In an effort to save an estimated $2 billion each year, the United States Postal Service (USPS) postmaster general and C.E.O. Patrick R. Donahoe announced the agency’s unilateral plan to cut Saturday delivery as of August 5, 2013, a decision which came to the disapproval of some union and congress members.
While the post office will cut delivery of items like letters and magazines, it will continue to deliver packages on Saturdays.
Like the entertainment and news industries before it, the agency’s clash with the digital age of emails and direct deposits, has significantly diminished the need for daily parcels over the last several years, dropping from 215 billion pieces of mail distributed in 2006 to just 160 billion in 2012, a critical 25 percent decrease that has cost the service $15.6 billion last year alone.
“The Postal Service is advancing an important new approach to delivery that reflects the strong growth of our package business, and responds to the financial realities resulting from America’s mailing habits,” Donahoe said. “We developed this approach by working with our customers to understand their delivery needs and by identifying creative ways to generate significant cost savings.”
In addition to battling the reduced need for mail delivery and means to generate new revenue, the plan by USPS to reduce service also came in response to 2006 legislation that forced the organization to finance $5.5 billion each year in retiree health benefits, which the agency defaulted on twice last year.
“The Postal Service has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of the U.S. Mail,” Donahue said.
David Van Aken, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) for Long Island City, says Donahoe’s removal of Saturday deliveries is simply illegal without congressional approval.
“For more than 30 years, Congress has signed legislated policy to mandate six-day delivery, and NALC and many congress members agree that this is an illegal action to end Saturday delivery,” Van Aken said. “Donohoe is hiding behind a self-proclaimed loophole, and should be held accountable for his actions.”
Van Aken and post office managers, who could not be named for legal purposes, worry that without the opportunity to fairly compete with their competitors, such as FedEx and UPS, the decision to reduce service will not solve the problem and lead to the ultimate demise of the service.
“Trying to expand our services and opportunities should be explored before they begin a slash-and-burn mentality that will lead to the death spiral of the USPS,” he said. “The USPS has an extremely high rate of employees who are veterans, and some of these veterans would be laid off due to the nonsensical shrink-to-survive mentality of the proposed elimination of Saturday delivery.”
While the organization has cut full-time employees from 752,949 in 2002 by 27 percent to 551,570 over the last decade, reduced routes from 246,500 in 2007 to 228,160 in 2011 and consolidated over 200 processing locations, Van Aken is worried the service change is a slippery slope in the wrong direction.
“The lessening of products and services to the American public would devastate home businesses and the elderly and handicapped people who depend on the receipt of their mail every day,” he said. “The plan to eliminate Saturday delivery should be a last resort, not a first choice.”
The agency has cited a continuing resolution under the current federal budget for the sudden move, claiming the need for congressional approval - which has been required since 1981 - is no longer needed under the current executive budget.
A number of congress members have shown their disapproval for such changes of service.
In a letter to Donahoe signed by Congress Members; Grace Meng, Michael Grimm, Joseph Crowley, Peter King, Brian Higgins and others, it was written in their recommendation for the reconsideration of five-day delivery: “Your attempt to violate Congress’s intent for the last 30 years is an unwise decision. Instead of working with us on the issue, it appears you are attempting to ignore the democratic process.”
Additionally, letter carrier unions have referenced multiple statements from previous Postmaster General John E. Potter and postal service executives, historically testifying for the need of congressional approval.
On March 18, 2010, before a Senate subcommittee on financial services and general government, Potter said, “The Postal Service is fully aware that before a change in the number of delivery days could be adopted, legislative action would be required by Congress to amend the appropriations language that mandates six-day a week delivery.”
In a June 2011 statement before a House subcommittee on the federal workforce, USPS vice president of network operations David Williams stated, “one of the most urgently needed actions is the ability to adjust delivery frequency. If Congress gave the Postal Service authority, we could move to a five-day-a-week model, as one example, and realize annual savings of $3.1 billion.”
While it has become a misconception that postal workers receive tax dollars for operations, the U.S.P.S. has stated they are seeking out congressional support to allow, “flexibility to control costs and generate new revenue.”