Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Except on Saturdays.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe announced in a televised news conference Wednesday that the “financially struggling” and much-maligned Postal Service will discontinue Saturday delivery in August — a move he says will save $2 billion a year.
Delivery of packages and to post office boxes will be exempt.
There’s been talk for years about cutting delivery to five days a week. Wednesday’s announcement may be an attempt to force Congress to take action in order to save the nation’s postal service.
My dad, who spent more than 30 years delivering the same mail route in Maryville, Mo., opposed the notion of eliminating Saturday delivery when it was suggested back in the 1970s and ’80s. He believed people depended on the mail six days a week — and that the extra-large load of mail waiting for Monday delivery would cause delays or require extra help. Granted, those were the days when Social Security checks arrived in the mailbox and when there were no emails or faxes or texts to communicate with far-flung friends and co-workers.
But people still have birthdays; Hallmark, in fact, is one of the Postal Service’s staunchest supporters and spent $240,000 last year on lobbying. The greeting card company, based in Kansas City, Mo., supports HR-30, a bill proposed last month to preserve six-day-a-week mail delivery.
If you don’t care about first-class letters and cards, consider Netflix. Want your Saturday night movies?
The National Newspaper Association chimed in Wednesday afternoon on the side opposing the elimination of Saturday delivery. “This unfortunate decision sees packages as profitable but forgets the importance of money in the mail for small businesses and thousands of American communities who depend upon local newspaper delivery on Saturdays,” NNA President Merle Baranczyk, publisher of the Mountain Mail, Salida, Colo., said in a statement.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) pointed out that cutting Saturday delivery removes one of the Postal Service’s “major competitive advantages.”
The Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that oversees the Postal Service, released an advisory opinion two years ago on the elimination of Saturday delivery. Mail-order prescriptions and newspapers would be affected by the change, Ruth Goldway, chair of the PRC, said. “We talked a lot about the impact on rural areas, on remote areas and discontiguous parts of the U.S. such as Alaska and Hawaii,” she told me. Some 25 to 30 percent of people in remote areas do not have access to internet, either, further isolating them when there is no mail.
The proposal to drop Saturday delivery is not a done deal. “The Postal Service is expecting Congress and the public to respond to this and to engage in a debate,” Goldway said. She suggested people contact their congressional representatives to express their opinions on the matter.
Goldway also said the commission questioned the projected savings two years ago. At that time, the Postal Service claimed it could save $3.1 billion, while the PRC thought it would be closer to $1.7 billion. Wednesday, the Postmaster General estimated savings at $2 billion.
“This postmaster, for better or worse, is focused 100 percent on cost cutting,” Goldway said. “He takes this very seriously.”
Whatever savings do materialize will come primarily from cutting jobs — a lot of them. Fellow “She the People” contributor Joann Weiner, an economist, says roughly 35,000 to 40,000 letter carrier jobs may have to be cut to realize $2 billion a year in savings.
Letter carriers made about $24.70 an hour in May 2011, or $51,400 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The somewhat comparable job of courier pays about half as much — not exactly a living wage.) Letter carriers don’t have an easy life; my dad walked an average of 12 miles a day in the blistering heat of summer and in icy cold blizzards. He dealt with disgruntled patrons who blamed him for late mail and angry dogs that mistook him for lunch.
Those job cuts are why the National Association of Letter Carriers (and let me be transparent here — the union awarded me a scholarship that enabled me to attend journalism school) adamantly opposes going to five-day-a-week delivery. In a statement released Wednesday, the NALC called for the ouster of the postmaster general.
Comments on social media make it clear that many people fail to understand the Postal Service and how it works. Your tax dollars are not supporting what some believe is a losing proposition that should go the way of the milk man. In 1970 Congress gave the Post Office the monopoly to deliver the mail and it became a quasi-governmental agency that receives absolutely no tax revenue whatsoever. The agency now known as the Postal Regulatory Commission was created to oversee the Postal Service.
But the passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, while giving the Postal Service flexibility in rate increases, may have burdened it with mandated prepayments to pensions and health care plans for retirees. It’s interesting to note that 2006 was the last year the Postal Service made a profit — of $900 million.
Meanwhile, the Postal Service struggles. Those who deliver the mail through snow, rain and heat are facing massive job cuts, only adding to the problem of unemployment.
I can’t help but wonder if certain members of Congress hope to see mail delivery privatized in this country. If that happens, I think we’ll all look back fondly on the days when a stamp cost a mere 46 cents.
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.