Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: U.S. Postal Service needs to expand to survive

What’s the future of the U.S. Postal Service? That’s the question as nearly 200,000 members of our union bargain for a new contract for postal workers in Boise, across Idaho and around the nation.

To be sure we are negotiating over wages and benefits that affect the lives of our members. But the post office is about more than those who work there. It’s a national treasure that affects the daily lives of millions of U.S. households and businesses.

Will the Postal Service remain a vibrant public institution that enhances our ability to communicate in the 21st century? That’s our vision — to expand current services and add new ones to meet growing consumer demand and connectivity.

It’s a vision endorsed by an unprecedented “Grand Alliance” of more than 70 national organizations — including groups from the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, and Farm Aid — which insist that universal, affordable mail service is a vital part of our national heritage.

Unfortunately, in recent years, postal management has been moving in the opposite direction: cutting hours (airport station), closing mail centers (Pocatello) and slowing down delivery.

After a downgrading in service standards that took effect in January, next-day delivery of first-class mail is a thing of the past. How important is getting your mail quickly? It’s extremely important if you’re a senior citizen waiting for medication, or a small-business owner waiting for payment of an invoice, or a church that sends out a weekly bulletin.

At a time when people expect instant communication, why has the one organization that reaches every door in America decided to lower standards and offer less service?

We’re concerned that the real agenda here is to dismantle and eventually privatize the U.S. Postal Service. That strategy might benefit corporations that would seize the lucrative parts of the nation’s mail business, but it would be a disaster for America. Customers would face much higher costs without better service, and many small communities in Idaho would be left with little or no service.

During our contract negotiations we are advocating not only for our members, but also for the communities we serve.

The potential is enormous. For example, regarding package delivery: In today’s economy, many consumers and business don’t drive to the store to shop; they want packages delivered directly to their doorstep. The post office is better at this than anybody.

FedEx and UPS can’t compete with our infrastructure, so they hire us. Last year alone, the workers of the USPS delivered 1.4 billion packages for these two private companies. In fact, we deliver the crucial “last mile” — getting a package from depot to doorstep — for nearly one-third of FedEx deliveries. With e-commerce on the rise, demand for such delivery is growing. If the USPS reverses course, our package delivery service can grow, as well as our revenue.

Another exciting possibility is post office banking. One in four households is “outside the financial mainstream.” Without access to regular banking services, many families must turn to unscrupulous lenders, paying thousands in unnecessary fees and high interests rates. Until 1967 the USPS offered nonprofit banking services, and we can again, bringing in billions in revenue.

Extended hours. Enhanced package delivery. Postal banking. That is the way forward. Others seek to dismantle for private gain; our goal is to expand and innovate. We accept no tax dollars and are asking for none. There is nothing wrong at the USPS that cannot be fixed by expanding service. That’s our vision for a new contract. We are hopeful that the new postmaster general, Megan Brennan, will share our passion for making the U.S. Postal Service better than ever.

Troy Ingraham, of Boise, is president of Local 650 of the American Postal Workers Union.