Here’s a major WTF item to go with your Labor Day barbecue: the U.S. Postal Service is so badly in debt that it soon may have to stop service altogether. As internet traffic levels have increased over the past decade, the volume of mail delivery has plummeted, which means diminishing revenue for U.S.P.S. even as they lack the cost-cutting flexibility of a private company–meaning that they can’t slash employee benefits, lay off their unionized workforce, or jack up shipping rates. Well, they’re not supposed to be able to do so–Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is still asking Congress to let him lay off over 15% of his workforce. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wants to let him, because the role of government in conservative orthodoxy is to enforce contracts… unless they’re union contracts?
Many of the solutions on the table are unattractive, even dystopian in nature. Partner with FedEx and UPS! Open post offices in Wal-Mart stores! Rent out ad space on mail trucks! It all points to a disturbing fusion of public and private of which we’re going to see more, not less, in the future. At the same time, Robert Reich has an op-ed in this weekend’s issue of the Times in which he argues that strengthening the middle class will lead to job growth. Not tax cuts for the super-rich. Not giveaways to big business. Not letting the financial sector run amok. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that income inequality in this country hasn’t been this bad since before the Great Depression, and that bodes really, really poorly for all of us. Incidentally, organizing labor is a pretty good avenue for mitigating that inequality, and it’s no accident that the years of labor’s ascendancy in this country coincided with the strongest middle class we’ve ever known.
Except you know who’s almost certain to be pinned with the blame for the postal service’s shortfall? The post office’s “powerful unions” that have extracted “decades of contractual promises,” of course! Happy Labor Day, everyone!