“Cynical and Diabolical”: Issa Attracts Allies in Quest to Demolish Postal Service
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Andrey Bayda
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The Postal Service’s largest union has harsh words for Rep. Darrell Issa, and is raising alarm over a pilot partnership with Staples, which it warns is a stalking horse for privatization – a goal the union alleges draws support or indifference from key Democrats.
“I think Congress and the White House are pretty much working hand in hand,” American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein told Salon prior to Tuesday demonstrations outside Staples stores in San Francisco and San Jose, the first of what he said would be an escalating wave of protests. “There hasn’t been a fight to defend the public good, and there hasn’t been a real fight around good jobs.”
While slamming Democrats, Dimondstein reserved special condemnation for Issa, the Republicans’ leading voice on postal reform. Noting that Issa had proposed eliminating Saturday postal service as part of a bill undoing veterans’ pension cuts, the union president called the congressman “a pure enemy of the Postal Service,” and his proposal “cynical and diabolical.” Asked about such criticism, an Issa spokesperson emailed, “This false claim about privatization is being pushed by entrenched special interests who oppose common sense and bipartisan reforms in both House and Senate postal modernization bills.” APWU also warns that legislation offered by Issa, easing the closing of post offices if services are being offered nearby – at least as originally proposed – could have severe consequences if USPS’ Staples pilot program spreads.
The White House and Staples did not respond to requests for comment. Reached over email, a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson defended its Staples pilot program, calling it “the next step in the USPS retail partnership expansion to provide postal products and services where our customers live, work, and shop,” and “a direct response to the changing expectations of customers who demand greater convenience.”
Dimondstein countered that the program represents “A big step to privatization of the retail services that the post office does provide to the people of the country.” The provision of such services, argued Dimondstein, should be the work of “postal employees in uniform, accountable to the people of the country and under oath of office, and fully trained to protect the privacy and the sanctity of the mail of the public.” He warned that postal customers were “not going to get the same service” from Staples employees, and that “potentially, if the postal service has its way, they’ll be in every Staples store.” Dimondstein added that any purported customer service benefits of the new program could instead be offered in existing post offices, but USPS leaders “want to have cheap labor doing all of those things instead.” Asked if APWU had reached out to the Staples employees currently doing the work of the pilot program, he said it hadn’t, but “that may or may not come to pass.”
As I’ve reported, the Postal Service faces a several-billion-dollar deficit, most of it attributable to a unique pre-funding mandate, imposed by Congress in 2006, that requires 75 years of healthcare contributions to be paid for in the space of a decade. Politicians from both parties have pushed to tackle that deficit with cuts to services and workers’ benefits; warning that such moves could spur a “death spiral” for the post office, postal unions and congressional progressives have urged that Congress instead repeal its pre-funding mandate and its restrictions on USPS’s ability to diversify its services.
California is one of four regions in which the new Staples pilot program is underway, and the first target for postal union pushback. While Congress and President Obama have not played a public role in instigating the pilot program, APWU is seeking support from both in stemming the perceived privatization threat. Both of the state’s U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are Democrats who voted for a 2012 tripartisan postal bill from Sens. Carper, D-Del., Lieberman, I-Conn., and Brown, R-Mass.; neither is listed among the 30 co-sponsors of a union-favored alternative introduced last year by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Dimondstein charged that the California senators “have not been fighters to defend, or advocates to defend, the people’s post office as I think our elected officials should be.” A spokesperson for Boxer did not respond to a request for comment.