“Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute*
Please, Mr. Postman, deliver the letter, the sooner the better”
It is June 1969. Mario Jimenez has taken the job of Postman in the village of Isla Negra, an island off the coast of Chile. There is only one resident who knows how to read; the rest of the villagers are illiterate. The literate man was living on the island in exile and received mail from around the world. His name was Pablo Neruda, the world famous Nobel Prize winning poet and diplomat. Even when living in an isolated place the Chilean government felt it was necessary to insure that the mail went through. This particular scenario is a fiction written in 1985 by Antonio Skarmeta, published under the title Burning Patience, later made into the movie, Il Postino. Neruda died in 1973, less a victim of the Pinochet takeover than his own bad health.
Creating the postal system in the colonies was a major accomplishment of Benjamin Franklin and William Hunter. The models of distribution they created in the mid eighteenth century still hold up after 250 years. What Franklin and Hunter did was to make the postal service a more desirable and faster way for people to send and receive mail. We as a society have come to expect prompt and efficient delivery of our mail. Yes, we pay for these services, and yes the costs keep going up. If we had to depend on private carriers or freight delivery companies we would be paying much more and getting less, especially if the profit motive determined that certain zip codes can’t be serviced every day. This is nothing new. Even in colonial times there were private carriers who delivered both mail and packages. As our country expanded unlimited opportunities, aided by new technologies, opened up for them.
“O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’ down the street….”**
The history of Wells Fargo is a fascinating read. Both Wells and Fargo were visionaries, who, perhaps by accident, were the prime movers behind American Express. They broke away from AE (yet still remained on the Board of Directors) to operate an express line in the West due to the California Gold Rush and westward expansion as early as 1857. They provided express and passenger delivery between Missouri and San Francisco and points in between. The trip usually took about 25 days. They also were a prime source of delivering the mail under government contracts. In 1860 the Pony Express, a startup company owned by other men in the express business, delivered mail between Joplin, Missouri and California in 10 days. The Pony express lasted only 18 months yet it is the stuff of legends. It did prove that fast delivery was possible. Had the Pony Express lasted longer it might have garnered government contracts, however, as a private carrier it set its own rates at $5.00 per half ounce. Even figuring at today’s rates that’s a pretty dear price to pay. The enterprise was absorbed into Wells Fargo in October 1861, as the Transcontinental Telegraph eliminated a lot of their messaging business. Eventually the Transcontinental Railroad would have put them out of business had they survived. The Pony Express was top heavy with overhead costs including 184 stations, 500 horses and several hundred employees including 120 riders. It never made the money to cover its operating expenses. The telegraph companies and the railroads only needed a fraction of that plus they didn’t have to feed and house the horses. The United States Post Office, using the technology and resources of the time continued to serve its public through the use of its own assets and the cooperation of private contractors when necessary.
“I telegraphed and phoned, sent an Air Mail Special too…”***
With modern innovations such as the automobile and the airplane The Post office continued to take advantage of the technology available to it and an ever increasing population. The massive immigration from Europe and elsewhere demanded that the public be served as well as before. Air Mail pilots made fast delivery possible between both coasts, much faster than train service; the most famous of these pilots being Charles Lindbergh set a new standard for both flying and America’s sense of adventure. The Post Office continued to expand and modernize with the times, and so did its budgets. The cost of a first class stamp in the 1950’s was three cents. Air Mail stamps cost more but speeded up delivery. The addition of zip codes in the early 1960’s made deliver much more efficient, and with air travel becoming more affordable to the public the need for Air Mail was greatly reduced. Considering the economy’s expansion over the last 60 years today’s first class rate of 44 cents could be considered a fair price.
Private carriers of parcels still flourished. In 1907, what was to eventually become UPS started as a messenger service later to become a merchant’s parcel delivery service. The success of UPS is well known and helped give birth to Federal Express and other international delivery services. Even with the increased competition from other carriers, internet sales, on-line bill paying and e-mail the post office has enjoyed increased sales and net operating revenues of more than $600,000,000.00 over the last four years.
“Your answer was goodbye-there was even postage due”***
So, why do we hear that the Post Office is broke and losing over five billion dollars a year, and why has congress been proceeding at a snail’s pace to correct the situation? The answer is simple-it is Congress’s fault in the first place. In 2006 a lame duck republican congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), P.L. 109-435. You can read all about it here. The legislation required the Post Office to prefund 75 years worth of retirement and health benefits over a period of ten years. This is an astounding situation. No government agency, for that matter no private company has ever been required to prefund retirement and health benefits, especially for those people who haven’t been born yet. It has placed undue burdens on an essential service to the tune of over five billion dollars a year, which is about the amount of money that the Postal Service is losing. No other business or government entity has any pre-funding requirement at all. Imagine if Congress tried to do that with members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that the USPS has billions of dollars worth of its own revenues sitting in a reserve account that Congress must authorize before it can be accessed. Congress’s actions (or non-actions as the case may be) seem to be in trying to eliminate the Post Office altogether. Even the Obama administration has proposed the end to Saturday deliveries, a sure way to eliminate lots of jobs when adding or keeping jobs is of primary importance. It’s a sure thing that no one in the Obama administration is waiting for that check to arrive on Saturday so it can be cashed on Monday morning, or that Sunday birthday present that won’t arrive until Monday. The sheer volume of Monday delivery will cause some havoc usually associated with holiday closings every week with less staff to handle the mail.
It’s no wonder postal workers are up in arms. They don’t see themselves as part of the problem. They do their job, just like firefighters, police, teachers and anyone else who works for large government or private organizations. They have no say in policy, planning, design or strategic decisions. They just do what they are told, yet they are first to be sacrificed due to bad decisions made by either Congress or Post Office and Administration management. The facts are quite simple- according to the APWU the Post Office doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money at all. All revenues are generated through sales of products and services. There are billions of dollars in excess revenues in reserve accounts waiting for Congress to act. All APWU claims can be verified at www.SaveAmericasPostalService.org.
“From Natchez to Mobile, From Memphis to St. Joe….”****
Tuesday, September 27 was designated as a Day of Action for Saving America’s Postal Service by postal employees themselves. The goal was to have rallies in every congressional district throughout the country to explain to both Congress and the American public about the true financial situation the USPS faces and how it can easily be remedied. There is current legislation in the House of Representatives (HB 1351) which allows the Postal Service to apply excess retire payments to satisfy its financial obligations. There were at least 450 actions planned according Central Florida APWU Legislative Director Victor Sanchez. In Central Florida alone there were actions at Rep. John Mica’s (R. Dist. 7) Maitland and Ormond Beach offices, Rep. Sandy Adams (R. Dist. 24) Oviedo and Orange City offices and Dan Webster’s (R. Dist. 8) Winter Garden and Tavares offices. The rallies were scheduled for 4:00 PM and crowds started to assemble. Postal workers and their allies in other unions as well as activist members of the public chanted and waved signs at passing traffic. APWU Legislative Director
Victor Sanchez spoke briefly about the purpose of the rally. The crowd eventually grew to about 75 people including several retirees like Joe Romeu, who supported the actions. Several TV stations were in attendance as well as a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel. At 4:45, Sanchez led a delegation of union representatives into Mica’s office to present him with over 300 petitions to save the Postal Service and co-sponsor HB 1351. The delegation included: Denise Diaz of Central Florida Jobs with Justice, David Sanchez and Gonzalo Capristan of Working America, Lariza Garzon of National Farm Worker Ministries and Mark Wachowiak of Organize Now. Here’s the video of the meeting. Mica’s staff people were pleasant and hospitable and assured the delegation that their concerns and the petitions would be passed on to him. The Maitland rally ended around 5:15 and all concerned considered it a success. Favorable reports from other actions in Brevard and Polk Counties started to come in, so now it is in Congress’s hands to do the right thing. You, the public can help by calling the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking your representative to support HB1351. Instead of e-mailing your representative, actually invest 44 cents and write to your representative at the US House of Representatives, Washington D.D. 20515
“So many days you passed me by*
See the tears standin’ in my eyes
You didn’t stop to make me feel better
By leavin’ me a card or a letter”
* Exerpts from Please Mr. Postman by Garrett,William/Dobbins, Georgia/Holland,Brian
** Exerpt from The Wells Fargo Wagon by Meredith Willson
*** Exerpts from Everything Happens to me by Matt Dennis/Tom Adair
**** Exerpt from Blues in the Night by Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer