Can we save the U.S. Postal Service?

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) topped a Harris Poll list of 100 essential and most trusted companies during the current pandemic. But as we go to press, Donald Trump’s refusal to authorize emergency funding means that the USPS as we have known it could disappear. Because it was an early target of privatization, USPS does not receive any tax dollars for operating costs. It must rely entirely on revenue from sales of postage, supplies, and services while at the same time ensuring that even the most remote parts of the country receive service. Even so, it could be profitable except for the coronavirus pandemic and the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which requires it to pre-pay $72 billion in post-retirement health care costs for its employees. No other employer, public or private, faces such a requirement. Without this burden, the agency would be financially solvent and self-funding, even profit-making.

The crisis is twofold. In the short run, the postal service needs emergency funding as part of a stimulus package. We have to save the postal service if we want to save mail-in voting and fend off privatization efforts by large corporations. In the long run, as Bernie Sanders and others have proposed, we have to change the onerous restrictions, and re-imagine the postal service in ways that could benefit even more people.

DSA’s Labor Commission (the DSLC) has launched the #DSA4USPS campaign to save the postal service, and urges chapters to engage in coalition work. Our own chapter, Southwest Michigan DSA, brought more than 50 people to the Arcadia Post Office in downtown Kalamazoo on June 23. The event—a vigil co-sponsored by the American Postal Workers Union of Southwest Michigan, Save Our Postal Service, Communities and Postal Workers United, and the Southwest Michigan Chapter of the DSA—coincided with the APWU’s National Day of Action to save the post office.

“[W]e knew we wanted to do something locally, but didn’t feel we had the time or energy to pull it off,” said Dave Staiger, a Kalamazoo letter carrier and member of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association. “We contacted Southwest Michigan DSA and asked for help. They assisted in organizing, publicizing, making signs, bringing materials, showing up, taking pictures and writing up a report on it.… We couldn’t have done it without them!” Attendees held signs, donned masks that read “Save our Postal Service!” and received supportive honks and raised fists from those driving by. Supporters sent postcards to Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, as well as to the White House, in support of emergency funding for USPS.

Vigil participants shared their vision for the agency’s future and the potential of the postal service to assist the country’s most underserved communities, many of which are also at high-risk for the coronavirus. An expanded postal service could offer supportive and sometimes life-saving services such as:

  • Expanded mail-in voting, which not only decreases the risks associated with in-person voting this year, but also serves working people everywhere who are often unable to get to the polls because of restrictive working hours, lack of child care, lack of transportation, or other reasons;
  • Increased delivery of prescription medications for those unable to get to a pharmacy;
  • Publicly funded postal banking, which can offer basic, low-cost banking services such as savings and checking accounts, bill paying, and check cashing for underserved rural and urban communities; and
  • Information services for residents in areas where broadband internet connections and mobile data service are unavailable or cost-prohibitive.

DSA chapters can seek to collaborate with USPS trade unions, lead local and regional media campaigns to spread the word about the dangers the USPS faces, and pressure local government bodies and labor councils to pass resolutions in support of the postal service. Find groups that depend on the postal service and turn them into allies.

Looking to November, chapters and individuals can urge senatorial candidates to support the USPS and the half-million union workers it employs. These efforts can be the building blocks for a postal service for the 21st century.