Labor unions are sponsoring digital and broadcast adverstising designed to stimulate public opposition to a Trump administration proposal that could lead to privatizing the U.S. Postal Service. The ad shows a man so frustrated with privatized service that he smashes his mailbox with a sledge hammer. (American Postal Workers Union and National Association of Letter Carriers)
Columnist

Going on the offensive before President Trump lands his punch, postal employee unions are launching a national advertising campaign against the possibility he will move to privatize the U.S. Postal Service.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) are sponsoring television and digital ads designed to stoke public opposition to a plan the Trump administration outlined in June. Details of the plan, announced in a larger governmental reorganization proposal dubbed “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” are expected soon.

It’s not certain that privatization will be the administration’s favored solution, but the postal unions want to stop consideration of any solution leading to postal privatization.

The ad shows postal customers frustrated with poor service under a privatized system. One customer beats his rural roadside mailbox with a sledgehammer, and then a smiling postal worker is shown delivering a package under the current system.

“Tell your member of Congress, ‘No way,’” the announcer says. “The U.S. Postal Service. Keep it. It’s yours.”

A Trump executive order in April established a task force to evaluate the money-losing Postal Service. Its operations, beleaguered with bureaucratic obstacles, are funded by sales of postage and services, not tax dollars. A report by the task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is expected by year’s end.

The unions want to frame the debate before the administration does.

“Selling of the Postal Service would be a gift to Wall Street and a setback to everyone in this country who receives mail,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said. “This is the people’s post office, older than the nation itself, enshrined in the Constitution, with the highest favorability rating of any federal agency. We need to send a clear message to the White House that the U.S. mail is not for sale.”

The ad will start on social media and other digital platforms, then move to broadcast. The broadcast buy isn’t finalized, but labor leaders expect the bill to exceed $100,000. This is part of a larger effort to block a privatization plan before one is issued. In October, there were events in 150 cities, according to union figures. Many of those generated media attention to the administration’s plan and reasons to oppose it.

A Treasury Department statement said, “Preliminary findings were presented to the President in August, and we are working towards releasing the full report by the end of the year.”

Trump’s restructuring plans call for USPS “to return it to a sustainable business model or prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately-held corporation.” While presenting privatization as an option, Trump’s proposal leaned in that direction. There was no attempt to hide that taking USPS private would take service, including door-to-door delivery, away from customers.

“A private postal operator that delivers mail fewer days per week and to more central locations (not door delivery) would operate at substantially lower costs,” the document acknowledged.

The impact on rural areas would be particularly hard, according to NALC President Fredric Rolando. “Rural communities are having a hard time competing due to high transportation costs and a lack of broadband services,” he said. “Eliminating the universal service requirement would be the kiss of death for many businesses and individuals in these areas.”

Not only would customers pay more for less, but postal employees also would probably have their compensation cut.

“A private entity would also have greater ability to adjust product pricing in response to changes in demand or operating costs,” the administration’s report said. “Freeing USPS to more fully negotiate pay and benefits rather than prescribing participation in costly Federal personnel benefit programs, and allowing it to follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations, could further reduce costs.”

Everyone wants USPS to have a sustainable business model, though opinions on how to make that happen differ. Opposition to a privatized Postal Service is strong on Capitol Hill.

“The administration’s hopes and plans to privatize the Postal Service is not based in political reality. More than 239 members of Congress have come out in opposition to privatization of the Postal Service,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.), the top Democrat on the House government operations subcommittee. “Instead of pursuing this damaging and eventually fruitless exercise, the administration should work with Congress to fix the problems facing the Postal Service.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was noncommittal. Asked for comment, his staff provided a vague one from a hearing in April, before the administration issued the reorganization plan.

“We need to understand what it is going to take to make the postal system a long-term, economically viable organization, which it is not today,” Johnson said then. Pressed for more, his spokesman added: “That is still his position.”

That’s really no position. But he’ll have another opportunity soon, when Trump’s task force makes the administration’s position clear.

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