Think about the U.S. Postal Service and the words “bloated,” “bureaucratic” and “broke” come to mind. The agency has been in the red for years as the age of the Internet has matured, and the use of electronic mail has overtaken and largely replaced the use of first-class mail for almost everything except bill payment. Meanwhile, Congress has done very little to address the Postal Service’s problems. The result has been deteriorating service at ever higher cost. Indeed, many readers of Washington Jewish Week’s print edition are reminded of the situation every time their copy of this paper arrives days late.
So, any news that USPS is trying to do better is welcome. One innovation is a recently announced plan to let the Staples office supply chain open USPS retail counters at 82 locations around the country — a pilot program that the postal service says could boost convenience and increase business. Whether Staples employees prove to be more helpful and efficient than the USPS workers behind the post office counter remains to be seen. Still, we welcome any action by the USPS to expand its service capability, make its products and services more user-friendly and make postal operations more reliable.
Predictably, the deal is opposed by the American Postal Workers Union, whose members last week demonstrated outside Staples stores in cities around the country, including Washington. Labor supporters argue that the Staples agreement is a step toward privatizing the post office that will compromise users’ privacy and replace middle class jobs with low-paying ones.
The union’s refrain about leaving postal services in the hands of the highly trained professional letter carriers and service personnel rings hollow. The real issue is the protection of union jobs. While that effort is laudable, it doesn’t address the concern of the exorbitant cost of running the post office and the difference in hourly price of paying a postal union employee versus a lower cost alternative at Staples and other private businesses.
We want to see a solvent postal service. But we think it will get there faster without having its hands tied, or otherwise restricting its ability to innovate and enhance service. Along with possibly ending Saturday mail service, Congress should revisit its 2006 mandate that requires the postal agency to prefund its retirement benefits at a cost of about $5.6 billion a year.
But let’s be clear: The front line in the battle for a better postal service is not Staples. It lies with Congress and the agency’s own management. We call on them to lead the way, and can only hope that timely and better priced delivery of this newspaper will follow.