election was conducted by ballots mailed on Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 to all NALC members in good standing as of June 1. Ballots were due back in the post office box by 12 noon on Oct. 5.

The ballot tally for this election took place immediately afterward at Peake-DeLancey Printing in Cheverly, MD, and it was completed on Oct. 7. The preliminary results of the count are:

  • Corvallis, OR Branch 1274 member Ron Watson: 47,608
  • Minneapolis Branch 9 member Ken Ring: 9,119

OLMS is reviewing the vote totals to ensure they are correct and accurate, and it will release a final tally report shortly. This report will include a breakdown of the vote totals by branch.

The term of office for this election is the remainder of the unexpired term, which will end in December 2018.

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Questions and Answers for Self-Plus One

 Retiree NON-Postal FEHB 2016 Rates (PDF) 

The 3 tables below (pink) are NON-Postal Premiums which are for Retirees and non uniformed participants.  Please be advised that CATAGORY 2 also refers to Retirees and non uniformed particpants.  Catagory 1 refers to all uniformed employees, USPS personnel…ie  letter carriers, clerks…etc.

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 2016 Postal Rates for Career Employees (PDF) 

 (Postal employees are catagory 1)

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NALC Health Plan

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Politics pushed USPS into red

– – Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In a commentary piece on the U.S. Postal Service’s plans to upgrade its vehicle fleet, Ken Blackwell called the Postal Service “the poster child for government waste” (“How the Postal Service continues to burn money,” Web, Aug. 27). He’s wrong on the merits and the facts.

It’s difficult to waste government funds if you have none. For decades, USPS has by law relied not on taxpayer dollars but on revenue earned by selling stamps.

Mr. Blackwell labels USPS inefficient. Actually, numerous studies have found the postal service to be the industrial world’s most affordable and efficient delivery network, benefiting Americans and their businesses.

Moreover, the postal service is operationally profitable. Fiscal 2014’s earned revenue exceeded business expenses by $1.4 billion; this year’s operating profit already exceeds $1 billion.

There is red ink, but it stems from Washington politics, not from the mail. In 2006, Congress mandated that the U.S. Postal Service prefund future retiree health benefits. No other public or private entity has to prefund for even one year; the postal service must prefund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6-billion annual charge is the red ink.

A helpful Mr. Blackwell could use his lobbying skills to persuade lawmakers to address this fiasco.

FREDRIC ROLANDO

President

National Association of Letter Carriers

Washington

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Order online at WWW.MAILCALLCARDS.COM

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 Here’s What The US Postal Service Wants In
Their Next Mail Truck
Andrew P Collins

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The USPS is replacing the squat little vans you’re use to seeing around the neighborhood, and is now trying to find a replacement. This sketch has just been released as an idea of what the Postal Service has in mind.

The US Mail Truck You Know And Love Is Going Away Soon The US Mail Truck You Know And Love Is Going Away Soon The US Mail Truck You Know And Love Is Going Away

The US Postal Service runs about 200,000 Grumman Long Live Vehicles (LLV) all over the country

In a presentation to prospective suppliers that the USPS made last week (and posted online a few days ago) America’s next mail truck would need total cargo space of 330 to 400 cubic feet, a minimum clear floor space of 72″ by 108″, 76″ of headroom, and a clear bulkhead passage that’s 30″ wide.
The USPS is looking for an ambitious 18-20 year planned service life, right-hand drive, AWD availability, and a minimum payload capacity of 1,500 pounds.

Prescribed dimensions are a total length of 230″, width of 85″, and a towering 106″ of height which gives it a fatter footprint than a modern four-door pickup truck. As the USPS themselves are providing these images as a guide, it seems like a safe bet that whoever wins the rights to build America’s next mail truck will execute something pretty similar to this:

Modular design, ease of repair, and other basic large-fleet vehicle line items are also on the spec sheet, and mailpeople have requested that “small crevices” into which letters can fall and get lost “be eliminated where possible.”

After prototypes are built, America’s Next Top Mail Truck will have to endure 24,000 miles of testing “without malfunction of a major component” operating in temperatures between -34.4ºF and 125ºF.

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USPS Mail Truck Specifications — Part 1

USPS Mail Truck Specifications — Part 2

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There have been (and will continue to be) an alarming amount of news coverage regarding data breaches in some of our most trusted institutions.  If this doesn’t scare you than you are probably from a generation that believes it will work itself out and the hackers of the world will be prosecuted and found.  But, I’m here to tell you that the movies are becoming true to life and in a world that’s constantly changing, technology has surpassed our ability to control, manage and secure our Identities!!!  I can go on and on about the Cons of the internet but I believe the situation speaks for itself… from corrupted Optical Scanners at the grocery store, Anthem, United Airlines, Target, USPS and most recently E-filing your taxes with Turbo Tax.. YES, E-FILING… I am urging all of you to send your taxes in this year by using the good ole post office.  Turbo Tax employees are telling costumers to paper file their taxes  because  3 million taxpayers and their families have had their personal tax information compromised.. There are a few things you can do to help.  The first being, remove any information on the web about yourself that could grant a thief  your life, money, future and identity with one key stroke.  I suggest looking into the following programs and services.

  • www.safeshepherd.com
  • Bitdefender Anti-virus, Spyware and Adware (Total Security 2015)
  • Norton 360
  • Malwarebytes
  • Kaspersky
  • AVG.com

And please be careful what you post on Facebook… Hackers and thieves love it when you advertise your vacation plans.  It’s an invitation for trouble.

Thank You,

Bruce Cole

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Tell Congress: Mail Matters!

Advocates of slash-and-shrink postal “reform” will do anything to damage our nation’s Postal Service. They want to end Saturday service, cut delivery to your door and slow down the mail.

But they are forgetting that the mail matters to the millions of Americans who – like you – depend on the Postal Service and its unmatched delivery network each and every day.

Businesses use the Postal Service to get the job done. Others count on the Postal Service for timely delivery of letters, packages, medications and time-sensitive materials. In many communities, Postal Service employees act as first responders and careful observers when most residents are away from home.

The Postal Service is making a comeback, and with its recent progress in mind, eliminating services like Saturday mail and door-to-door delivery is the wrong decision at the wrong time.

Add your name below to tell Congress that it is time to strengthen the Postal Service – not settle for unnecessary and harmful cuts to an important service.

 

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In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan 19th, 2015)

“Ruth and the Green Book”

by, Calvin Alexander Ramsey

A Story inspired about Victor Green ( A New York City Postal Carrier) and his dedication to Black America.

 

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Consumer Reports ranks Postal Service as top package-delivery provider

Consumer Reports (December 2014) ranked the U.S. Postal Service as the top package-delivery provider.

On a five-point scale, with 5 being the best, USPS received an overall score of 3.8. This was better than the scores of FedEx (3.1) and UPS (2.6).

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Shipping comparison: FedEx vs. UPS vs. U.S. Postal Service

Is the good ol’ post office your best bet for sending packages?

Published: December 17, 2014 02:45 PM

Theres little doubt that Santa Claus operates the world’s most efficient package delivery system—his sleigh travels at rates of up to 1,800 miles per second as he delivers toys to good little girls and boys.

Unfortunately, though, he’s booked solid for the holidays. So if you have gifts destined for far-flung places, you’ll have to use one of his helpers—a package delivery service—to handle the task of transporting them for you.

We put FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service to the test to see which can get your packages to their destinations most economically and quickly. Get details on our review, below, and find out whether expedited shipping is worth the splurge.

U.S. & international deliveries

FedEx

UPS

USPS

5.0

5.0

5.0

For Santa to deliver all those packages, he has to zip around the earth a minimum of 187 times, according to Michael Trick, a senior associate dean at Carnegie Mellon University. Package shippers require more people, bigger fleets, and more-advanced logistics to deliver your packages.

All three services deliver to the 193 million residential addresses in the U.S. and most of the 262 countries, territories, possessions, and dependencies recognized by the U.S.

Convenience

FedEx

UPS

USPS

3.5

3.5

4.3

Mailing your packages early increases the chances they’ll arrive on time. The three big shippers accept packages on as many as 307 days. During the holiday season—Nov. 1 to Dec. 31—they’ll take your packages on about 50 days. For deliveries, the USPS will deliver Priority Mail Express every day, including Sundays and holidays, for a surcharge. FedEx delivers on Saturdays for an extra charge; it also has same-day delivery service 365 days per year, but we did not include that in our comparison because we considered it a novelty that’s overpriced for cost-conscious consumers.

Reliability

FedEx

UPS

USPS

1.0

1.0

3.0

For the 2013 holiday season, the countless packages didn’t arrive on time because of poor weather conditions; this situation was made worse by a crush of shoppers sending gifts late. Still, given the steep prices for overnight and second-day service, on-time delivery is critical. UPS and FedEx wouldn’t tell us about their track record, which hurt their score. The USPS says 87.5 percent of package deliveries were made on time in 2013. If FedEx and UPS did better, wouldn’t they want to crow about it?

Cost

FedEx

UPS

USPS

3.0

1.0

3.0

We set up a crisscross pattern of deliveries between 25 pairs of cities from coast to coast and to Honolulu and Anchorage, Alaska, and researched the least expensive prices for each. We did that for next-day standard, second-day, third-day, and ground delivery. (An assumption was that if your package were 5 pounds or less, you’d choose next- or second-day service, and if it were 20 pounds, you’d opt for more economical three-day or ground delivery.) The USPS was cheapest 92 percent of the time for next-day and second-day delivery. For third-day and ground delivery, FedEx was cheapest. In no case was UPS the least expensive.

Overall score

FedEx

UPS

USPS

3.1

2.6

3.8

In the 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” the postal service came to Kris Kringle’s rescue by delivering proof that he really was Santa. When it comes to picking the best way to send your holiday gifts, we find that the USPS should be your choice. (Kudos to the USPS for disclosing its on-time performance statistics.) Otherwise, compare FedEx and USPS prices.

Editor’s Note: This review is based on an evaluation by the Consumer Reports Money team, using a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 is the lowest possible score and 5 is the highest. Individual scores are averaged within category, and the category scores are averaged to produce the overall score. The scores here are not Ratings. This article also appeared published in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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Important Region 7 Report regarding new scanners and vehicles

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The CDRAAP National Oversight Team has released the jointly developed form to be used by local office contacts to request a route adjustment review under the CDRAAP 2014-2015 (M-01851).

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MDA

chili's logo

Chili’s is participating in the “Give Back Event” by taking 20% off your final bill (excluding tax and tip) and donating it to MDA  from 11-6-14 to 1/31/15.  All you have to do is give your waitress/waiter this voucher number 99999000005192 and the deed is done!!!!  Feel full and feel good

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www.mailcallcards.com

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you can watch the cyber video at the following address.  The postmaster has kept us from puting the video on our sites…you must click this link directly.  Thank you!!!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PLF1E12CB9A3C4F564&v=UQJ6M_cm7bc&feature=youtu.be

 

 

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What does our Union Provide and Offer?  Click Here to find out… You may be surprised!!!

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Contribute to Colcpe

 

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bowling-0022.gif from 123gifs.eu Download & Greeting Card

 (Click the link below to print out the 2015 Bowl-A-Thon form)

2015 Titletown Branch 619 Bowl-A-Thon

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October 26, 2014

NALC election results announced

The National Election Committee, appointed at the 2014 NALC Biennial Convention in Philadelphia to conduct the election of national officers of the NALC for four-year terms, has announced the results of the election. NALC President Fredric Rolando and Executive Vice President Timothy C. O’Malley were re-elected following the nationwide vote.

Here are the election results, listed in ballot order; winners are highlighted in italics. Note that voting for the regional national business agent offices was limited to NALC members in good standing from the respective regions:

President:
— Fredric V. Rolando, Sarasota, FL Br. 2148: 48,937
— David Noble, Washington, DC Br. 142: 12,841

Executive Vice President:
— Timothy C. O’Malley, Philadelphia Br. 157: 44,906
— Catherine Jones, Minneapolis Br. 9: 15,971

Vice President:
— Deidre Beal, South Florida Br. 1071: 21,331

— Lew Drass, Huntsville, AL Br. 462: 38,644

Assistant Secretary-Treasurer:
— Judy Willoughby, Tallahassee Br. 1172: 48,121
— Sharella Spikes, South Florida Br. 1071: 11,382

National Trustees:
— Lawrence D. Brown Jr., Los Angeles Br. 24: 46,268
— Randall L. Keller, Mass. Northeast Mgd. Br. 25: 37,610
— Eryca Bloom, South Florida Br. 1071: 24,368

— Brett Israel, Ft. Lauderdale, FL Br. 2550: 14,516
— Mike Gill, South Florida Br. 1071: 44,293

Region 3 National Business Agent:
— Tony Hutson, Springfield, IL Br. 80: 2,199

— Michael Caref, Chicago Br. 11: 2,870

Region 6 National Business Agent:
— Gary Smith, Grand Rapids, MI Br. 56: 1,491
— Patrick C. Carroll, South Macomb, MI Br. 4374: 2,989

Region 10 National Business Agent:
— Kathy Baldwin, Beaumont, TX Br. 842: 2,204
— David Pratt, Albuquerque, NM Br. 504: 1,047

The following nominees ran uncontested and were elected by consent at the convention on July 23:

Secretary-Treasurer—Nicole Rhine, Lincoln, NE Br. 8
Director of City Delivery—Brian Renfroe, Hattiesburg, MS Br. 938
Director of Life Insurance—Myra Warren, Dallas Br. 132
Director Health Benefit Plan—Brian Hellman, New York City Br. 36
Region 1 National Business Agent—Christopher Jackson, Garden Grove, CA Br. 1100
Region 2 National Business Agent—Paul L. Price, Portland, OR Br. 82
Region 4 National Business Agent—Roger Bledsoe, Oklahoma City Br. 458
Region 5 National Business Agent—Mike Birkett, Dubuque, IA Br. 257
Region 7 National Business Agent—Chris Wittenburg, St. Paul, MN Br. 28
Region 8 National Business Agent—Peter S. Moss, Gulf Coast Mgd., MS Br. 1374
Region 9 National Business Agent—Kenneth Gibbs, Brunswick, GA Br. 313
Region 11 National Business Agent—Dan Toth, Lorain, OH Br. 583
Region 12 National Business Agent—William J. Lucini, Philadelphia Br. 157
Region 13 National Business Agent—Timothy W. Dowdy, Virginia Beach, VA Br. 2819
Region 14 National Business Agent—John J. Casciano, Boston Br. 34
Region 15 National Business Agent—Lawrence D. Cirelli, New Jersey Mgd. Br. 38

To prepare for the election, the National Election Committee first held a teleconference on Aug. 8 to review the nominations for national office submitted at the convention, following the procedure outlined by the NALC Constitution.

Prior to that teleconference, National Election Committee Chairman Joe DeRossi, a member of Brooklyn, NY Branch 41, distributed the submitted nomination forms for review by the nine election committee members.

Upon examination, the committee determined that three nominations did not meet the requirements for certification under the terms of the NALC Constitution, and committee members voted unanimously to disqualify all three.

Those disqualified were director of retired members candidate Ken Ring of Minneapolis Branch 9, director of safety and health candidate Travis Lober of Arizona Merged Branch 1902, and national trustee candidate William Heller of West Coast Florida Branch 1477.

As a result of these disqualifications, the committee declared winners in two of the races for national office:

Director of Safety and Health—Manuel L. Peralta Jr., Garden Grove, CA Branch 1100
Director of Retired Members—Ron Watson, Corvallis, OR Branch 1274

The third disqualification left a field of five remaining nominees for the three national trustee offices.

The committee then met on Aug. 15 in Washington, DC, to set the rules and procedures for the election. It also conducted the random drawing to determine the order of the names as they were to appear on the ballot for each office.

The election was conducted by mail ballot and administered by an independent party, following the requirements of the NALC Constitution and the regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor and subject to oversight by the NALC National Election Committee.

Official election instructions were included with all ballots mailed to eligible NALC members.

To be eligible to vote, a person was required to have been a regular member of the NALC and in good standing as of June 1, 2014.

Preparation and mailing of ballots began on Monday, Sept. 29. Ballots were to have been received by 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 20, to be counted, with the counting of ballots beginning that day.

The installation of NALC’s 28 elected national officers will take place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, Dec. 13. Click here to find out more.

The National Election Committee, as appointed by President Rolando, is made up of: Brooklyn, NY Br. 41’s Joe DeRossi (chairman); Manhattan, KS Br. 1018’s Rod Holub; Birmingham, AL Br. 530’s Antonia Shields; Garden Grove, CA Br. 1100’s Barbara Stickler; Jamaica, NY Br. 562’s Andrew Wiener; Royal Oak, MI Br. 3126’s Paul Roznowski; Van Nuys, CA Br. 2462’s Calvin Brookins; Houston, TX Br. 283’s Ethel Ford; Central Florida Br. 1091’s Lynne Pendleton; and Silver Spring, MD Br. 2611’s Delano Wilson.

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September 23, 2014

New MOU on Holiday Carrier Assistants in 2014

 

The NALC and USPS have entered into the Memorandum of Understanding Re: Holiday Carrier Assistants – 2014 (M-01844). This MOU allows the Postal Service to begin hiring retired employees that wish to work during the upcoming four week December period. However, such employees shall not perform city letter carrier craft work prior to the four week December period in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding Re: Additional Resources – Holiday Carrier Assistant. Retired letter carriers in areas in need of holiday carrier assistants will be notified of these opportunities in the near future.

 

 

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CSRS and FERS Overview with pending legislative changes    

 

CSRS and FERS Overview Currently

 

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Good Ole Mr. Dolan

1946 Britanica Film about a mailman’s daily routine
(though somethings have changed, others have stayed the same)
audio starts in 37 seconds after starting film.
 
There will be a quiz about what “RD” means..LOL
 
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Postal Employees who were hired BEFORE 1989 UNDER FERS, you are eligible to buy back ALL non-career and PTF time including CASUAL and TE time.. Call your HR under LITEBLUE (877)-477-3273
 
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National Election Committee sets election dates:

 
The National Election Committee, appointed at the Philadelphia Convention to conduct the election of national officers for the NALC, met on Aug. 15 in Washington to set the rules and procedures of the election. Official election instructions will be included with all ballots mailed to eligible NALC members. To be eligible to vote, a person must be a regular member of the NALC and in good standing as of June 1, 2014. Preparation and mailing of ballots will begin on Monday, Sept. 29, with any ballots ready to mail going in the mail stream that day. Preparation and mailing will continue on Tuesday, Sept. 30. Any active or retired members who do not receive a ballot by Wednesday, Oct. 8, must notify their branch officers. Those branches must then immediately contact the NALC Membership Department at 202-662-2836 to request a duplicate, replacement ballot. The deadline for branch officers to contact the Membership Department is 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, Oct. 10. Only a branch officer can request a duplicate ballot. Ballots must be received by 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 20, to be counted. The counting of ballots will begin on Oct. 20.
 
 
 
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ALJ Rips the Lid Off Secret Staples Deal

 

USPS Guilty of Bad Faith, Unlawful Tactics

 

NLRB Orders Postal Service to Give APWU Info
Web News Article #:

155-14

08/20/2014The Postal Service engaged in delaying tactics that constituted an unlawful refusal to provide the APWU with information about the agency’s deal with Staples, an NLRB judge wrote in an Aug. 13 decision.

The USPS “did not want to provide the requested materials and was throwing straw arguments and roadblocks in the way,” Administrative Law Judge Eric M. Fine said.

The Staples deal established knock-off post offices in more than 80 of the office-supply stores in a trial program that the Postal Service and the retailer hoped to expand to all of the company’s 1,500 U.S. stores. The union has launched a boycott of Staples, which has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, SEIU, and many other major labor organizations.

Shortly after the program got underway in October 2013, the APWU requested detailed information about the terms of the arrangement as well as correspondence between the USPS and Staples. The Postal Service claimed the union had failed to establish the relevance of the information it sought and said the APWU’s request was “overly broad” and “burdensome.” Management also asserted that much of the information was confidential.

Just prior to the April 1 NLRB hearing, the Postal Service gave the APWU a heavily redacted copy of the agreement that obscured most of the details of its contract with Staples. Many of the deal’s 58 pages were completely blacked out.

In the decision, NLRB Judge Fine rejected each of the Postal Service’s claims and ordered the Postal Service to provide the APWU with most of the requested information, including thousands of emails between the USPS and Staples. He credited the testimony of the APWU witnesses, Clerk Craft Director Clint Burelson, Manager of Negotiations Support Phil Tabbita, while discounting the testimony of the Postal Service’s witnesses.

What Are They Hiding?

APWU President Mark Dimondstein said, “This decision demonstrates the desperate measures the USPS is willing to take to keep the details of its privatization deal a secret.

“The U.S. Postal Service is a national treasure that belongs to the people of the country,” he said. “Postmaster General Donahoe has no right to turn over its operations to a private company that is motivated by the bottom line – not service to the people.

“The secrecy prompts the question: What are they hiding?”

The APWU objects to the Staples deal because it privatizes the retail operations of the public Postal Service; transfers living-wage, union jobs to high-turnover, low-wage jobs, and degrades service to the public.

USPS Knew Exactly

In his decision, Judge Fine wrote, “I find that the Union has established the relevancy of the requested disputed information.” The program spans several states in major population centers, where “Staples employees perform a broad array of bargaining unit work creating alternative retail outlets.” He also pointed out that “a large number of the 80 to 84 Staples stores used in the pilot program were located less than a mile from the nearest post office.”

Fine rejected the Postal Service’s claims that the union’s request for information was overly broad and burdensome. “I find the Union’s request to be quite specific, and in need of no further explanation,” he wrote. “In fact, I have concluded that Respondent [USPS] knew exactly what the Union wanted but was merely opposed to providing the Union with the information.”

Fine also rebuffed management’s assertion that it could withhold much of the information the USPS said was confidential or proprietary. The Postal Service has until Sept. 10 to appeal the decision to the full NLRB.

 

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FOURTH CONTRACT COLA: Following the Aug. 19 release of the July Consumer Price Index (CPI), the fourth cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for letter carriers under the 2011-2016 National Agreement is $686 annually. This COLA was based on the increase in the CPI between January 2014 and July 2014. It amounts to 33 cents per hour. Under the terms of the 2011-2016 agreement, payment of this fourth cost-of-living adjustment will take effect in the second full pay period after the scheduled Aug. 19 release of the July 2014 CPI—that is, Pay Period 20 (pay date Sept. 26).

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Special Addition 2014 Philadelphia Convention Bulletin Coverage

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National Election Committee reviews nominations, sets election dates

Aug. 11, 2014—UPDATED Aug. 15—The National Election Committee, appointed at the Philadelphia Convention to conduct the election of national officers for the NALC, met on Aug. 15 in Washington to set the rules and procedures of the election.

Check back for further updates.

The committee held a teleconference on Aug. 8 to review the nominations for national office submitted at the convention on July 23, following the procedure outlined by the NALC Constitution.

Prior to the teleconference, National Election Committee Chairman Joe DeRossi, a member of Brooklyn, NY Branch 41, distributed the submitted nomination forms to the nine election committee members for review.

Upon examination, the committee determined that three nominations did not meet the requirements for certification under the terms of the NALC Constitution, and committee members voted unanimously to disqualify all three.

Those disqualified were director of retired members candidate Ken Ring of Minneapolis Branch 9, director of safety and health candidate Travis Lober of Arizona Merged Branch 1902, and national trustee candidate William Heller of St. Petersburg, FL Branch 1477.

As a result of these disqualifications, the committee declared winners in two of the races for national office:

  • Manuel L. Peralta Jr., a member of Garden Grove, CA Branch 1100, for Director of Safety and Health
  • Ron Watson, a member of Corvallis, OR Branch 1274, for Director of Retired Members

The third disqualification leaves a field of five remaining nominees for the three national trustee offices.

The committee will meet on Friday, Aug. 15 in Washington to set the rules and procedures of the election. The Committee will meet at 9 a.m. in the Executive Council room on the 8th floor of the Vincent R. Sombrotto Building.

The Committee will conduct a lottery at 1 p.m. on August 15 to determine the order in which candidates for each contested office will be listed on the official ballots. Candidates for office, or their proxies (limit one person for each candidate), are entitled to attend the lottery as witnesses.

The election will be conducted by mail ballot and administered by an independent party, following the requirements of the NALC Constitution and the regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor and subject to oversight by the National Election Committee.

Besides National Election Committee Chairman and Commissioner DeRossi, the other members of the committee are:

  • Rod Holub, Branch 1018, Manhattan, KS
  • Antonia Shields, Branch 530, Birmingham, AL
  • Barbara Stickler, Branch 1100, Garden Grove, CA
  • Andrew Weiner, Branch 562, Jamaica, NY
  • Paul Roznowski, Branch 3126, Royal Oak, MI
  • Calvin Brookins, Branch 2462, Van Nuys, CA
  • Ethel Ford, Branch 283, Houston, TX
  • Lynne Pendleton, Branch 1091, Central Florida
  • Delano Wilson, Branch 2611, Silver Spring, MD

Official instructions will be included with all ballots mailed to eligible members. To be eligible to vote, a person must be a regular member of the NALC and in good standing as of June 1, 2014. National business agents will be elected by the members in their respective regions. Once the ballots are mailed, any active or retired members who do not receive a ballot must notify their branch officers. Those branches must then immediately contact the NALC Membership Department to request a duplicate, replacement ballot. Only a branch officer can request a duplicate ballot.

The dates of the election and the procedures to be followed will be announced after the Aug. 15 meeting of the National Election Committee.

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Top Five Reasons to Buy Union-Made

 

  1. Union employers provide good paying jobs

  2. You get what you pay for: union-made products are built by skilled craftsmen and women

  3. when you buy union, you are taking a stand against the shipping of jobs overseas

  4. More union jobs means more middle class jobs

  5. A union workplace is a fair workplace that provides real protections and due process for workers

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The NALC is proud to participate in the Child Alert Program. Each issue of our “Postal Record” magazine includes a page suitable for letter carriers to tear out and carry with them as they deliver the mail. And if letter carriers have information about a missing persons, they’re encouraged to let a supervisor know as soon as possible.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
www.missingkids.com

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Retirement savings plan: CCAs now have access to a plan designed specifically to help them save money for retirement. Provided for by the 2013 Das interest arbitration award, the retirement savings plan (RSP) for CCAs who are members of the NALC was created by the union’s Mutual Benefit Association (MBA) to give CCAs a tax-deferred way to save for retirement. The RSP was organized as a traditional IRA and was specially created for CCAs who are not yet eligible to earn pension benefits under FERS or to participate in the TSP. Click here to find out more.

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She's the US Postal Service's biggest fan! Drew Barrymore shared an Instagram snap of her posting letters into a box, captioned, 'I love the old fashioned world of ink! Snail mail never go away!'

She’s the US Postal Service’s biggest fan! Drew Barrymore shared an Instagram snap of her posting letters into a box, captioned, ‘I love the old fashioned world of ink! Snail mail never go away

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Celebrating America’s Farmers Markets!!

FarmersMarketStamps

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The 2014 MDA Show of Strength Telethon is Sunday, August 31, at 9pm Eastern, on ABC.

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Latest Plan to Privatize Post Office Hits Unexpected Obstacle

David Morris
On the Commons / News Report
Published: Wednesday 13 August 2014
Labor solidarity is stopping the U.S. Postal Service’s pursuit of a fully privatized post office. Could this be a game-changing obstacle?

The United States Postal Service (USPS) management just ran into a possible game-changing obstacle to its shameful pursuit of a fully privatized post office: labor solidarity.

Here’s the background. For a decade the USPS has been aggressively shrinking, consolidating, and outsourcing the nation’s postal system. In July 2011 management upped the ante by announcing the rapid closure of 3600 local post offices, a step toward the eventual closing of as many as 15,000, half of all post offices in the nation.

A groundswell of opposition erupted. Citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes defining role in their communities. In December 2011, after Congress appeared ready to impose a six-month moratorium on closures USPS management voluntarily adopted a freeze of the same length.

In May 2012, the moratorium ended but management, possibly concerned about reviving a national backlash, embraced an ingenious stealth strategy. Rather than closures, management moved to slash hours at 13,000 post offices. That could be accomplished quickly. Reduction in hours, unlike outright closures, requires little justification. Appeals are limited. Moreover a reduction in hours doesn’t generate the same level of outrage as a closure. The building remains open even though its value to the community is dramatically diminished.

By the end of this year management may achieve its goal. Already 9,000 post offices have had their hours cut drastically. Part time inexperienced non-career employees have replaced full time experienced career postmasters. Management duly held meetings in every affected community but refused to heed or even respond to the counsel of local residents and businesses or provide them the data used to justify its decision

Postal clerks and letter carriers are the personal face of the most ubiquitous, trusted and respected of all public institutions. By gradually replacing to-the-door service with delivery to more remote cluster mailboxes management has already reduced our personal interaction with letter carriers.

Last fall USPS management proceeded with the second phase in its campaign to sever our personal links to the postal clerks by quietly launching a pilot project in 82 Staples stores. After the news became public management ingenuously announced that nothing had changed. “Staples joins with more than 65,000 retailers . . . who currently provide expanded access to postal products and services.” Management conveniently forgot to mention that these 65,000 locations just sell stamps or flat boxes. None hosts a postal counter staffed by a retail employee that sells services.

 
 

The arrangement with Staples is different. As management conceded, Staples “is the first retailer to take part in a USPS pilot program dubbed the Retail Partner Expansion Program.” The Retail Partner Expansion Program creates mini post offices inside big box stores.

 

If the pilot proves successful the USPS expects to expand it to all 1,500 Staples. And then to all big box retail outlets. Steve Hutkins, creator of the inestimable SaveOurPostOffice.org runs the numbers. We can now buy stamps at 7,450 Walgreens; 3,830 Wal-Marts; 1,632 Staples; 1,200 Office Depots; 847 Safeways; 609 Sam’s Clubs; and 426 Costcos. That adds up to over 14,000 locations. “If all of those arrangements were converted from selling stamps on consignment to setting up postal counters, the Postal Service would have an instant infrastructure of “mini post offices” to replace real post offices…”

A bill introduced by Rep. Darrell’s Issa (R-CA) would make this replacement much easier. According to Section 103 of the Postal Reform Act of 2013 the right to appeal a post office closing to the Postal Regulatory Commission “shall not apply to a determination of the Postal Service to close a post office if there is located, within 2 miles of such post office, a qualified contract postal unit.” There are 1,200 post offices within two miles of just the Staples retail network.

For management replacing a real post office with a fake post office is a good deal. USPS average pay is about $25 an hour. Staples retail clerks earn about $8.50 an hour.

For the customer this is a bad deal. Staples’ employees receive just four hours of “classroom” training for postal retail duties. Postal retail clerks receive 32 hours of intense classroom training, followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training alongside experienced window clerks. Postal workers must pass a test before they are considered qualified to work the window. Given the turnover at Staples it’s unlikely the employee at the postal counter is going to be around long enough to acquire the experience or expertise of a career postal worker.

For the community this is an awful deal. A cherished local institution created to serve the public interest would be replaced by a counter in a business created to serve distant shareholders and management. If its economic self-interest dictated Staples could decide to close the store. To underline the reality of this threat in March Staples announced it will shutter up to 225 stores. That would leave the community without any postal services at all.

Labor Solidarity to the Rescue

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) responded to management’s hostile action by organizing protests around the country. On April 24th a Day of Action resulted in hundreds of pickets, marches and rallies in more than 50 cities across 27 states under the rallying cry, “Stop Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale”.

In late May Staples Vice Chairman Joe Doody nervously acknowledged the USPS deal “could become a problem if more unions backed the postal workers.” He told the Boston Globe, “The retailer will continue to evaluate the situation to determine whether the negative backlash is worth the benefits of the partnership,” Staples had signed the deal because it was desperate to gain more traffic through its stores. If the deal actually reduces traffic and sales, Staples would reconsider.

State labor unions and national federations began to endorse the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ campaign. On May 30, when the AFL-CIO, comprised of 56 unions representing 12.5 million members came out in support of the boycott. In mid June California’s Service Employees International Union 32BJ, representing 145,000 union members in 11 states and the District of Columbia, voted for a boycott. In a letter to the Staples CEO SEUI 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa observed, “The Postal Service is the largest single civilian employer of union middle-class jobs for African Americans, and Veterans (including disabled veterans), and is the largest single civilian union employer. We need more of these types of jobs to strengthen our economy and the middle class, and we will not accept your efforts to undermine them through low-wage privation.”

After July 4th more unions formally joined the boycott. Perhaps they were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s enduring comment at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

In July the International Association of Firefighters representing more than 300,000 backed the boycott. AFSCME union, representing 1.6 million public-sector workers, followed suit. Then on July 12th the 1.5 million member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) delivered the coup de grace when it signed on. APWU President Mark Dimondstein made the case for solidarity to the convention, “We too are in the public sector, we too are meeting the needs of people. We’re facing some of the same problems you are—I call it divert, defund, demoralize, demonize and dismantle.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten responded. “Who does Staples really want and need to come into its stores every single day? Teachers. The best way we can help is if we say to Staples: ‘You do this to the postal workers, and we aren’t buying supplies in your stores.’”

School supplies are a key market for Staples, accounting for up to one-third of its sales. Last year teachers spent about $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies. Back-to-school supply-buying gets going in earnest in late July.

On July 14th Staples announced it had withdrawn from the Retail Partner Expansion Program.

The celebrations have been muted. Postal service management hasn’t thrown in the towel. It’s simply changed the name of the program. As one USPS spokesperson explained, “We look forward to continuing the partnership whether it’s called Retail Partner Expansion or approved shipper.” The USPS wants to establish a beachhead in thousands of retail stores. Once a postal counter staffed by low paid non union non postal service employees begins to sell services it will be easy to expand the kinds of services it offers.

But Staples announcement and USPS’ obfuscation demonstrates that retail stores are vulnerable to boycotts, especially those organized by people in the communities they serve. Teachers, firefighters, government workers, service employees live in significant numbers in every community. They can form the backbone of an effort that puts big box retailers and USPS management on notice. Hands off our post office!

And who knows? Hands off our post office could evolve into Give us back our post office! A successful boycott to stop the further privatization of the post office could then move demand that the post office be restored to its former glory and effectiveness by reopening processing centers, extending local post office hours and rehiring experienced staff. Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General of the United States, would be pleased.

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USPS announces new scanning device

March 12, 2014—The Postal Service has announced the deployment of a new Mobile Delivery Device (MDD) to be used by letter carriers. The device, from Honeywell, will transmit scan data in real time and will replace the current Intelligent Mail Device (IMD) and paired cell phone. For detailed information on the new MDD, read an advance copy of Director of City Delivery Brian Renfroe’s April 2014 Postal Record article.  

 

 

 

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Helping a customer find a package just got easier.  If you have an iphone you can install the USPS app and get detailed information on the spot within the app…. Just go to the APP store on your mobile device and enter USPS in the search tab.

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US Postal trucks

(Photo: brian hefele / flickr)

The historical cost of building our postal network, its unique characteristics and efficiency, the nefarious efforts to privatize and cripple it, and the economic and personal costs of losing it are considered.

An army prefers to fight on familiar terrain. Absent such serendipitous circumstances, a good general will try to move the conflict to more hospitable ground. In their long-thwarted campaign to cripple, privatize and cannibalize the assets of the United States postal system, conservative and business interests have finally, it seems, turned the tide of battle by employing a more measured and subtle strategy of legislative and economic subterfuge. Having failed in a full-on frontal assault on government control last attempted by private carriers in the mid-1840s, the Postal Service’s detractors have mounted a new, more promising offensive in the present era. To their credit, they have enjoyed some success by redefining the terms of engagement, and by reconstituting the nature and mission of the US postal system from its historical role as a civil service entity to a Frankenstein-like corporate/government hybrid with most of the downsides, and few of the advantages of both.

The right has patiently tried to wrest control of the US Postal Service from the government using a three-step strategy.

Since the 1970s, the right has patiently tried to wrest control of the US Postal Service from the government using a three-step strategy characterized by: a) ideologically legitimizing its effort through scholarship cooked up in Koch-funded think tanks like Cato and the American Enterprise Institute; b) politically codifying it in generic, legal templates drawn up in legislative boiler rooms like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and c) economically executing their plan by forcing USPS to operate in a commercial arena where it would be squeezed on one side by government constraints, and, on the other, forced to compete with global private carriers like FedEx and UPS not subject to the same legislative mandates. Each strategy deserves scrutiny, for each is a piece of a puzzle which, when we step back and view it from afar, reveals the right’s goal of undermining and co-opting this venerable institution.

Clearing the Post Road

For Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the postal system was more a matter of principle than philatelics.

Even before the founding of the Republic, a rudimentary postal system was part of the Articles of Confederation (Article IX).For Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the postal system was more a matter of principle than philatelics. It was, for them, not just a vehicle for the physical transmission of personal correspondence, it was a vital part of the intellectual and social fabric of the nation in its facilitation of discourse among the citizenry, a view that has been upheld over centuries of legal challenges to its government mandate. In a paper for George Mason University (surprisingly objective for George Mason, an institution awash in Koch money), Richard R. John (John, 2008. Pg.16) reminds us that the principle source of information at the time – the “mass media” – was not personal letters but newspapers. They therefore deemed newspapers, above all, worthy of government support and even subsidy, and understood intuitively what Napoleon, their contemporary, appreciated as a practical point of policy when he remarked: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” He had, after all, the memory of Louis XVI’s head in a basket to remind him that the nascent French press had a lot to do with the monarch’s demise.

As the nation took shape – filling in to the center from both coasts – the system of post roads expanded with it like blood vessels into thinly populated hamlets, hollows and far-flung burgs. Through these conduits flowed the economic and intellectual life issuing from distant, cosmopolitan centers to smaller communities that might otherwise have been cut off from such discourse. After the golden spike was driven, uniting the country by rail, both lawmakers in the seats of power and the citizenry came to appreciate that the mail was not simply a luxury to be dispersed in profitable, densely populated areas only. No one realized this more than then-Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who, during his tenure between 1889 and 1893 worked to establish Rural Free Delivery (RFD) to reach “…nearly the 41 million Americans – 65 percent of the American population – [who] lived in rural areas.” By 1902, after some experimentation, the service was permanently accepted as part of US postal system.

All told, the USPS accounts for 40 percent of the world’s mail volume.

The US postal network that Wanamaker nurtured has, today, no match in the world in terms of area and effectiveness. The total landmass of all 50 US states is roughly 3.5 million square miles. Across this vast area, the US Postal System services 227,000 routes. “In one year,” writes Foreign Policy Magazine’s Joshua Keating, “America’s mailmen and women delivered 268,894 letters and 2633 parcels percarrier [italics mine] – more than any other country – to 151 million addresses. All told, the USPS accounts for 40 percent of the world’s mail volume….”

With assets valued at over $400 billion (pg. 24) and such an extensive, unparalleled network, it’s little wonder that the economic carnivores who do daily battle in the corporate jungle – a group unmoved by the lofty sentiments of the founders – salivate at the prospect of chasing down and feasting on the fat carcass of the United States Postal Service. Their main impediment, however, has been the postal system’s unionized workforce and its unique government status, a status that has nurtured close historical ties to the culture in a bond not easily severed by mere economic calculus. Job one, for the right, has been to weaken and marginalize this group, an effort they’ve mounted on a number of fronts.

1970: Mail Incorporated

Before today’s Post Office as we know it – The United States Postal Service, or, USPS – the Post Office was an arm of Congress called the Post Office Department or alternatively the United States Post Office Department. In its previous capacity before 1970, it was part of the Civil Service. The change in nomenclature is crucial because it is a semantic indication of the postal system’s switch from a straightforward arm of Congress to a quasi-governmental, self-supporting commercial entity. What, one might ask, inspired this change? Quite simply: a picket line. For two years, between 1968 and 1969, postal workers (who, at the time, had no collective bargaining rights) had been pressing union and government officials for a wage increase above their subsistence-level salaries. Their frustration came to a head in 1970 when postal workers in New York walked off the job and were soon joined by thousands in the illegal job action. When newly elected President Nixon’s order to return to work fell on deaf ears, he ordered the National Guard to replace them. The Guard, however, proved to be incompetent postmen, and the postal system ground to a halt. The government relented, and postal workers won an 8.4% raise and the right to collectively bargain.

Both government and union officials agreed something had to be done for the long haul. Ironically, the raise and the right to bargain were just two of a number of recommendations that had been broached by a commission appointed by the previous president, Lyndon Johnson, just a year earlier in 1969. Headed by the then-recently- retired chairman of AT&T, Frederick R. Kappel, the commission issued a report – titled “Towards Postal Excellence” – that quite benignly conceived the present hybrid structure of the postal system. Known as the Kappel Report, the eponymous study suggested a more autonomous role for the Post Office, to be run more like a corporation; more, not so coincidentally, like AT&T.

Just like the postal system, AT&T was then a monopoly, and Kappel’s conception of the new Postal Service as a market monopoly could, quite honestly, have been inspired by AT&T’s own attempt to justify and maintain its market dominance. It was, in fact, the first time the term “universal service” was used with regard to mail, a concept used before then only to refer to the “universal” availability of phone service. Using the Kappel Report as a template, the postal system was completely revamped in 1970 under the aegis of Public Law 91375, known as the Postal Reorganization Act. The structural changes called for in the legislation were profound and consequential, transferring the decision-making power from 535 members of Congress, to a group of five presidential appointees. Essentially, the act:

• Created an independent, self-supporting (primarily through sales of postage) government corporation – the United States Postal Service (USPS) – charged with providing universal delivery, a monopoly of first class mail, and exclusive control of mailboxes.

• Created an 11-member group (nominated by the president and subject to approval) called the Board of Governors to direct policy and procedures, and a Postal Rate Commission (PRC) to establish postal rates.

• Guaranteed union representation and collective bargaining, with unsettled disputes being sent to federal mediation.

• Mandated pension payments by the new USPS to the CSRS, or “Civil Service Retirement System,” then the only entity funding government pensions.

In hindsight, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 established the United States Postal Service as an independent establishment of the Executive Branch, not as a government corporation. Commissions discussed the idea of a government corporation, but this was not established in the law. Even though it used AT&T, a private sector monopoly, as a corporate model, we must remember that monopolies at the time had neither the global reach nor the technological capability of today’s behemoths to create and leverage the wretched Dickensian working conditions of foreign sweatshops against American workers. It was a time when faxes, telexes, and phones were the dominant technologies, and the hemorrhaging of US manufacturing jobs from Detroit, Pittsburgh and Ohio had not yet begun in earnest. Almost a third of the US workforce was unionized at the time, so companies like AT&T were compelled to treat unions with a modicum of respect and legitimacy. However, though the legislation made inroads in terms of job security, wages and bargaining rights, it simultaneously exposed postal workers to a new vulnerability as agents in the marketplace, a subtlety that did not escape right-wing intellectuals toiling in the new conservative think tanks like the Cato Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. They set to work constructing a body of scholarship aimed at exploiting these vulnerabilities, demonizing public sector unions, and advocating for changes in the economy that might further erode public sector union power.

One for the Gipper: Reagan, PATCO and beyond

Reagan’s mass firing of the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) in 1981 breathed new life into the right’s long felt anti-labor animus and inspired hope of once and for all crushing the power of the US labor movement, a considerable portion of whose members were postal workers.

Reagan’s mass firing of the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) in 1981 breathed new life into the right’s long felt anti-labor animus and inspired hope of once and for all crushing the power of the US labor movement, a considerable portion of whose members were postal workers. The war against the unionized worker now had a hero in the White House, and Reagan’s action was taken as an official, presidential imprimatur on the assault. Stereotypes of the labor movement and unionized workers that had been set aside on right-wing shelves with the ascendance of labor after the New Deal were, by the mid-1980s, being dusted off and making re-appearances in the new right-wing journals and, more importantly, in Congressional hearings on the Postal Service. An early skirmish occurred in 1984 when, after postal workers’ contract had expired, the the United States Postal Service Board of Governors decided to fire a salvo across the bow of labor by unilaterally implementing a two-tier wage structure for new and older postal employees. The move was met with outrage, and then withdrawn after Democratic House members went to the floor and passionately invoked the collective bargaining mandate of the 1970 law (pg.86).

Hostilities were dormant until 1994 when, after winning both houses of Congress, Republicans marshaled their forces for another attack. In 1995, Representative John McHugh (R-New York) – who, since 2009, has been the US Secretary of the Army and, more significantly, is an ALEC alum – led it, honoring the 1970 law’s 25th anniversary by initiating hearings around proposed legislation to undo it and completely privatize the USPS. The sponsors of HR 210 speak reams about both the spirit and the intent of the legislation. One, Dana Rohrabacher, is a lifelong friend and benefactor of Charles Koch. In a January 2011 interview, the Congressman professed his long-felt gratitude and affection for the billionaire. “I knew him more like 30 or 40 years ago and always [sic] very respectful and grateful for his family’s commitment to liberty,” he reminisced, “I think the Koch family is playing a really significant role in the future direction of our country in a positive way.” The other, Phil Crane, cut his political teeth in the campaign of Barry Goldwater and could be justifiably regarded as the one of the spiritual progenitors of the Tea Party before there was one.

By the time of the 1995 hearings on HR 210, Rep. McHugh, the committee’s chairman, had the wind of the Republican resurgence at his back. With his Republican colleagues (i.e., Speaker Newt Gringrich, Tom DeLay, et al) busily engaging President Clinton (Monica was three years away), McHugh dove into the proceedings with single-minded conviction. The hearings were a showcase for conservative theory and prognostication, spruced up and put on display in a legislative forum. There was nothing new, really; just a reprise of traditional anti-labor talking points. It is, after all, a generational article of faith among the hard right that – absent the paternal hand of the monied class to guide them – workers are unmotivated and lazy. They are, so the gospel goes, incapable of determining the nature and limits of their workplace or the value of their own labor. Workers are, furthermore, only “efficient” when they are mindless cogs in a nightmare version of a Frederick Taylor time-management scenario (think Walmart, or an Amazon distribution center). Even the smiling, happy post person going about his or her appointed rounds inspires contempt, for the true role of the worker, in their eyes, is to be fearful and so preoccupied with basic survival they have no time to consider their plight, or to concoct stratagems to improve it.

Though the internet and e-commerce have indeed garnered an ever increasing role in the culture, it is not nearly pervasive enough to fulfill the universal service role performed since the late 19th century by the US Postal Service.

The thrust of HR 210 was that the USPS was doomed, its lifes blood – paper mail and first class correspondence – certain to be sucked from it by the ever looming vampire of e-commerce and e-mail. Personal computers and messages transmitted over the internet would, so the jeremiads went, render the Postal Service and its army of employees redundant. Better, then, for postal workers to cash out for a specified sum before the E-pocalypse and head for the hills in ignominious defeat. The ever-looming internet has been a common theme among right wing prognosticators since the eighties, recurring like an idée fixe in their ongoing symphony of disdain for the Postal Service. The ease of online bill paying and e-mail would, so the argument goes, render the paper-based USPS obsolete. This view rests, however, on a much more optimistic assessment of the digital divide than reality warrants. It ignores the fact that great swathes of the country, especially in rural and poor areas, still enjoy little or no internet access; many have neither a computer, the money to afford one, nor the skills to operate it. Though the internet and e-commerce have indeed garnered an ever increasing role in the culture, it is not nearly pervasive enough to fulfill the universal service role performed since the late 19th century by the US Postal Service. Chart A below illustrates just how much of the country still does not have internet service:

Chart A:

Government-sponsored postal service has traditionally – with the exception of purchased postage – been a free service provided to everyone. You needn’t pay the postman to put mail in your mailbox. Internet services, on the other hand, are strictly offered by profit-based companies. Because their primary goal, as with any corporate entity, is to maximize gains for shareholders, the internet lends itself to the same sort of inequality that characterizes the marketplace where more purchasing power buys more and better service. The latest retrenchment on internet neutrality is disturbing evidence of a trend toward an economically based internet hierarchy. In this sense, the persistent digital divide mimics the ever-growing economic chasm separating the haves from the have-nots. As long as this is so, the internet will never be a viable substitute or vehicle for the universal service provided for over a century by the US postal system.

HR 210′s proponents could not, of course, have foreseen such developments. The law they proposed would have compelled USPS to surrender the bulk of its plant and capital to the private sector. Private business would do a better job than government employees who, in the bill’s proponents’ estimation, are inherently shiftless and incompetent. Lending a veneer of academic legitimacy to the proceedings was one Dr. Edwin Hudgins, then director of regulatory studies at the Cato Institute. (He presently holds a position at the Ayn Rand inspired – what else? – Atlas Institute.)

The very presence of the postal monopoly would, according to Hudgins, be an impediment to private sector innovators who “…will always be slowed by the elements of their services dependent on the Postal Service.” Take pre-sorting, bar-coding, and bagging work away from postal employees, he advised, and give it to private businesses. “But why not,” Hudgins urged, “contract out all bulk shipments between major distribution centers, or all mail sorting to private suppliers, or simply allow the private sector to perform those functions entirely?” Then the good professor, in true Taylorist fashion, segued to the postal workers’ work culture, complaining that “…‘non-productive time’ constitutes 28.4 percent of mail-processing labor costs.” (Breaks and lunch?) Hudgins and his ilk, however, harbor a special and prescient animosity toward workers’ pensions and benefits, something, as we shall see, that would prove particularly vulnerable in future assaults. “…the USPS,” he opined, “has billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities backed by the federal government, that is, by American taxpayers.” That was a canard. USPS pension liabilities were not unfunded. The 1970 act mandated that the USPS make routine payments into the CSRS, which it did.

HR 210 failed. However, it laid the groundwork for future legislation by winnowing out which attacks were effective from those that weren’t. One volley that fell short was the assault on USPS’s efficiency and adaptability. Chart B below shows the USPS was not, in fact, populated by Luddites and cretins but by people willing to embrace new and efficient technologies, and to make sacrifices for long-term growth and profitability:

Chart B:

“The Postal Service delivered 32 percent more mail with nearly 9 percent fewer employees in 2006 compared to 1988, largely because of its successful implementation of mail processing technology.”

The figures indicate a number of things, the most important being a consistent, upward trend in profitability (in green) between 1995 and 2006 despite closure of 4,684 post offices, or 15% of them, over a 36-year period. More importantly, advanced sorting technology and techniques were embraced. In 1978, USPS implemented the expanded ZIP Code. In 1982, the first OCR (“optical character recognition”) came on line, allowing workers to barcode mail and send it to corresponding BCR (“bar code recognition”) for much quicker processing. Throughout the 1990s, even more sophisticated “advanced facer-canceler systems” were utilized. According to a 2007 USPS report (pg. 44), “The Postal Service delivered 32 percent more mail with nearly 9 percent fewer employees in 2006 compared to 1988, largely because of its successful implementation of mail processing technology.” Clearly, conservatives would have to find another weakness in labor’s fortifications, and they found one in the government pension system, a battle they’d already begun approximately ten years earlier.

Prior to the 1970 Postal Reform Act, all federal employees were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System, or, CSRS. This included postal workers as well until, after reform, responsibility for federal retirement was transferred from the Treasury Department solely to the USPS for anyone hired after 1971. This, of course, added immediate financial stress to the infant USPS, whose fundraising, with the exception of minimal congressional funding, was restricted to sales of postage. Such increases were, in turn, held to increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). It is important to note that CSRS pensions were traditional “defined benefit” plans, or, pensions amassed through joint contributions by both employers and employees for a specific stipulated amount to be paid upon retirement. Under “defined contribution,” plans – its opposite – funds are still amassed through joint contribution, but a final retirement income is not specified. The prospective retiree is, in great part, responsible for his or her own retirement through a combination of investing and saving. The employers’ responsibility ends with their “contribution” to the effort, not the outcome. With much of their retirement destiny thrust into their own hands, government employees – few of whom were savvy investors – were forced to make speculative decisions on their own, or to entrust them to “experts” in the then-burgeoning financial services and banking sectors who were more than happy to shepherd the funds for a fee, and were enjoying increasingly less government oversight. The Masters of the Universe on Wall Street welcomed the flood of new money.

Alphabet Soup: Stirring the Public Pension Pot

In the early eighties, supply-side theory still had that new-car smell, and the right was anxious to drive it off the lot. Within a scant ten years, since its design had been scribbled on a napkin (or so the legend goes) in a Washington restaurant by Arthur Laffer, the apostles of tax and budget cutting were sharpening their knives and ignoring cries of “voodoo economics” aimed at the theory’s counter-intuitive notion that a government can raise revenues while cutting them at the same time. They drove the car off the cliff instead. After Reagan slashed the top tax rate from 50% down to 28%, a yawning chasm in the federal budget opened up like a fault line in a quake.

The right could shift responsibility for the deficit from its real source – over-ambitious tax cuts – to the income, pensions and health benefits of public sector workers, a group they had always sought to characterize as profligate, pampered and over-paid.

“The deficits rose from 2.6 percent of the gross national product in the fiscal year 1981 to 6.3 percent in 1983″ the New York Times recounted in a 1988 article. But that was okay. Ironically, the massive shortfall was politically expedient and a propaganda coup for conservatives, creating economic conditions whereby the right could shift responsibility for the deficit from its real source – over-ambitious tax cuts – to the income, pensions and health benefits of public sector workers, a group they had always sought to characterize as profligate, pampered and over-paid. It is a tactic, sadly, employed – and effectively employed – to this day.

The challenge, then, was to devise a system that would weaken the self-contained structure of the CSRS pension system, one that would dissipate the economic resources – ergo, the political power – of public sector unions. What they came up with was, frankly, a stroke of genius. It involved fragmenting government pensions into three pieces, utilizing: a) Social Security; b) an entirely new component, funded, as with CSRS, jointly by employer and employee, called FERS (Federal Employee Retirement System), and c) a so-called Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. Previously, recipients of CSRS did not pay into or receive Social Security, and they fought doggedly to keep their system independent. Despite conservatives’ doctrinal opposition to Social Security, in this instance they realized its value as an economic cudgel to crack the armor of the CSRS system. That is, by forcing government workers into Social Security, they could force the government unions to siphon off what were previously dedicated funds into the general pool of Social Security, a tranche of money that serves the populace as a whole. TSP, on the other hand, was the most overtly market-driven component, putting a piece of the recipient’s retirement income directly at the mercy of financial markets.

The right’s point man for the endeavor was Senator Ted (“Bridge to Nowhere”) Stevens (R-Alaska) who, in 1982 brought to the Senate floor S 2905, which would establish the aforementioned defined contribution and thrift plan. The House matched the effort with its own version, HR 3660. After blending the bills for four years in conference, the Federal Employees Retirement Act was passed on June 6, 1986. Triumphant, conservatives had stormed the barricades of at least one of the labor movement’s outposts.

Though it was a winning strategy, it didn’t go far enough. Postal workers’ ranks and union influence were still prodigious. They still posed a political threat and an economic obstacle for private carriers like FedEx and UPS (both corporate members of ALEC) who, but for the Postal Service’s statutory monopoly in some areas, wanted to extend their influence. What was needed was another report, a sort of “Kappel Report, Part II.” Only this time, there would be no dancing around labor power. The gauntlet would be thrown down. They would double down on the canard of Postal Service ineptitude and inefficiency, even in the face of USPS’s improved performance, and they would open further the wounded pension system. After all, propaganda from the right wing media and the gravitas of a presidential commission would be enough, or so they imagined, to short-circuit something as irrelevant and inconsequential as reality. The result was a tendentious rehashing of right wing talking points, supported by speculative data cooked up by a Silicon Valley spawn of the Rand Corporation (long the preferred research cauldron for the Military Industrial Complex) called the “Institute for the Future.”

“Embracing the Future (Making the Tough Choices to Preserve Universal Mail Service)” was released in 2003, and, as one might expect, the “tough” choices redounded to the misfortune of the right’s political enemies in the Postal Service. And yes, the roster of commission members on the introductory page listed were, with the exception of one union representative of questionable repute, business people. But these individuals were different from the clear-eyed corporate monopolists of 1970. These were bankers and hedge fund managers: all those who would be waiting in the wings to receive the cornucopia of postal assets potentially redirected their way should the commission’s findings make their way into law. More importantly, “Embracing the Future” appeared against the backdrop of cultural conditions much different from those of the 1970 re-organization.

In such a socio-economic climate, it was easier to set the ever-increasing army of low-wage workers in the service industries against unionized, public sector workers who still enjoyed decent wages and benefits.

The year the report was released – 2003 – saw an economic landscape much different from 1970. Weakened private sector unions and outsourcing were increasingly impoverishing the American worker and middle class. In such a socio-economic climate, it was easier to set the ever-increasing army of low-wage workers in the service industries against unionized, public sector workers who, through wise contracts bargained in more prosperous times, still enjoyed decent wages and benefits. Divide and conquer. Distorted through the right’s ideological prism, the hard-won job and wage security of public sector workers were perceived by poorer workers less as a goal to be achieved for themselves than as an ill-gotten and ill-deserved bounty. It was, it seemed, a living vindication of Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “invidious comparison”.

Like a devious physician who, charged with rehabilitating a patient, prescribes a regimen of poison pills instead, “Embracing the Future” concealed its ill intent beneath a veneer of false veneration and concern for the work and legacy of the Postal Service. At the outset, it seemed to take outright privatization off the table precisely because of the very range and effectiveness of the Postal Service. “It is highly unlikely,” the report states, “that the private sector, acting alone, could provide the universal mail services we have come to expect from the Postal Service.” (Pg. ix) Further on, however, it becomes clear that the private sector is precluded from acquiring the property and tasks of the Postal Service not because it can’t handle it, but rather because it can’t handle it yet. This becomes obvious in the commission’s call for a “Postal Regulatory Board,” an executive group with much broader authority than the existing PRC. This Regulatory Board would, the report envisions, “…periodically review the scope of the monopoly with an eye toward narrowing it over time, so long as a greater reliance on a thriving private postal marketplace can occur without sacrificing universal, affordable access to essential postal services.” (Pg. x) In good time, the enemy would be brought to heel.

Perhaps another reason the commission could not offer a full-throated embrace of privatization stemmed from the fact that its own survey found that “A full 73% believe postal operations should either remain as is or be improved through only minor changes.” (Pg.18) Better wait on that one, too. This is only one example of the poison pills buried in the doctor’s bottle. Some of the others included recommendations like these:

• Defining USPS’s business model so narrowly, that it can’t compete economically with private carriers like UPS and FedEx:

(a) “Commission recommends that the Postal Service be restricted to products and services related to the delivery of letters, newspapers, magazines, advertising mail, and parcels.” (Pg. xi).

(b) “…setting the ceilings below inflation, thereby restricting revenue growth to motivate the Postal Service to pursue a far higher standard of efficiency.” (Pg.xiii)

• Siphoning traditional Post Office business to employees of retail outlets:

(a) “…expanding and accelerating efforts already underway at the Postal Service to bring a wider array of services to customers in convenient locations throughout their community – from grocery stores, to pharmacies, to cash machines…” (Pg. xviii).

(b) “…the new Postal Regulatory Board may wish to take a closer look at the mailbox monopoly with the aim of easing its boundaries to permit greater individual consumer choice.” (Pg.25)

• Exploit the prevailing conservative orthodoxy concerning collective bargaining, wages and pensions:

(a) In an ingenious riff on the bargaining language in the 1970 act which mandated that Postal Workers wages could not be below the private sector, “…The Commission firmly believes that postal workers should continue to have access to collective bargaining and total compensation comparable to, but not exceeding, the private sector. [italics mine].” (Pg. 112)

(i.e., if Walmart is successful in setting the prevailing wage, then that’s the ceiling, despite collective bargaining.)

(b) The commission expresses its frustration at its lack of control over the terms of collectively bargained wage, pension, and health benefits: “It is the Commission’s view that the benefits of comparability are undermined for all parties when significant segments of total compensation are rendered non-negotiable… A lack of negotiating authority with respect to these costs would be intolerable to most private-sector companies. They should be brought within the collective bargaining process at the business-oriented Postal Service, as well.” (Pg. 118)

So, the die was cast, the legislative mandate was clear, and right wing legislators got to work crafting the legislation that would embody the report’s recommendations. Much to their chagrin, one of the more obdurate defenses of the postal workers (and public unions in general) were their wage and benefit packages, still very much insulated from legislative assaults. With the country enthralled (and therefore, distracted) in 2003 in the martial spirit ushered in with the invasion of Iraq, the right wing could turn its attention to the campaign at home against its domestic enemies in the Postal Service. While trumpets blew and the barricades of freedom and liberty were being defended in Iraq, they perfected their new secret weapon to be used at home, one that would come from accountants.

Here, we digress to a rather wonky but significant aside in the realm of accounting. This is necessary because there has been, for a number of years, a simmering dispute in the accounting world over the proper way to estimate the present and future value of pensions; in particular, public pensions.(See this analysis of the issue by CFA John R. Minahan.)

Under a defined benefit pension structure the entity agrees to pay the employee in the future a sum of money each month/year. The risk of having enough money to pay this future obligation rests with the entity. For example, say an employee is 40 years old and the entity agrees to pay the employee 80% of his final salary upon retirement when the employee turns 65 years old.

This agreement has created a liability for the entity. How you measure the value of that liability is complex and requires a number of assumptions such as the employee’s final wage, inflation rates and life expectancy. For the above example let’s say that liability is $2,000,000. Governments and employers will then contribute to the pension plan’s fund each year with the hope that the amount they are contributing will grow over time to equal the liability, in this case the $2,000,000. The assumptions underlying the calculations can be manipulated – or rates of return on investments can be far lower than those assumed – thus creating the “Unfunded Liability.”

In the right’s arsenal of memes, perhaps none has proven more effective than the concept of “unfunded liabilities” as a way of portraying public sector workers and their wages and benefits packages as a drag on the taxpayers, both locally and nationally.

In the right’s arsenal of memes, perhaps none has proven more effective than the concept of “unfunded liabilities” as a way of portraying public sector workers and their wages and benefits packages as a drag on the taxpayers, both locally and nationally. Even today, it is the rallying cry of choice in statehouses from Chris Christie’s New Jersey, to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, to Rick Snyder’s Lansing. It plays well among low information voters and Fox News watchers in former industrial regions with busted budgets decimated by outsourcing and ill-conceived tax cuts. Because of its effectiveness, the notion of “unfunded liabilities” was the anchoring concept when the right crafted its most recent and most devastating legislation, the 2006 Post Office Accountability and Enhancement Act, or PAEA.

Sleek and deadly, PAEA was a distillation of all the legislative weapons to date in its war with USPS, defining more specifically than ever both the economic scope and purview of USPS, while simultaneously burdening it with restrictions designed to hamper its effectiveness and profitability. It was, in short, more poison pills, the most venomous of which were:

• So strictly defining the term “Postal Service” that it precluded USPS from dealing in any but the most stringently defined goods and services. (Sec.101)

• Erecting a firewall between what the USPS was authorized to do under the aegis of its “monopoly mail market,” and the more diverse goods and services provided by the private sector, or “competitive” market. (USPS could operate in the competitive market, but its operations would be severely restricted, and no monies gleaned from its mail monopoly could cross over into its competitive operations.) (Title II)

• Establishment of the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. (Sec. 801 to 803)

Conservative legislators cooked up an “unfunded liability” for the future health benefits of postal workers totaling $55.8 billion and demanded that that amount be pre-funded – something no other corporate or public entity has ever been required to do.

Of all the changes mandated by the legislation, the establishment of the Retiree Health Benefits Fund (in bold type above) proved the most consequential and devastating for the USPS. Exploiting accrual accounting methods that use market value estimations projected far into the future (i.e. “…actuarial present [italics mine] value of all future benefits…” in the language of the bill. (Sec. 802(A)), conservative legislators cooked up an “unfunded liability” for the future health benefits of postal workers totaling $55.8 billion and demanded that that amount be pre-funded – something no other corporate or public entity has ever been required to do. Consequently, rather than a year-to-year payment schedule traditionally accepted by pension fund actuaries, the law demanded that USPS pre-fund the full amount of pension obligations projected through 2039 (802(C)). Chart C below is from a 2012 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report listing the suggested amortization schedule alongside the actual payments made by USPS, which struggled to satisfy them:

The right had found the silver bullet – the one that would mortally wound an already struggling USPS fighting to maintain itself on the limited revenue stream diminished by previous conservative legislation. While many on the right still insist on attributing the decline in revenue at USPS to dwindling mail volume, another report by CRS in 2013 points the finger directly at the pre-funding scheme outlined in the PAEA, stating:

“Between FY2006 and FY2007, the USPS’s revenue rose $2.1 billion, from $72.7 billion to $74.8 billion. The agency’s expenses increased $8.4 billion during this same period, from $71.7 billion to $80.1 billion. Of the $8.4 billion expense increase, nearly all of it resulted from the PAEA’s RHBF funding requirements.” (Pg. 4)

Chart D below is from the same 2013 CRS report and dramatizes the effect on the USPS over a ten-year period since the beginning of the RHBF enactment:

Such an effective tactic could not be wasted on the USPS alone. Certainly, it could be used against any public sector union, be it in Detroit, Madison or Trenton. But it needed to be codified in generic terms so that any legislator on the local, state or federal level could simply dial up the legal template, fill in the blanks and bring it quickly to any legislative forum. This is exactly what ALEC did in 2011 when it approved its model “Unfunded Pension Liabilities Accounting and Transparency Act,” making it accessible to anyone on the ALEC web site. It was a new day: “e” union busting that was quick, simple and devastatingly effective.

The Cost of Privatizing: Be Careful What You Ask For

For decades, the Postal Service has inspired a wealth of derision, serving as everything from an institutional synonym for inefficiency and ineptitude to a corruption of the very word “postal” from a benign adjective to a word denoting an irrational act of murder. Yet, even in the face of such calumny, the men and women of USPS head out to their trucks and their sorting facilities each day and provide us with the most efficient postal system on the face of the earth. Those free-market cheerleaders who scoff at such a notion, who pine for the day when the privatization genie will swoop down and transform the postal system’s trucks, post offices and machinery into numbers on a Wall Street trading board should pause for a moment and reflect on the experience of those countries that have subjected their postal system to the vagaries of the market. In many European countries it has, in fact, been done, and the outcome might not be so appealing for average citizens, not to mention postal workers, after an objective look at the results.

Since the formation of the European Union, its member countries have struggled to coordinate a patchwork of postal systems, some of which are now completely privatized, others a blend of private/public services with markedly different workforces, work rules, compensation and union representation. Below are examples of countries with differing privatization regimes along with some of the results, the first two drawn from a 2007 Pique report commission by the EU:

  • Austria: Though the traditional postal service, Postal AG, still controlled (as of 2005) 98% of the addressed letter market, it only had 80% of the unaddressed letter market, which was serviced by “Self-employed deliverers” who “not only lack any form of employment protection, they also work short, but highly flexible working hours and earn a fraction of the monthly salary of a regular postman.” (Pg. 16) Many of these self-employed deliverers are asylum seekers with no rights and markedly lower wages. (Pg.24). Price for a 1st class letter: 0.62 euros, or about 85 cents.
  • Germany: Deutsche Post reduced its civil service postal workforce between 1995 and 2005 by 28,000. Its spin-off, Deutsche Post World Net, was a global company with over a half-million employees in 2006 with the majority of shares in private hands. New competitors appearing in the letter market created what looked like an impressive 46,175 jobs. However, a closer look shows that most of these (60%) were part time “mini” jobs that pay 30% less than the incumbent service and offered no collective bargaining rights. (Pg. 21). Deutsche Post purchased DHL in 2002, making it the largest carrier in the world. Only 42% of DHL’s employees, however, are Germans. The German postal system – serving a country roughly the size of Oregon and Washington combined – delivers less than a fifth of the letters of its public counterparts with much less efficiency. Price for a 1st class letter in Germany: 0.58 euros, or about 79 cents.

In a 2014 review, Christoph Hermann of Global Research characterizes the questionable outcomes from liberalizing European postal services:

“In sum, post liberalization has not improved services and reduced prices as promised by the European Commission and others. Instead, liberalization has produced a few winners and many losers. The winners are private shareholders of former public monopolies, post managers and large customers, while the losers include private households, especially those in rural areas, and postal sector workers who have experienced liberalization as massive deterioration of employment and working conditions.”

Writing in the U.K.’s Daily Mirror in a September 2013 article, Nigel Atkins reflects on the results of European postal liberalization and the impending prospect of Britain’s Royal Mail being sold off. Says Atkins:

“In the Netherlands… Four competing firms handle the mail so homes and businesses get letters and parcels from men and women in orange uniforms from PostNL, run by multinational company TNT, blue postmen from Sandd, a private firm, yellow staff from Selekt, owned by DHL, and the half-orange postmen of Netwerk VSP, also TNT-run… To add to the confusion, TNT delivers six days a week, Sandd and Selekt two days a week, and VSP just once. And Dutch post boxes are only emptied once a day.”

One does not, however, have to look across the ocean for examples of private/public disparities in postal services, as they already exist here in the US.

The network, the nexus, and the “final mile”

More than its reasonable rates and efficiency, the people of the USPS are what give it its real value. Jim Ed Bull is one of them. Profiled by NBC News in November, 2013, what Bull does sets him apart from his brown and blue clad counterparts who shepherd their trucks for profit. Each day, he loads his Ford Ranger with the daily mail at the post office in Mangum, Oklahoma (population, 2,921 in 2012). He then sets out on his 187-mile route – the longest in the country. Mangum is a metropolis compared to the little towns he serves along the way. There’s Duke, with 412 people, and Eldorado, at 421.

“They all know me, everybody that I have on the route,” he said. “They know, they see that little red truck comin’ … [and] who’s in it.”

The citizens of Duke and Eldorado have a real bargain in Bull and the USPS when it comes to mail. Just how much can be illustrated in a comparison of rates for a hypothetical four-ounce parcel sent from each of these rural enclaves to a New York ZIP code – say, 10031 – via FedEx, UPS, and USPS respectively:

1st Scenario: Fed Ex – Altus, OK to New York

First of all, neither Duke nor Eldorado have Fed Ex outlets in their town. Duke residents would have to travel 15 minutes to the store in Altus to send their parcel. Eldoradans would have a half-hour trip to that same Altus outlet. Here is what Fed Ex’s online rate calculator came up with:

Final Cost for a four-ounce parcel via Fed Ex from Altus, OK to New York: $18.32

2nd Scenario: UPS – Altus, OK to New York

There aren’t any UPS outlets in Duke or Eldorado either. Residents of these towns would, therefore, have to travel the same distances to the nearest UPS outlet, also in Altus. Here is what the online rate calculator came up with for the UPS scenario for the same four-ounce parcel:

Final Cost for a four-ounce parcel via UPS from Altus, OK to New York: $29.30.

3rd Scenario: USPS – Altus, OK to New York

Finally, any resident of either Duke or Eldorado wanting to send a four-ounce parcel to the same New York ZIP code using USPS would simply have to go the US post office in their town to send it. Here isthe final tally for the USPS rate for that same parcel:

Final Cost for a four-ounce parcel via USPS from Duke or Eldorado, OK to New York: $2.50.

Lest one think the price disparity holds only with regards to rural areas, the same hypothetical parcel yields much the same results across the country from major cities. Here, for example, are the prices for the same four-ounce parcel from Seattle to New York via the same carriers:

FedEx: $21.23 UPS: $29.53 and USPS: $1.61.

Finally, where Jim Ed Bull and his truck goes is “the final mile,” those rural, out-of-the-way places profit-driven carriers like Fed Ex and UPS do not like to tread because to do so would not be cost-effective. It is precisely this routine door-to-door, people-to-people contact – out where the distance between mailboxes is measured not by footsteps but by miles – that is the essence of the “final mile.” It is the unique service of the US Postal Service, one bought with time and the generational effort of carriers establishing personal relationships with the people on those routes who’ve come to trust the service, and the people who deliver it. Those anxious for the demise of the USPS and those who glibly make it the butt end of jokes should consider the historical cost of building our postal network, and the economic and personal costs of losing it

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