The United States Postal Service has reached a critical point in its more than 200-year existence where it will have to change its business model to be financially solvent or cease operations as most Americans know it and such changes will be a problem for Black employees, experts on the agency says.
One of America’s oldest enduring institutions, the post office got started before the founding of the country and the U.S. Constitution mentions it as a priority of the government as a service for its citizens. Postal workers, particularly letter carriers, have been known to deliver the mail through all types of weather and through wars, recessions, depressions and national emergencies such as the 9/11 attacks.
However, the postal service faces challenges such as the growing use of the internet to send messages and to pay bills, plus competitors such as Amazon, FedEx and the United Parcel Service have emerged to perform some of the same tasks.
“If the post office doesn’t get the funding it needs, it will have to cease operations,” Gale Thames, second vice president and national labor director for the National Alliance for Postal and Federal Employees. “That will definitely hurt Black employees who are having problems working there anyway.”
USPS, which hasn’t accepted federal funding since 1970 and largely operates from sales of such items as stamps and shipping costs, has operated in the red for years because of pre-paying health benefits for its retirees and the decreased use of its services.
“The agency has struggled within the past 20 years,” Kevin R. Kosar, vice president of research partnerships at the R Street Institute and a postal service expert, said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” on April 18. “The mail volume has dropped 30 percent in the last 10 years. Because of COVID-19, I suspect that there has been a 30 percent drop in mail volume since March since many businesses have shuttered or closed temporarily.”
The postal service sought a $75 billion payout from the U.S. Congress from the CARES Act that passed in March. Kosar said members of Congress balked at that amount and instead gave the agency $10 billion in the bill.
“The $10 billion that the postal service got in the CARES Act isn’t enough and if there isn’t any intervention by the Congress and the Trump administration, the postal service could run out of money by autumn,” Kosar said.
Thames said those financial troubles will directly affect the African American workforce at the agency, which stands at 21 percent. He said the agency’s upper management, less than one percent Black, will make decisions on reductions in force and he believes African Americans, no matter how many years of service, will somehow be the first to go.
“African Americans can’t get a fair shake at the post office,” he said. “It is a ‘good ol’ boy’ network. I deal with the problems of Black employees all the time and you would not believe the nonsense and unprofessional behavior that Blacks put up with to work there.”
Thames said senior citizens will be adversely affected by any postal service reduction, too.
“Seniors tend to depend on the post office not only for their mail but for medications,” he said. “They will also need the mail for the upcoming elections.”
Kosar said communities of color and seniors need the postal service the most.
“Because both minorities and the elderly represent vulnerable populations that could be disproportionately affected by the loss of an easily accessible postal facility, it is encouraged that in general, closures do not appear to be occurring in zip codes where these groups are concentrated,” he said.
Both Thames and Kosar reject privatizing the postal service as a solution to the agency’s ills. They say only the postal service can perform its duty of delivering mail to citizens in a financially workable model and a private corporation will not be able to do that profitably.
Thames made it clear that if Blacks are to have a future at the postal service, more aggressive action must be taken.
“If African American employees don’t speak out, they won’t have jobs,” he said.