Where Is Media Advocacy as the U.S. Postal Service – and Rural America – Come Under Siege?

October 3rd, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Why isn’t local media, including the Albuquerque Journal, championing preservation of the U.S. Postal Service?

Aside from it being an American institution that predates nationhood (founded 1775), aside from it being synonymous with the origin and history of most U.S. towns, aside from the delivery service it provides less expensively than private counterparts and the security it provides with P.O. boxes, and aside from the fact that the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t receive any taxpayer money, here’s another reason  for championing it: Newspapers use the postal service as part of their circulation and delivery.

Yet, coverage has been a steady, incomplete trickle. Dispatches cover not the realistic solutions, but the ever changing stories on post office closures, delivery times and whether the Postal Service might start allowing likenesses of living figures on stamps.

Frustrated and keenly feeling the threat of job losses, postal workers staged rallies in every congressional district in the United States last week, including Las Cruces, Santa Fe and on Civic Plaza in Albuquerque. But the extent of coverage in the state’s largest daily was relegated to an inside-page photograph on C2. Judging from its placement and the sparse caption, the purpose of running it was more to break up the gray verbiage of Legislature reporting than to inform readers.

What the rally caption didn’t mention was its purpose: to drum up support for House Resolution 1351, which would reverse the Postal Service’s journey to the dead letter office.

Here’s what the National Association of Postal Supervisors says about the bill:

Passage of HR 1351 would prevent the financial collapse of the USPS — without closing thousands of post offices, eliminating hundreds of mail processing facilities, delaying mail delivery, laying off 120,000 workers, cutting postal workers’ pay, or ending collective bargaining rights. It would allow the Postal Service to apply billions of dollars in pension overpayments to the congressional mandate that requires the USPS to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees.

No other government agency or private company bears this burden, which forces the Postal Service to fund a 75-year liability in 10 years — at a cost of more than $5 billion annually. Without the mandate, the USPS would have shown a surplus of $611 million over the past four fiscal years.

If that isn’t clear enough, click here to view a TV commercial explaining the problem and solution as well as one can in 36 seconds.

Significantly, all four postal workers unions represented at the rallies were joined by the postal supervisors union – unusual, according to local postal workers. At the Albuquerque rally, letter carriers were also joined by members of the teachers union.

Which brings us back to the question of why the Journal hasn’t had an editorial about the Postal Service since 2006, when it said post offices should hire more carriers to alleviate mail delays. Why no support for this beleaguered agency that receives no taxpayer dollars?

Could it be, considering its anti-union editorial stance in general, that the Journal is ignoring it because it involves union workers?

Postal workers represent the largest union in the United States, with 500,000 members.

Given the facts about the postal service as outlined by the supervisors, it would appear that underlying anti-union sentiment and/or pro-privatization bias could explain the lack of media advocacy for preserving the nation’s post offices. Allison Kilkenny at The Nation provides an argument for both in a video that can be seen here.

Instead of editorializing on the Postal Service’s behalf, the Journal basically has left opinion to two writers: Harry Moskos and Leslie Linthicum.

Leave it to Moskos to point out (Sept. 14) that Congress is part of the reason the Postal Service is hurting, mailing millions of pieces of (often unsolicited) mail at nonprofit rates.  (This isn’t the first time Moskos has pointed out this irony; a similar column ran last year in June. A link for this year’s piece was not available at the time of this writing, which is a shame as it holds an even greater sense of urgency.)

Quoting a Postal Service official in Washington, D.C., Moskos’ recent piece says the 44 cents ordinary citizens pay to send a bill “not only covers the direct cost of processing transporting and delivering your bill payment, but also contributes toward the fixed institutional costs of the Postal Service. You are paying a greater share than nonprofit mail, though, due to their statutorily preferred pricing.”

If nonprofit standard mail paid the same as standard mail last year, the official added, the revenue from that nonprofit mail would be approximately $1 billion higher – billion with a “B”.

Moskos’ conclusion:

Congress should look at revamping the entire nonprofit category, increasing fees and eliminating some organizations – especially political parties – from its use. Why should citizens subsidize ridiculously low rates to get mail they may not even want or agree with?

Linthicum back on June 23 listed the New Mexico post offices then being considered for closure. No editorial was forthcoming in defense of any on the list. From her UpFront column :

Barbara Wood, the Postal Service spokeswoman in Albuquerque, said the targeted list in New Mexico includes Aragon, Capulin, Cuervo, Coyote, Encino, Gladstone, Holman, La Loma, St. Vrain, Trementina, Mills and Fort Stanton. A few of those P.O.s have already had service suspended but have not been permanently closed.

There is not a major metropolis on that list, and that is the point. When you’re stretching a dollar, lots of little post offices look like a luxury, not a right.

The weekly Independent, based in Edgewood, carried a story on the effect closure would have on Encino, saying residents would have to drive 36 miles round trip to Vaughn to get mail. Those at the far end of Encino’s routes would travel 116 miles. One resident said closure is one more step in killing the town.

Less than two months later, Linthicum followed up Aug. 12 with the news that 54 additional post  offices were on a second list of possible closures, including five in the Albuquerque area. And a B1 Journal report via the Las Cruces Sun-News Aug. 23 revealed that the Las Cruces postmark was being replaced by El Paso, as USPS announced a move of Las Cruces’ mail processing to that Texas city.

Missing are stories that answer these questions: Do post offices really need to be closed? And, do workers really need to be laid off?

Relying on rhetoric from certain politicians, many readers have bought into the line that the post office is running at a deficit with no alternative but to cut. But, as outlined earlier, HR 1351 would go a long way toward solving the pre-funding problem. Why the hold-up? The postal supervisors answer:

Unfortunately, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has another idea. Word on Capitol Hill is that Chairman Issa is blocking consideration of HR 1351.

Instead of working with the Postal Service and its employees, Rep. Issa has introduced his own bill that would destroy the Postal Service as we know it. His bill (H.R. 2309) would do nothing to correct the cause of the USPS financial crisis: It would do nothing about the pension overpayments or the pre-funding requirement.

Issa’s bill would establish a new bureaucracy called the “solvency authority” with the power to unilaterally cut wages, abolish benefits, and end protection against layoffs. Issa’s bill would also create a board that would order $1 billion worth of post office closures in the first year and $1 billion worth of facility closures in the second year. If HR 2309 is enacted, thousands of offices throughout the country would be closed.

At the same time, the Postal Service is proposing legislative changes that would authorize management to lay off 120,000 workers and that would remove postal employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and from federal retirement plans.

This is not only an attack on unions and jobs at a time when employment is at an all-time high.

This is another example of the abandonment of rural America. In New Mexico, that’s 40 percent of the state’s residents.

Rural New Mexicans already have trouble staying informed and connected because of a lack of access to broadband Internet. It wasn’t until July of this year in the 21st century that remote Navajos got their first phone service – thanks to a company that allows people without electricity to connect  via solar power. Sacred Wind Communications reportedly is working on expanding its solar offering to include broadband service as well.

Meanwhile, rural communities could be hurt if AT&T’s $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile is successful, because rural wireless carriers rely on roaming access and backhaul infrastructure, the majority of which is owned by AT&T and Verizon, according to Andrea Quijada of the Media Literacy Project in Albuquerque. In a Journal Business Outlook column Aug. 22 she wrote:

If rural providers are subjected to higher costs in order to provide roaming access, they will either be forced to pass the costs on to consumers or be priced out of business completely.

Her column also points out this:

Time and time again, AT&T has said this deal will allow them to deploy wireless broadband to 97 percent of the U.S. population. What AT&T doesn’t tell you is that T-Mobile’s current network completely overlaps with theirs, which means this deal would only increase AT&T’s coverage by1 percent and wouldn’t expand AT&T’s service to rural areas. Since 40 percent of New Mexicans live in rural communities, nearly half of New Mexico consumers will not benefit from this acquisition.

AT&T also fails to mention they already have the money and ability to expand their coverage to rural New Mexico. … On average, they are holding more than 46.6 MHz of prime broadband-capable spectrum in the area. Why doesn’t AT&T build out to rural communities with this spectrum?

Threats to post offices pile on stress for rural communities losing out in other areas as well.

Subsidies for air service to rural communities have been put on the chopping block nationwide, including those to Alamogordo. The Alamogordo area is also taking a hit in health care, as the only acute care hospital in Otero county has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after lawsuits from former patients related to procedures performed by physicians no longer there.

Lest it be accused of anti-labor bias, the Journal – and other media – should step up and advocate for the U.S. Postal Service and common sense measures like HR 1351. In doing so, it would be advocating for rural New Mexico as well.

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  • Roland

    The current crop of right-wingers, which the ABQ Journal represents, are not only anti-union but anti-government in general. Their agenda is to dismantle social security, medicare, public education, the USPS, and any other arena in which government plays a meaningful role (other than the military). For a contrasting example of how a functional society operates, I watched an old episode of Germany Live, which portrayed life in small villages in the foothills of the Alps. Their mail is delivered by a postman who rides a bicycle up small, winding footpaths to each village, a daily round-trip of over 20 miles. The mailman is warmly greeted at each house, often given a snack and sometimes a little Schnapps to warm him up. He loves his job, and the villagers love him. They assume that government will provide this service, to which each citizen is entitled, regardless of the remote regions where they may live.

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