Just three months before the critical 2020 presidential election, the United States Postal Service is facing a severe financial crisis. The postal service is in trouble because of the current coronavirus pandemic downturn in the use of mail service, and a 2006 congressional law that mandates USPS pre-fund retiree health benefits, unlike any other government agency or private entity. The post service estimates it could run out of money as early as April next year. Democrats in the House have proposed a $25 billion post office rescue package, but Republicans oppose the funding. President Trump and many GOP legislators openly favor privatizing the U.S. Postal Service.
A secondary crisis was set in motion when Louis DeJoy, a Trump campaign megadonor recently named postmaster general, ordered the postal service to stop paying carriers and clerks the overtime pay needed to ensure that mail is delivered on time. There is growing concern that mail delivery delays, combined with the expected flood of mail-in ballots in this November’s presidential election could be intentionally designed to undermine absentee voting and sow chaos.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein, who discusses his concern that the post office might now be subject to manipulation in an effort to assist Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Mr. (Louis) DeJoy is a megadonor to President Trump and the Republican party. So we don’t know for sure, but we have some of the same concerns the public is concerned about. Is he there as part of service to the public in doing the right thing and carrying out a mission of helping to build this national treasure going forward. Or is he here to carry out the bidding of an administration that openly — this is not coming from me — (inaudible) openly has promoted in writing a plan and a proposal to privatize, ie., break up and sell the United States Postal Service to private corporations so they can make a private buck at the expense of the rest of us.
So certainly there’s a concern when a (postmaster general) who comes from the private side knows very little about the inner workings yet of the postal service and in a very short period of time has put in some policies that we completely disagree with – and we’ve let him know that — of slowing down mail, slowing down transportation so that mail slows down. Just arbitrarily saying the hours of workers are going to be cut. And when you cut hours and the work is still there, then the work isn’t going to get done right. And so we are definitely concerned, whether that’s something that was, you know, an error that’s going to be fixed and we’re going to press to have it fixed. And the people of the country are pressing to have it fixed.
Or whether it’s a plan to undermine this wonderful public good. And the way you undermine public good is you defund it and you degrade it. And then the 91percent of the people that now trust and have a favorable view of the post office – the post office doesn’t produce for the people of the country. That’s going to erode. And when then public support erodes it’s often when those who want to do away with the public entity then feel like the public will accept it. I’m convinced the public won’t. I think the public knows this belongs to them and they’re not gonna let anybody steal it.
SCOTT HARRIS: Do you have major concerns about the new policies put in place by Postmaster General DeJoy? And then of course, long term you’ve expressed concern about the eventual goal of privatizing the U.S. Postal Service.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: The idea that mail’s going to be slower will mean the states who run the elections — the post office doesn’t run any election — might have to compensate. They may have to get ballots out a few days earlier. The voters may have to make sure that they get it back more quickly, but I have no question that the ballots are secure and the ballots will move. And of course, many of the states, it’s a question of postmark, not necessarily having to be in any election commission hands by Tuesday in early November. So certainly it would be better if Congress acted, provided the stimulus emergency funding of $25 billion. That’s what the House of Representatives had passed. That’s what the board of postal board of governors asked for based on their projections. It’s now in the hands of the Senate, the people in the country. If the Senate is going to do what their constituents need and want, they will provide the kind of support in the terms of this relief to the postal service. And if that’s done, it will certainly take off some of the immediate financial pressure that the Covid economic crisis has placed on the postal service. And that would certainly help going forward in this election season.
SCOTT HARRIS: Joe Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, the nominee of the Democrats may very well win this election, according to recent polls. What commitments, if any, do you have from Joe Biden and his team that they will pursue a different course when it comes to the future and the future needs of the U.S. Post office.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: We have commitments in writing, that the Biden campaign and Biden himself as a candidate will support a vibrant public postal service and will be against privatization. The post office is set up as an independent government agency. That’s one of the things that bothers us about what’s happening now — there’s not supposed to be interference from the Department of Treasury and the White House. But Biden has committed to that. Look, we have a president and we represent people through the entire political spectrum, and we respect that within our unions, one of our strengths in many ways. But we have a president that says the post office is a joke and that’s an insult to every postal worker, particularly in this time, in this challenging, dangerous time of the pandemic. So, Biden has put forward those commitments to us and you know, if he wins, we’re going to hold him to his word on that as well.
SCOTT HARRIS: We only have a minute left, but what can listeners do to help out the post office at this moment of crisis?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: It’s a great question. Make sure you stay on your senators and any representatives this week as they’re discussing the stimulus package — that the $25 billion appropriated relief be there. It was there in the CARES package at the end of March, when the private sector over $500 billion for the corporations. It’s about time Congress took care of something that belongs to all of us – as many calls or emails or letters that can be written, that would be fantastic.
For more information on the American Postal Workers Union, visit apwu.org