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Rod Thomson
East County Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 6 years ago

My View Postal decisions were good politics

by: Rod Thomson

The U.S. Postal Service decision to keep open the Tallevast distribution office is good news for those 300 employees. But it does not alter the underlying need for cuts.

Those cuts, being considered by a divided Congress now, included closing the Manasota Postal Center next to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and eliminating somewhere between 128 and 300 jobs, depending on whom you believe.

Local postal workers, who protested the closure, are tiny cogs in the vaster postal service and also cogs in the vaster battle over the future of the post office. Their office is saved for now, but the dynamics remain sharply against the postal service.

The future holds reductions in employee numbers and benefits — a bitter pill, to be sure — and something their unions are unwilling to accept.

The U.S. Postal Service is squeezed on the two most basic elements of any business: revenues and expenses.

On the revenue side, anyone not in a coma knows revenues have taken a mammoth hit with the advent of email, online bill paying and the Internet in general. Postal employees are handling 22% fewer items than just five years ago, and the decline continues. Projections are for that volume to fall another 30% by 2020.

The expense side is more self-inflicted. A long history of unaffordable contractual promises made to unionized workers — including no-layoff clauses — has made the post office too expensive.

Yet postal-service management just approved a contract in May that includes a new no-layoff provision while also offering better benefits than other federal workers, which is saying something. No business can handcuff itself like this. It would be suicide. In fact, that is just what it is.

The post office will run a $9.2 billion deficit this year, growing steadily from previous years. If major changes are not made, it could close in the not-too-distant future.

There is no real discussion of stamp price increases. Increasing revenue is possible through advertising on trucks and letting the postal service into other areas — but a government entity, just to protect itself, should not enter into competition with private, tax-paying companies already providing those services.

Cost containment must come from employees because of this statistic: The post office’s biggest competitors are UPS and FedEx, which respectively have 53% and 32% of their costs in labor. The Postal Service stands at 80% in labor costs.

Herein lies a huge problem, which shows up at the city, county, school district and state levels: These employees are members of deep-pocket unions organized for political power, and can and will vote their self interests. This is not lost on politicians ultimately making these decisions.

It is why U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said, “These people have given their blood, their sweat, their tears to make sure our mail has been delivered for years.” His party opposite, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., constantly refers to the “hard-working men and women” of the postal service.

OK, a little non-suck-up reality: Postal workers don’t work any harder than other people. And if the window service at the local post office is compared to the checkouts at Walmart or Publix, they may not work as hard as people in the private sector paid a third as much.

And more reality: They are not more important. Bank of America recently announced the layoffs of 30,000 people. Those people losing jobs are just as important as government workers losing jobs or being transferred. But BofA employees are not unionized and do not have paychecks tied to congressional votes.

Somehow, Congress must realize its first priority is not to government employees, but to all constituents.
It stinks for those postal workers who will be laid off or reassigned in the future. But the blame falls on the political leaders who have for many decades catered to their own political cravings and gave contracts too rich in goodies. A leaner postal service would be more competitive without the pain.

Unfortunately, the workers will have to pay for previous politicians’ craven acts, because there is no choice. It is just played out over and over.

Rod Thomson can be reached at [email protected].

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