- Mark Dimondsteinpresident of the American Postal Workers Union.
President Trump has lashed out at the U.S. Postal Service as the pandemic brings it to the brink of collapse and more people than ever are relying on the mail. Trump claims the agency is only losing money because it is undercharging Amazon and other companies for shipping. “It just isn’t true,” says American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York City, with my co-host Juan González joining us from his home in New Brunswick, New Jersey. More than 6,400 people have now died from coronavirus-related complications in New Jersey; at least — well, close to 114,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, second only to New York. Hi, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hi, Amy. And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, wishing your family very well in these very difficult times.
We’re going to turn right now to the Post Office. We look at the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on the U.S. Postal Service, which may be on the brink of collapse — this at a time when more people than ever are relying on the mail. The nation’s mail service faces steep losses in revenue, warns it may not survive through summer without major federal assistance. But President Trump and his administration have repeatedly rejected attempts to bail out the Postal Service, blocking its inclusion in the $2.3 trillion stimulus bill. Trump lashed out at USPS on Friday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Postal Service is a joke, because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other internet companies, and every time they bring a package, they lose money on it. … The Post Office, if they raised the price of a package by approximately four times, it would be a whole new ball game. But they don’t want to raise, because they don’t want to insult Amazon, and they don’t want to insult other companies, perhaps, that they like. The Post Office should raise the price of the packages to the companies — not to the people, to the companies. And if they did that, it would be a whole different story.
AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post called Trump’s claim that the USPS loses money on every package it delivers for e-commerce merchants “baseless.”
Later that day, Trump tweeted, quote, “I will never let our Post Office fail. It has been mismanaged for years, especially since the advent of the internet and modern-day technology. The people that work there are great, and we’re going to keep them happy, healthy, and well!” Trump tweeted.
At least 30 Postal Service workers have died from COVID-19. The U.S. Post Office has reported more than 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus. Workers report a lack of protective gear.
Earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders discussed the crisis confronting the Postal Service with American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I understand that the postmaster general has said that the Postal Service will be running out of money in a few months. The Postal Service has been dealing with long-term financial problems. … What would happen to this country if the Postal Service went out of business?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: If the Post Office were allowed to die, and with this COVID pandemic and its economic impact on the Postal Service, if Congress doesn’t step up and the people ensure that Congress steps up, the Post Office could die. It runs on no taxpayer dollars. It runs on revenue.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Say that again, because I think most people don’t know that.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: The Post Office —
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Most people think that it’s a government agency. Explain where the revenue comes from that sustains the Postal Service.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: It’s a quasi-independent government agency that only runs on revenue from postage and postal services, no taxpayer dollars. And that revenue has to be able to maintain the delivery to 160 million addresses, the retail units all over the country, often the anchor of community, whether it’s rural or urban.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the attack on the U.S. Postal Service also poses a massive threat to the upcoming November presidential election.
Well, for more, we are joined by the American Postal Workers Union president, Mark Dimondstein.
Welcome to Democracy Now! First and foremost, can you talk about the health of the workers in the U.S. Postal Service around this country, what they’re confronting now? Here in New York, we see post offices closed. Mail is not delivered for weeks. I talked to a Postal Service worker who was walking down the street. He was saying that they are devastated.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, first, greetings. Thank you so much for having us on, Amy.
Look, it’s a challenging and dangerous time. Postal workers are essential frontline workers. We salute all the frontline workers — grocery store workers, healthcare personnel, transit workers, firefighters and so on. These are tough times. The Postal Service and the postal employees, proud postal employees, are doing the best we can to move the mail of the people of the country, get vital supplies, life-saving medicines, all sorts of important information. And the mission of the Post Office is to bind the country together — the public Postal Service.
So, obviously, there’s going to be gaps in mail service. There’s workers who are unable to come to work because of sickness, because of quarantine, because of deep concerns and fears. And we have a liberal leave policy that helps protect the workers protect themselves. But on the whole, the Post Office is still able to serve, even in these very difficult times.
And the pandemic — you know, the Post Office and postal workers are often taken for granted. We’ve been here since the year before the country was founded. It’s something that’s always there. But in this time of pandemic, I think there is a great appreciation for what postal workers are doing. We have had deaths. We have — it’s up to, unfortunately, 45. Many people have been sick, and many people have been quarantined. And yet, the proud postal workers are still coming to work when they can and serving the American people the best we can.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mark Dimondstein, I wanted to ask you, this whole — we constantly hear these reports that the Postal Service is in huge — is running huge deficits every year. But could you talk about how the previous reform that required the Postal Service to prepay all of these retirement benefits for years, what the impact that that has had, the decision by Congress to impose that restriction on the Postal Service, what that has — the impact that has had on the bottom line?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, it definitely had an impact on the bottom line, and I can share that briefly, but I do want to differentiate some of the historical problems and the ongoing problems with the COVID pandemic economic crisis and how that’s affecting the Post Office.
But as a little background, in 2006, Congress passed a law called the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. And they did something to the public Postal Service that no other government agency and no other private company has ever had to do, and it’s just too onerous. They forced the Post Office to pay 75 years into the future, and within a 10-year period, 75 years into the future, of retiree health benefits. So, that’s for workers that not only did not work at the Post Office yet, but weren’t even born yet. And that’s where so much of the news stories each year about the Postal Service being in debt came from. It was a manufactured, on-paper crisis. The reality is, if you took out that prefunding mandate, the Post Office actually did quite well. The Post Office is not set up as a business. It’s not set up to pack billions of dollars in the bank and enrich shareholders or CEOs. It’s set up to serve the people of the country. And it was doing that well, even with the challenges.
But if I can fast-forward to now, I think it’s important to separate out some of the ongoing problems, some of changing mail habits, some of the opportunities that the Post Office has to bring in new revenue, like postal banking and so on, but talk about what’s really happening right now, because whatever happened in 2006, even if it didn’t happen, the COVID pandemic is having a huge, devastating, dire impact on postal revenue.
As the lead-in talked about, there’s no taxpayer dollars that goes into the Post Office. It runs strictly on the revenue of postal and postal products. And that revenue has to be able to be enough to carry out the mission of what we call the universal service mandate — every address, every person, no matter who we are and where we live, a great small-d democratic right, getting mail, packages, six days a week now, sometimes seven.
And what’s happened in this pandemic, and its economic devastation throughout the entire country and world — but what’s happened specifically to the Postal Service is the mail has precipitously dropped off. Just think about it. What restaurant is sending coupons through the mail? What small business is saying, “Come to my business, we have a sale going on,” while the business is closed? Even grandpa, like me, can’t go out and buy the birthday card for the grandkids and put it in the mail, because the store is closed or we’re sheltered at home. So it’s had a huge impact. And what’s happening is, a lot of the mail, the marketing mail, for example, has dropped off almost 50%. And that’s going to continue to happen. Packages are up some, but how long is that going to last, when 25 million people, and more to come, are unemployed? So, what’s happening is, there’s a fork in the road. The Postal Service will actually run out of money, whether it’s this summer, whether it’s early fall. The revenue just isn’t there, strictly based on COVID.
So, what we’ve asked — and it’s not just the “we” of the postal union’s. The postal Board of Governors, which sets policy, which is a majority-Republican board right now, has unanimously asked for robust relief, not a bailout — this is for the people of the country; this doesn’t go into any shareholders, any CEOs — but to make up that lost revenue, so the Post Office can weather this crisis and still, at the same time, serve the people of the country, both in ordinary times and in this time of crisis. So, it’s serious. It’s real. And again, it’s very focused on the COVID pandemic economic impact.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in addition to the potential or the possibility of additional help as a result of COVID from Congress, what about these — could you talk a little bit more about these proposals, reformed ways for new — possible reforms for new revenues for the Post Office, specifically this whole issue of banking, or what other people call Federal Reserve accounts, that would be used through individual post offices?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Look, the Post Office is a wonderful national treasure in every community, from the most remote rural portions of the country to the most densely populated urban centers and neighborhoods. And as such — and again, its mission is to bind the people together. So, there’s so much more that the Post Office can do. It already does a certain amount of financial services. It could do a lot more, even basic paycheck cashing, ATMs in Postal Service, money transfers. All of that would be a counter to this predatory payday-lending, check-cashing industry. There’s tens of millions of people that are either unbanked or underbanked, meaning that they have no bank account at all, where they end up in this, what they call, this alternative — we call it the loan sharking predatory industry. So, there are opportunities there to serve the people. It would bring in revenue. Postal workers are eager to perform those kind of things. There could be all sorts of licensing. There could be, you know, internet access. There could be copying services. There’s all sorts of things that the Post Office can do and should do.
But in order to get there, we have to make sure that we have a public Postal Service. And that now is really up for grabs, because, clearly, we have an administration that would like to — and it’s clear. They have an agenda. They would like to sell the public Postal Service off to private corporations, privatize it and turn what’s a service of the people into — and everybody has the same equal access to — turn it into a profit-making entity, where whether people get mail service or not, and at what cost and what kind of surcharges, would depend on whether somebody can make a quick dollar. And again, the Post Office is set up on a nonprofit basis to serve every single person. So, this administration has an agenda, and they’re shamefully using this crisis to carry it out rather than set policy. I mean, here you had an incentive package of $2.2 trillion. The corporations got $500 billion. The postal Board of Governors asked for $25 billion of that $500 billion. Didn’t get it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mark, I wanted to ask you also — we just have a little bit of time left, but I wanted to ask you about this allegation of President Trump that Amazon is getting sweetheart deals from the Postal Service, and also the possibilities he’s raising about giving access to Americans’ mailboxes for the private carrier industry.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, look, every agency with authority, the Postal Regulatory Commission and others, has debunked that myth that the Postal Service is losing money on Amazon and other packages. It just isn’t true.
And for a president of the United States to tell the people of this country and the postal workers who are on the frontlines that the postal workers — that the Post Office is a joke — something that belongs to everybody in this country, it belongs to the people — that is the absolute insult of insults. And it’s not a laughing matter to the people of the country, to veterans that rely on their medicines to come from the VA. The Postal Service in normal times delivers 1.2 billion packages of medicine and so on. So, it’s — and I’m sorry, I forgot your second part of that question. If you could say it again?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also the possibility of bringing in private carriers to deliver in regular post office boxes?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, look, our mailbox is an extension of our living room. It’s part of our home. It’s private. Nobody can walk through our front door. Nobody now has access to that mailbox. It’s the last — really, it’s the last holdout of true private communications. The internet is not, Facebook is not, tweeting is not, and so on. So, that’s what’s called the sanctity of the mail. And if the Post Office was to let die by this administration, we don’t think that the people of the country are going to put up with that. They’re not going to let it be stolen. But if it were to die, part of what would die with it is that right to privacy and the right to what we call the sanctity of the mail. So, that’s an absurd idea, and we don’t think the people of the country are going to buy that idea.
But again, we’re not going to have these debates if we don’t call Congress, if we don’t write Congress, if we don’t email Congress, if we don’t get and sign all the petitions going around. The listeners can go to APWU.org. There are petitions there demanding that Congress step up and do the right thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark, I wanted to ask you about the disproportionate impact that this threat against the Post Office has. Actor and activist Danny Glover wrote a piece last year in USA Today headlined “My parents proudly worked for the US Postal Service. Don’t destroy it.” In it, he wrote, “For black families like mine, the Postal Service has long been one of the few reliable paths to the middle class. … Today, the Postal Service remains a critical source of good jobs for African Americans. Black employees make up 28.6% of the postal workforce — more than double their share of the U.S. population.” So, if you can talk about this? And then I want to ask you about mail at home.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, we are very proud that the Postal Service is such a diverse workforce, how many workers really truly have equal pay for equal work, fair hiring practices and so on. And because of our union contracts, we have equal pay for equal work. And the postal clerks, the people that you see when you go to a post office and buy stamps and bring packages and so on — the postal clerks are now over 50% women, equal pay for equal work.
As you mentioned, it has been a wonderful opportunity for many of the African American workers, Asian workers, Latino workers and white workers. And we’re all in it together. And Danny Glover, activist, actor Danny Glover, is very clear that without the opportunity that his parents had — and they helped make that opportunity. They were union activists themselves. It wasn’t always a good job. It was fought for. He’s very clear that the opportunities he had in life were largely based on his parents’ opportunity to make a decent living and give their family the opportunity and path that he was able to take. So, it’s a — that’s something that we’re also —