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Opinion: Postal Service being unfairly treated by Congress

The United States Postal Service’s woes began when Congress mandated prefunding retiree health care benefits for 75 years in the future — for workers not even born yet — at a rate of $5.6 billion annually for 15 years. This prefunding coupled with the overpayment of retirement accounts up to $75 billion, of which $11 billion is not disputed, and a cavernous recession rivaled only by the Great Depression in U.S. history makes a recipe for disaster.
Ralph Nader states, in a letter to Congressman Issa, the USPS is the only organization to be both a net creditor, and receive no tax dollars. I would add unlike many large profitable American corporations. Apple for instance; designed in California, made in China, and tax sheltered the world over. ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Chevron — to name a few — all make billions of dollars and receive millions of dollars in tax refunds. Individual Americans paid $1.1 trillion in taxes in 2011, compared to $181 billion for corporations. It would appear the publicly owned USPS is an overburdened cash cow of Congress, much like the individual taxpayer.
The USPS has chugged along for decades under the onerous burden of overpayment to the retirement accounts, like the little engine that could. It is a wonderful delivery system that reaches every address — 160 million — in the United States six days a week. As large as the USPS is, it embodies community spirit. The letter carrier, postal clerk, mail handler, and postmaster are repositories of local knowledge, a primary ingredient they add to processing mail. On Sept. 11, 2001, we were considered to be the face of the ever functioning government, representing normalcy during the confusion of a national tragedy.
An unheralded fact, the USPS is our nation’s largest civilian employer of veterans, the disabled and minorities. At last count over 130,000 veterans work for the Postal Service, with the wars in the Middle East coming to an end, many more will be sure to follow. Ironically for newly hired postal employees the USPS can’t afford to offer much in the way of benefits. There is a much-reduced promise of health care benefits and no retirement package from the USPS until there is a full-time opening. Many of these non-full time employees work in excess of 55 hours a week, with marginal health insurance coverage. New hires are critical to the USPS, both now and in the future. I can only hope the health care benefit they receive in retirement compensates for the unaffordable package the USPS offers in the interim.
Today there are members of Congress ready to dismantle the USPS without acknowledging the facts. This year the USPS earned a $600 million profit. The system is profitable because we go everywhere in the United States six days a week. Weakening service standards will cripple the ability to deliver in a timely manner to the American public’s door. Closing post offices and reducing hours — limiting hours in the morning and at noontime, and closing early — reduce the public’s access and erodes profitability. Eliminating the prefunding of future retirees health care benefits and returning overpayments to the USPS for retirement accounts would keep the doors open at the USPS well into the future. It is not rocket science, it is common sense. It is time for Congress to act with reason and integrity and support America and her institutions.
Jill Charbonneau, president of the Vermont State Association of Letter Carriers and a resident of Middlebury; Bill Creamer, branch president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 301; Andrew Tanger, president of the Vermont Rural Letter Carriers’ Association; Mary E. Nadeau, president of the Vermont Federation of NARFE (National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association); and David Losito, president of the American Postal Workers Union of Vermont

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