Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Signed, Sealed, Delayed, Destroyed

Lordy, what a group we were. The good old US Postal Service in 1977 was loaded with hippies and cranky Vietnam veterans and misfits in a permanent state of pique over being seen as misfits. A more disheveled lot of employees you will never see. Crews didn't get much motleyer. Nobody could tell us what to do, or make it stick if they did. Language was the sort now delicately referred to as "inappropriate." Booze breath and cigarette smoke prevailed in the workplace. But my goodness. We got the job done. We Moved The Nation's Mail.

We arrived as early as 4am and we moved it hard and fast, even those of us who had to top up with an 8am Bloody Mary on the way out to the route. We had supervisors who made sure all the territory was covered and then joined us for breakfast at the next barstool over. Discipline was lax, ineffective, and mostly not necessary.

Because we had one thing working for us. And that was something we called the Sanctity Of The Mail. Carriers and clerks who followed no other creed believed in the Sanctity Of The Mail. New hires were inculcated in it. No lost little lamb of a first-class letter was left behind. If we discovered a mis-sorted letter while out on the route, we saw it properly delivered on the way back to the station. Our goal was to come back with a clean truck. We had pride.

Things began to deteriorate once the management began employing computers and barcodes and imagined it could streamline service and regulate employees by consulting the raw data on their devices. The first supervisor who tried to hold back mail to make "the numbers" come out in his favor started a revolt on the workroom floor. The old farts defended the Sanctity Of The Mail and the new workers were inspired. I don't know what the ethos is now, when carriers are no longer responsible for sorting their own mail, instead receiving it sorted by an imperfect machine, making the clean truck impossible--and when GPS tracking rewards only the carriers with a steady trudging pace. Pride in work is bound to suffer.

What could be worse? Glad you asked. Now we have a Postmaster General dedicated to the dismantling of the post office. He is another in a depressing line of self-serving Trump hires whose stated goal is to eviscerate the public wealth, such as Betsy Devos in Education, or Andrew Wheeler of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is devoted to eliminating environmental regulation and ensuring plunder can proceed apace. And all are in the service of the billionaire class and those aspiring to it, who see no value in the public good if there is private money to be made.

They've wanted the Postal Service goodies for years.

But the USPS is explicitly charged with providing a low-cost universal service at no profit because that was deemed in the public interest. It costs the same to deliver a letter to an outpost on the Bering Sea as it does to send one across town. This is no profit-making model. And it will be gone as soon as private companies begin to divide the spoils of a ruined Postal Service.

The raiding started a while ago. The George W. Bush administration required the Postal Service to pre-fund retirement health benefits 75 years into the future--for employees that haven't even been born. No other agency has that burden, and it accounted for up to 90% of its losses, until the pandemic, and was engineered precisely to cause the public service to fail.

Unfortunately for the pirate class, the post office, responsible for prompt delivery of medicines, ballots, parcels, and love letters, is wildly popular with citizens, who are not inclined to abandon it as long as it continues to perform well. So chief pirate Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is seeing to it that it won't.

The requirement to pre-fund benefits meant it was cheaper to pay employees overtime than to hire sufficient staff. Routes went unassigned and service standards tanked. And now, faced with yet more staffing shortages from COVID, and a boom in parcel business, the PG has announced there will be no more overtime paid. Which means each carrier must leave the station at a prescribed time whether all her mail is ready or not. And whatever can't be delivered in eight hours is brought back to the station. And day after day, it will pile up. Delay is guaranteed. Parcels will languish on the dock. First-class mail will have no meaning. Patrons will choose other carriers.

Trump, for his part, refuses to sign any legislation that includes a bailout of the Postal Service, which he calls "a joke"--presumably mystified by its inability to turn a profit, which, of course, it is not designed to do. He understands what a Business is for, even though he doesn't know how to run one, but he does not understand the concept of a Service at all.

The new PG, a major Trump donor, started his campaign of destruction a month into his tenure without consulting any unions or postal experts. Time is of the essence. If the beleaguered agency can't even guarantee a mail ballot will be processed in a timely manner, or at all, the vote-by-mail threat to the Republican Party might yet be averted.

Besides, it's never too early to sell off public treasure.

29 comments:

  1. It's a crying shame. When funding became the huge issue a few months ago, I went online to order a "lifetime supply" of Gwen Ifill stamps which had been unavailable at my local PO.

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    1. And now I'm missing Gwen Ifill all over again.

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  2. I remember inviting our mail carriers (who I actually got to know) in for either a hot beverage (in winter) or a cold drink (in summer). Alcohol might have even been involved. When we had a wake after my uncle's burial, we even invited the mailman in for the post-funeral party. (That's not what we called it, but let's face it -- it was a party. Yowza. I loved my uncle, and I wish he could have been there. He would have loved it.)

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    1. My invitation must've gotten lost in the mail.

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  3. Just 2 years ago, my father-in-law's mail carrier took time after her route to come pay her respects to the family. I don't know my newish neighbors 2 doors down but I do know all the names of the mail carriers who've delivered to our address for 22 years. Thank you for this. Mail carriers are a national treasure.

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    1. Oh man, that wasn't at all clear. She came to his wake to pay her respects. He'd had to move to a senior apartment and hadn't even been on her route for close to two years.

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  4. Trump sees the polls and throws more gas on the raging fire. Scorched earth is his goal now. And you're right, of course. Cutting off the mail service at the knees is directly related to mail-in ballots. I wish somehow time could be folded or compressed, such that the election - and moving out day - could come before he does any more damage.

    I do take some comfort in the phalanx of former Republicans (The Lincoln Project) who are using their attack ads to eviscerate Trump rather than the opposing party this time around.

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    1. I've seen what they're doing, but I didn't know they were former Republicans. Have they renounced the party as well as Trump?

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  5. We have a nasty tendency to 'privatise' similar functions over here. Which essentially means deciding that EVERYTHING must turn a profit and selling out services to ensure that the person at the top gets said profit and that services decline.
    Hiss and spit is the politest thing I can say about it.

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  6. I think the Republicans are about to adapt the "Rules of Acquisition" from the Ferengi. They can't seem to see the value in any enterprise unless it makes a profit. There will be a big redistribution of wealth after the revolution.

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  7. A tale told by an insider. I have great respect and love for the mail service, and the early decision among our forefathers that all people have a right to be included in the national conversation and communication. I would like the internet be made available to all as well (as a service, not a for-profit business), but that is a different story. May the rural and distant among us be included, even if we all need to share the expense.

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  8. Our Australia Post service (ha ha, service) is now owned by someone whose name I can't remember, but he rakes in $$millions in profits every year while cutting services and upping the prices of stamps and deliveries. It takes twice as long to get a letter and sending a smallish parcel just across town costs somewhere in the double figures, usually far more than the contents are worth.

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  9. I'm pretty sick and tired of how this administration takes a wrecking ball to everything that makes America great. They have to go.

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  10. Once you get a For Profit corrupt filthy born Rich Moron in charge, he and all his Cronies will profit off of any damned thing they can and will. The fact a portion of the American Public still supports this is very telling of where their own priorities are... he is as he's been all his life, it's no surprise there.

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    1. No. You have to give him points for transparency. You can see right through him.

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  11. Can't top those photos!! The GOP wants to drown the govt. in a bathtub and glean what services that can be reused as profitable ventures.

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    1. And it's been a long, successful project. I have great hope that we can turn this ship around. Maybe not in time to save the whole planet, but...maybe.

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  12. I only hope someone pays attention that cares. Thanks for this, Murr.

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  13. It must be mind-blowing to work in any government capacity and to see the damage the Trumps have done. Was it really all for money, power, and control?

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  14. If the USPS goes so goes my little company that supports various families. Lots of small businesses depend on the USPS. We are a big part of the national economy and we are part of the community.

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    1. Aw man. Even I have had to acknowledge that the postal service isn't AS important now in the digital era as it was--so I'm touched to hear you say it.

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