Default Crisis: Will The US Postal Service Shut Down For Good This Winter?

The Postal Service is so integral to the dominant United States narrative it's unfathomable that it could cease to exist: images of valiant horseback riders (all of whom look like Kevin Costner!) hoofing it across the rugged lands of the West are indelibly seared into young minds early on in elementary school. And it's hard not to imagine the sight of the friendly mail carrier, dressed reliably in blue, carrying on that tradition daily with deliveries of love letters, bills, junk mail or recent eBay acquisitions. 

But this all may all screech to a grinding halt come winter, when the USPS may be forced to default and, potentially, shut down. This month, the postal service cannot pay a $5.5 billion bill, and the only thing that will save it—and hundreds of thousands of jobs—is an emergency cash infusion from Congress. On the table for cuts, per Patrick R. Donahoe, postmaster general, who calls the situation "extremely serious": 120,000 jobs, 3700 postal locations and Saturday delivery. At stake is nearly one-fifth of the agency's work force. The New York Times:

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the agency’s predicament on Tuesday. So far, feuding Democrats and Republicans in Congress, still smarting from the brawl over the federal debt ceiling, have failed to agree on any solutions. It doesn’t help that many of the options for saving the postal service are politically unpalatable.

“The situation is dire,” said Thomas R. Carper, the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the postal service. “If we do nothing, if we don’t react in a smart, appropriate way, the postal service could literally close later this year. That’s not the kind of development we need to inject into a weak, uneven economic recovery.”

Missing the $5.5 billion payment due on Sept. 30, intended to finance retirees’ future health care, won’t cause immediate disaster. But sometime early next year, the agency will run out of money to pay its employees and gas up its trucks, officials warn, forcing it to stop delivering the roughly three billion pieces of mail it handles weekly. 

The Times cites the internet for the USPS' demise, including email and "a web that makes everything from fashion catalogs to news instantly available." Still, it's hard to imagine a present where any book, DIY craft, vintage clothing, or super-discounted computer gadget is available on the web—but without a way to get to you. Certainly email has rendered archaic the old-fashioned ways of sending letters, but there is also an entire web-based economy that would utterly collapse without the existence of the USPS. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Meanwhile, the USPS' union—which comprise 80 percent of its workforce—strongly objected, particularly since there is a no layoff clause in its contract. "We’re going to fight this and we’re going to fight it hard,” said Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 207,000 mail sorters and post office clerks. “It’s illegal for them to abrogate our contract.”

Read it here.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at September 5, 2011, 4:11am

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