Fight Over Postal Service Board Heats Up as Labor/Consumer Advocates/Minority Coalition Opposes Payday Lender Lobbyist, Privatization Backers

The US Postal Service’s Board of Governors which has had a strong tendency to rubber-stamp management’s plans, has been operating without a quorum. Board member terms are staggered and Obama served up a slate of nominees in March. I’ve attached a letter at the end of this post from The Leadership Conference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urging them to reject Obama’s set of five nominees in their entirety. In other words, they are telling Obama to start from scratch.

The letter singles out two particularly troubling candidates. One is Mickey Bennett, who has been a lobbyist for the payday lending industry. One proposal to fix the Postal Sevice’s trumped-up budget problems would be to offer low-cost financial services at bank branches. Needless to say, that’s the last thing the predatory payday lending industry would like to see. Separately, anyone who has worked in or served as a lobbyist for industries know to engage in widespread abuses, like payday lending and debt collection, should be deemed to be unfit for government service of any sort unless they’ve become whistleblowers.

Another nominee, James Miller, has advocated privatizing the Postal Service since his time at the Office of Management and Budget, back in the 1980s. He remains fixated on this idea, despite ample evidence that privatization leads to higher costs and worse service. Of course, I’m charitably assuming that Miller is actually interested in producing better results for the public, as opposed to a big looting opportunity for corporate interests.

Note that we were onto this issue early, and cross-posted an article from Angry Bear on the board nominees by former postmaster Mark Jamison on the heels of the nomination. I suggest you read the piece in full; it flags the considerable problems with Postal Service oversight and the Obama nominees. From his post:

The current version of the BOG has operated without a quorum for several months…In the best of times the BOG is reliant upon — if not captured by — senior postal management. At the moment that is doubly true.

The BOG has no independent staff or advisors, only a secretary who is a postal employee. The BOG has no independent legal counsel, which certainly became an issue during both theKessler and Bernstock affairs when the advice and conduct of USPS General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons was called into question.

Considering that the BOG is a government entity, it is strangely reticent, secretive, and isolated. The Board does not request or commission independent studies. It does not typically meet with mailers, labor organizations, or stakeholders. It does not issue policy statements (aside from Postal Service publications). It does not publicly discuss its responsibilities to universal service or articulate its vision for the national post. Minutes of the BOG’s meetings indicate that occasionally members dissent on votes, but individuals are not identified, and the press releases from the Postal Service merely indicate that a majority of the Board has voted for something, like a rate increase…

President Obama’s latest nominations to the BOG will do little to improve things. They represent a betrayal of infrastructure, they insult workers, and they ignore the millions of Americans who rely on the postal network….

On the whole President Obama’s nominations are at best disappointing and, as in the case of Mr. Miller, an insult to postal customers and postal workers. The law requires that appointees be equally divided between the political parties so the nomination of a political empty suit like Barnett may be a fact of life. Surely, however, the President could have found someone who is less of a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite and ideologue than Mr. Miller.

Mr. Shapira and Mr. Bennett appear to have been selected as a matter of political payback. They are a reflection of a system that treats public service as a revolving door for political and economic elites. This leaves a permanent imprint of the one percent on government and may be one of the primary reasons for cynicism in the electorate.

Jamison runs through the background of all the candidates, and it makes for an informative, if depressing, read.

I urge you to call or write your Senators to support The Leadership Conference’s opposition to the Postal Service’s board nominees. It’s best to add a reason, for instance, that you want to see a stronger postal service providing more services to the public, particularly in rural areas, where they are anchors for small communities; that you are in favor of a Post Office bank, particularly since big banks are creating more and more “unbanked” consumers; that low cost delivery services are important for citizens and commerce, and privatization is guaranteed to put an end to that.

You can find the contact information for your Senators here. Thanks again for your efforts.

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Leadership-Conference-Letter-Postal-Board-Nominees

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32 comments

  1. ambrit

    I worked in the Postal Service as both “temporary” grunt labour and as a Rural Carrier Sub. The destruction of the working class was well advanced at the USPS in the early 1990’s when I worked there. Rural Subs worked at the will of the Regular Carrier and management. I was ‘on call’ six days a week, and so could not engage in a second job, because I couldn’t guarantee a firm schedule for the second job. I was not guaranteed a full work week, nor any benefits. I was also required to supply my own delivery vehicle, for which I received the base Federal mileage allowance. One advanced to regular carrier status through attrition. Pay was based on an average time needed to deliver the route based on a yearly averaging of mail volume. Thus, most ‘regulars’ would leave the heavy delivery days, such as ‘check day’ for Social Security and Public Assistance and the Dreaded Ed McMahons, the blanket mailings for Publishers Clearinghouse, to the subs. I can remember many instances of taking eleven hours to sort and deliver a nominally eight or nine hour route. But I digress.
    One way to level the playing field for the Post Office that I have not seen mentioned yet is the idea of re-Nationalizing the delivery of packages. Get rid of FedEx, UPS, and their ilk. Many of those “specialty” delivery companies hand off packages to the USPS for the last leg of the delivery process. Eliminate an entire industries worth of overpaid executives, neurotic middle management, and financial ‘advisors.’ Most of the ‘privatized’ employees can be folded back into the USPS.
    Trickle down and privatization have been shown to be costly failures in this field. It’s time now to apply the lessons learnt from this failed experiment.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      I use the USPS on a weekly basis over the past 5 years to ship small 1st class envelopes and some packages. Nothing has been lost. What I have seen is a text book example of regular incremental improvements in the quality of service at the same price points from the previous years. For example, even a simple 1st class envelope costing $2 or $3 now has tracking included in the price. International shipping at 1st class pricing to Canada has tracking. One of the counter people at the PO told me that USPS has a huge contract with FedEx that covers what you are talking about, ambrit. Especially unprofitable small population towns and rural areas. FedEx and UPS cream the densely populated area with high rise offices that a monkey could be come a billionaire off of. 2 day priority mail costs less than $6 while Fedexing is 3 to 5 times that and USPS includes insurance, tracking and free shipping materials. They have all of the bells and whistles if you want to get discounts using their software online and print out labels with postage then call to have it picked up by the letter carrier. The mailman is a fixture in my neighborhood that a lot of people know from childhood. He is someone everyone recognizes and trusts as a person. The Postal Service was a part of the original intent of the founding fathers who wrote the US Constitution and Ben Franklin was in George Washington’s cabinet as the 1st Post Master of the USPS. Of course, if we stripped out gun rights as they have stripped out the Postal Service from its rightful place in the US Constitution, all hell would break loose. Oh wait, all hell breaks loose with guns already!

      1. Ulysses

        Great comment! The bipartisan push, to privatize USPS, is a perfect illustration of the complete moral bankruptcy of the current regime. :(

      2. ambrit

        Benjamin Franklin should have been quoted as saying; “You have a Public Posts, if you can keep it.”
        (I’m not touching the gun question with a 10mm long rifle.)
        Among other achievements, we can thank Dick Nixon for the Privatized Package Scam. As the Romance writers say; “Love (of money) conquers all.”

    2. evodevo

      Hey, Ambrit! Greetings to a fellow postal worker …. you would be working SEVEN days a week today – the PO management signed a deal with the devil a couple years ago when it agreed to deliver AMAZON parcels on Sundays. Now, you must work Sundays or be fired for insubordination. Great deal for us rural carrier subs, right?

      1. ambrit

        Oh, absolutely! If I’d only held on a few more years, I could have had that awe inspiring feeling of knowing that I was fully invested in serving the public. But, three years as a rural sub without another effortless source of income did me in. I even bought an old and beat up Postal Jeep, right hand drive, to deliver the route with! (The auto company never did work all of the bugs out of the VW Dasher engine that ran it.) I don’t know about you, but, not being flush with cash enough to buy a ‘Home Islands’ Subaru SUV, which was also right hand drive, I early on made do with delivering in an Impala. You might remember the drill: put tubs of mail on back seat and on front passenger seat, sit in middle of front bench seat, control gas and brakes with left foot, steer with left hand, stuff mailboxes with right hand, keep eyes open for Inspectors. Before I finally had had enough, I was primary sub for a maxxed out route and first back up sub for two more, and would very occasionally do sneak work for the city boys. I once had to go out on a Saturday and pick up and bring back a Postal Van that the regular City Carrier, who subsequently went into rehab for a monkey on his back, had abandoned in front of one of his commercial customers. (He was found a few hours later, still in uniform, higher than a kite.)
        “Now you must work Sundays or be fired for insubordination.” Is there anything left that a worker cannot be fired for? One of the biggest fails I task the Postal Carriers Union with is not organizing the subs.
        I really hope you have found that Regular Route and get your retirement!

    3. pretzelattack

      very informative post, thanks. i’ve watched the ongoing decimation of the postal service with dismay and sick fascination.

    4. Brent Holman

      Bang on. What I find amusing, is the Postal Service is actually IN the Constitution, & it is not an Amendment to it…fully funding the pension fund for 75 years is completely nuts, as well.

    5. different clue

      It seems politically unlikely to be able to forbid Federal Express, UPS and so forth from existing. Would it be more politically do-able to legislatively force FedEx, UPS, etc. to deliver on-their-own the last leg of every package as well? To force them to eat those costs? Would that force them to raise their true price in line with their true cost to the point where Postal Service package shipping from startpoint to endpoint would be more price-attractive?

  2. TomDority

    Besides the pre-funding of retirement funding that has artificially (by the intentional design of those in congress who wish to privatize operations) given the impression that the post office is a money loser – it still does not take a single penny of federal dollars to support it’s operations.
    Besides the critical infrastructure in support of democracy and an informed citizenry the postal service provides the nation.
    Privatizing the post office will also hamper the ability of mainly poor and rural “folks” (folks as Obama likes to say) to exercise their rights of redress – it is written in court procedure across the country that USPS certified mail be used in any filing thus causing one more hurdle to “folks”.
    Given that banks are predisposed to shorten the turn around time of bills to create a situation where people end up late with associated fees….it is not beyond imagination that a private corporation will game this feature because they will not be in danger of breaking federal laws regarding tampering with the USPS mail.
    Some may call me a cynic but, my view above is optimistic when related to the reality on the ground.
    Privatization will be a great deprivation to a vibrant and functioning democracy … for reference see the arc of human civilization.

    1. flora

      Agree completely with the importance of the USPS to rural areas and small towns. Interesting that most of the GOP dominant states are largely rural. Can’t imagine GOP reps, if they actually thought about it, would support these USPS destroying schemes. Small farming communities slated to have their Post Office closed are furious. (Now they’ll have to drive 15-20 miles to get their mail.) If you anger enough rural communities you’ll see long time GOP reps losing elections. I can only wonder how much closing, or threatening to close, rural post offices has contributed to the tea party movement’s contempt for D.C. and established GOP pols – and the tea party’s subsequent election wins.

      Obama is a DLC neoliberal so no surprise he’s on board with privatizating essential public services.

      1. different clue

        Perhaps closing tiny-town post offices is part of a larger plan to make rural life unlivable and force the remaining rural millions off their land and into larger towns and cities so as to take over a billion acres and turn it all into giant plantations worked strictly by an illegal and semi-legal slave-force?
        Has anyone thought about “deeper motives” here?

        1. ambrit

          Agriculture has become so mechanized, few actual people are needed to efficiently produce ‘food.’ The rural population of America is now generally impoverished. Rates of drug addiction and attendant crime are high. Crimes related to poverty are high. In short, a generation long process of “benign neglect” has had it’s effect. If I were a cynic, I’d say that the plan was to degrade the rural population and leave them where they were.
          As for an illegal and semi-legal agricultural slave work force; have you ever had the privilege of harvesting seasonal produce? I have, oranges, and can attest that it is the essence of servitude. American agriculture has used that system for decades. As I once heard it described, “The southern plantation owners, after they lost the South, moved West.”

  3. TomDority

    The whole postal situation looks to me like fattening the goose (pre-funding retirement) before carving it up.
    The fact that Wall Street and the banks don’t invest in capital formation but to lend for take overs, buy back of stocks (capital appreciation) and against real estate (capital gains and interest streams) is sort of like the Blazing Saddles movie scene where Clevone Little puts a gun to his own head and says stop or the black man gets it.
    Lets not forget that the major banks put a gun to our government to get billions to save the banks – armed robbery.

    1. Brent Holman

      The Great American Star-Spangled Cash-Register! Labor fills it up, & the rich & powerful empty it.

  4. say_what?

    “One proposal to fix the Postal Sevice’s trumped-up budget problems would be to offer low-cost financial services at bank branches.” Yves Smith

    Does the Federal Reserve charge banks for the services (risk-free fiat storage and transactions) it provides to them? Then why should the poor be charged?

        1. ambrit

          I would observe that “equal protection” is a moral concept. If we were speaking of a fully mechanistic system, power would be the only measure of worth. In that context, the more powerful impose their will upon the less powerful. The Law becomes whatever the most powerful wishes it to be. Equal protection becomes defined by the power relations involved in the transaction. “The greatest among equals,” then calls the tune.

          1. say_what?

            I would observe that equal protection under the law is protected under the 14th Amendment and that reform advocates should take it seriously if they wish to find a way out of the morass (and the debt and wage slavery too) the banks continually drag us into.

            1. skippy

              “if they wish to find a way out of the morass (and the debt and wage slavery too) the banks continually drag us into.”

              I thought that was a case of ‘bricoleur’ constructions as its hard to imaging architecture having any agency.

              Skippy…. still equivocating land distribution as a panacea – ?????

    1. flora

      In some sense yes. Banks are required to pay a small percentage of the deposits they hold to the FDIC for insurance purposes. (OK not the Federal Reserve directly.)

      1. say_what?

        And receive a risk-free return of .25% on their “excess”* reserves?” Besides, the FDIC can’t cover systemic risk which the banking cartel is prone to as history repeatedly demonstrates.

        *excess largely because the liabilities of the banking cartel as a whole are largely merely virtual due to extensive explicit and implicit government privileges.

      2. say_what?

        Also, the FDIC insures deposits, not reserves, since a bank’s reserves (assuming it has any) are 100% safe at the Fed.

      3. alex morfesis

        sorry to burst another bubble, but none of the TBTF banks paid anything much if anything at all towards FDIC insurance for the decade prior to the BNP Paribas induced crash of Aug 7 2007…

    2. hunkerdown

      Because the poor need to be kept in their place in the social order. How can the elite be elite if they have to pay the same prices as the ruffians who need to have their hands kept out of “mischief”? How can you have a social order without a group of people who agree to be kept down?

    3. evenstevens

      Plans I’ve seen for USPS banking services envision savings from not being publicly traded, the same way Federal Credit Unions save money, by not paying dividends or for advertising. It works very well and the USPS has done this in the past.
      See: https://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/pub100_025.htm

      With their dependence on gouging customers for check cashing services, it’s obvious why Payday Loan companies as well as mainstream commercial banks want to have a part in running the USPS into the ditch when banking plans are afoot.

  5. Vatch

    Thanks for this article. Previously, I thought that it was privatization enthusiasts among the Senate Republicans who were blocking Obama’s appointments to the Postal Board of Governors. Apparently, that’s not what has been happening, although there are Senators who want to privatize the Postal Service. Yet again, Obama is one of the bad guys, and it appears that at least some of his nominees are the privatization enthusiasts, and those nominees deserve to be blocked. Here’s a comment of mine from five weeks ago, when I had less information than I do now:

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/08/200pm-water-cooler-82715.html#comment-2487703

    Learning is a never ending process.

    1. Mark Jamison

      Unfortunately privatization is an equal opportunity ideology among both Republicans and some of the neo-liberals that call themselves Democrats. A previous chair of the BOG was Thurgood Marshall Jr. At first glance that sounds like a very progressive name, the son of the great civil rights lawyer and Supreme Court justice. Not really the case though, Mr. Marshall Jr was won of the founders and board members of CCA – one of the largest private prison providers in the country.
      Miller, Barnett and other Republicans selected to the BOG have been outright privatizers but many of the Democrats have been only marginally better. Much of the current strategy was laid out while Marshall was chair of the BOG and Jack Potter was PMG.
      There has never been a selection to the BOG whose primary background was in the labor movement – odd for a public entity that at one time had 800,000 employees and whose primary costs are salaries and benefits. Most of the folks who have sat on the BOG see that as a bug not a feature because after all Profits! Capitalism! and screw employment.

  6. different clue

    How many of the readers of NaCap who care about the Postal Service are making the personal support-gesture of paying all their bills by mail? How many of those who have some kind of automatic electronic bill pay will switch back to paying bills by mail? It would be a bit of personal leading-by-example.

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