No one seems too excited about the U.S. Postal Service plans to achieve financial sustainability announced this week.
You might say there is an inclination to return to sender.
The plan, announced Tuesday, would very much affect all Americans.
According to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the plan:
— Preserves affordable, six-day mail and expands seven-day package delivery.
— Generates $24 billion in net revenue in part from enhanced package delivery services for business customers, including same-day, one-day and two-day delivery offerings.
— Improves cash flow to allow for investment of $40 billion in workforce, new vehicles, improved post offices, technology improvements and infrastructure upgrades.
— With congressional support, accelerates move to an electric delivery vehicle fleet.
— Adjusts select delivery standards to improve efficiency and reliability.
— Enhances customer experience with new suite of consumer and small business tools.
— Stabilizes workforce with a goal of cutting non-career employee turnover in half and creating more opportunity for growth including more predictable progression into career workforce.
— Aligns pricing to reflect market dynamics.
— Asks for bipartisan legislation in Congress to repeal the retiree health benefit pre-funding mandate and to maximize future retiree participation in Medicare.
“The need for the U.S. Postal Service to transform to meet the needs of our customers is long overdue,” DeJoy said. “Our plan calls for growth and investments, as well as targeted cost reductions and other strategies that will enable us to operate in a precise and efficient manner to meet future challenges, as we put the Postal Service on a path for financial sustainability and service excellence.”
“This is a very positive vision,” DeJoy said. If the Postal Service’s long-term financial woes are not addressed, he said, the USPS will “run out of cash and require a government bailout.”
Sounds good, right? Wrong. The plan calls for longer delivery times for some first-class mail, shorter hours for some post offices and more expensive postal rates.
Under the plan, “a small percentage” of post offices would have their hours reduced, and “a small percentage” of city stations could be closed.
DeJoy would not say how how much the price of a first-class stamp would rise, but that the service is counting on $44 billion in new pricing authority.
Kristin Seaver, the Postal Service executive vice president, told reporters the change in delivery times would affect only “the fringes of our network.” She said 70% of first-class mail will still be delivered in 2 or 3 days under the proposal. Twenty percent of what she identified as coast-to-coast mail “might not arrive for 5 days.”
According to the Postal Service’s own standards, first-class mail is expected to be delivered on time 96% of the time, a goal it has not reached for some 5 years. (In the December holiday rush, the on-time rate plummeted to as low as 38% for some mail, but it has since rebounded to 83% in early March, according to Postal Service statistics. Consumers have been complaining about delayed birthday cards, bills and prescriptions, and those complaints have reached Congress.)
DeJoy told a congressional panel last month that the Postal Service lost more than $9 billion last year and owes some $80 billion in unfunded liabilities because of a congressionally imposed mandate that it prepay the health care costs of its future retirees.
The American Postal Workers Union, which represents some 200,000 USPS employees, said the plan “contains both positive attributes as well as some proposals that should be of concern to postal workers and customers.”
On the plus side, the union cited the plan’s “long overdue proposals for upgrading local post offices and enhancing products and services.”
But the union said it had “deep concerns” with other elements of the plan. “Any proposals that would either slow the mail, reduce access to post offices, or further pursue the failed strategy of plant consolidation will need to be addressed,” its statement said.
The Save the Post Office coalition, a group of labor and progressive organizations, said in a statement, “Asking Louis DeJoy to make a 10-year plan for the post office is like asking the fox to build a better henhouse.”
Here in Vermont, we depend on the postal service for consistency and dependability in our rural state. To lose that confidence is — for many Vermonters — downright scary. We hope the rollout of this plan is the first step in many discussions toward reasonable change.