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There Goes Snail Mail: Thousands of Post Offices Might Close

There Goes Snail Mail: Thousands of Post Offices Might Close

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postman from his appointed rounds, the saying goes. But while the weather (even the arctic temperatures here in the Northeast; 6 degrees this morning) has not kept the mail from being delivered, some stark realities portend the end of the postal service as we know it. As the January 24th Wall Street Journal reports, half of the US’s post offices are operating at a deficit. In 2010, the postal service’s losses were a record $8.5 billion.

Think about it: When did you last visit the post office? Write a letter and mail it? How often have you used UPS or FedEx or another private courier service? Do you pay your bills electronically? (I do.) And is the mail you receive increasingly of the junk type, like the request for a contribution the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska (in Fairbanks) sent to my son Charlie?

(No, I have no idea how his name got on their mailing list.)

Since 1999, the postal service has trimmed its workforce by one-third. Besides such reductions in its work force, the postal agency has also considered raising rates and cutting services (no deliveries on Saturday).

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), attribute the agency’s woes at least in part to its ‘overly generous employee benefits.’ According to a September study sponsored by the Office of Inspector General, postal workers pay ‘”significantly” lower premiums’ for their health and life insurance than other government employees because of union agreements. The report indeed noted that $700 million could be saved this year alone by asking employees to pay more, though the report also noted that the postal service’s own contributions into employee benefits are declining.

The postal service will start closing as many as 2000 post offices in March. This is on top of the 491 that were scheduled to be closed at the end of 2010. And another 16,000—-yes, half of the agency’s 32,000 brick-and-mortar offices—will be under review for closing. A disproportionate number of the offices slated for closure are in rural areas, some for whom the town post office has long served as a community center.  As the Wall Street Journal notes, those who will be most adversely affected by the closure of so many post offices are often elderly and in small towns where internet access is not readily available and where the drive to the nearest (still open) post office can be several miles away. 

As a comparison: In the UK, the government is planning to privatize the Royal Mail; one in three post offices may be closed.

I’m glad to ‘go green’ and forego paper bills and stamps—it’s far easier for me to pay the utility bill whenever I have a moment than to race to get to the post office after getting off from work and before my son’s school bus arrives. But I felt melancholy when learning that, a few years ago, our town’s post office would start operating at reduced hours. Like many Americans, I’ve not only assumed, but taken comfort in expecting that the post office is ‘just always there,’ and at the sight of our letter carrier (who is a great guy we’ve known for years) making his rounds.

As December 2010 article by David Morris in Guernica notes:

In the beginning, there was the post office. Before the Internet, before cable, before TV, before radio, mail delivery was our major means of mass communication. The founders of the United States understood its importance and deemed that it must be a public institution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall have Power to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”

Originally, the ‘broader mission’ of the post office was more than ‘simply delivering letters—it was dedicated to spreading information as widely as possible.’ With that function handled increasingly by TV, radio, and, of course, the Internet, might the Postal Service one day become extinct?

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Photo by floodllama.

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102 comments

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10:05AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

no post office should be closing and we do not need to stop Sat. mail delivery... we need to reverse the stupid union killing bill that was put in place to kill the USPS!! Where are the Democrat's?????? Step up and tell the truth and stop this insanity!!!

2:42AM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

Well I'm in the UK and here they're trying to sell off the Royal Mail to private investors, but also getting rid of staff, dropping early morning deliveries, (so not having to pay staff to come in before 6 am) and doing what, to my hubby who is a postie, is alienating the very customers they depend on to survive, how crazy is that ?, now you cannot move between offices any more as you may only get offered 20 hour weeks when you had been working 40, and I don't have to tell you how that would impact on someone with a mortgage and young kids. They used to give people who had been working on continous short term contracts first choice if there were permanent jobs available, even on the same hours, but no more, job security is out of the window, and morale is at an all-time low, but will anyone listen ? I doubt it

7:10AM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

Okay last comment (sorry, can't help it, very passionate about USPS and my old coworkers).
I believe that we MUST keep the USPS. my grandfather can't even work a VCR, he knows nothing about computers or the Internet. I send him a check every month, and he pays all of his bills through the mail. I am sure he is not alone.
Also, the Postal Inspectors are HUGE!!! They investigate mail fraud, workers that steal mail (keeping more ppl honest) and any other crimes done through the USPS mail.
Out sourcing mail will make it impossible to keep it from being tampered with. I've heard stories of employees being arrested for stealing social security checks, gift cards, CD's & DVD's, medications, and so on. The postal inspectors catch and prosecute them.
Now if you take someone and pay them $8/hour with minimal benefits, do you really trust them with your mail?
Times are changing. The USPS does need to overhaul the system, absolutely. But closing down entirely and outsourcing everything isn't the answer. The mail is vital. It's the one thing we can rely in if our Internet goes down, power goes out, etc.
Plus I remember when I was in the Army, mail call was what we all looked forward to most. Our troops need that.
I could (obviously) go on and on. We need to fight to save and keel our USPS alive!
I say we cut out the middle management, the overpaid jerks that treat everyone like expendable worthless peons, and replace them with positive motivators.
I'll keep my fingers

7:00AM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

But all of that said, I have good friend's, fellow disabled veterans, that still work for the USPS up here and they work very hard and do a damn good job. They're all terrified to lose their jobs. It's a very tough job... When I was working there, I was in better shape than when I was in the army.
And in many places, like where I live, besides paper mills, there really aren't many other decent jobs with good pay and benefits like the USPS provides (and rightfully so, PS workers really bust their butts and are doing so much extra work bc they are so understaffed after the first few rounds of cuts).

Last November, my old boss from the last plant I worked at committed suicide.
This was after he had been fired and rehired multiple times for completely bs reasons. Once management has someone in their cross hairs, its pretty much impossible to get out.
My old boss was an awesome worker, and my favorite supervisor by far. He was only just under 2 years from retirement, had a 3 year old daughter, wife, and was a disabled veteran.
He fought the terminations over and over and won every time and got his job back, but then they would find another reason and restart the process again.
I talked to him a lot (ran into him @ the VA hosp often) and his spirit was just completely crushed. They sucked all of the life, happiness and motivation out of this man. And he was a really great person. But they broke him.
I took the news very hard and still miss him very much.

6:51AM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

So figure that in with many other bs politics and you start to find out why so many people "went postal." I'll point out though that the USPS does have a lower incidence of violence and disgruntled employees that go shoot up their work places (I know, hard to believe, it's just that the USPS cases have been huge in the media).
Anyways, I learned from day 1 that the "junk mail," mainly that from like credit card offers and such are the "bread and butter" for the USPS. They have contracts for lower postage because of the sheer volume of junk mail that gets processed.
I've opted my family out of as much junk mail as I am able not to hurt the PS but because I can't justify the amount of waste that it produces, the fact that I throw it away before I even get in the house, or the trees that get chopped to make it.
It's unfortunate, yes, but I care about our planet very much.
Keep in mind that the USPS employes many of our veterans, our older ones and younger ones getting back from the last10 years of war. These guys/girls really benefit from this type of work, and do a good and efficient job. The processing plants in my areas have already fired the "light duty rangers." these are the people that get a bid job and then get notes from their doctors with so many restrictions that they could only do the most mundane of tasks. Then they took up bid jobs that couldn't be filled bc of them, but they themselves couldn't do them. That made more work for everyone else. They had to go

6:35AM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

I've worked for the USPS twice now, first as a mail clerk (running sorting machines) and second as a mail handler (working on the dock receiving, processing and sorting and sending it back out.
I know the term "going postal" very well. Some employees have major issues and they let their lives become so intertwined with the politics that go into being a USPS worker.
Most of the going postal issues usually deal with middle management and the bs they so often pull. For example, they would make us newbies work 12 hour days every day for 6 weeks straight, no days off, ignoring the overtime request sheets by the employees that have been there much longer and actually wanted the OT (most of us who were forced to work these obscene hours of mandatory OT would have gladly given it up. We were exhausted from working 84 hour weeks and having almost no time to get home, eat, shower and get maybe 4-6 hours of sleep). However, it was cheaper for management to do this, knowing they were breaking the union contracts. When it came down to money, it was cheaper to pay us newbies our hourly wage with OT than to pay the dinosaurs (I use the term affectionately, some amazing people worked at the PO I worked at) OT at their rate. This of course considered the cost of the union stepping in and filing grievances, which would reach settlements, and would pay out to those passed up for OT while they were on the list. It was really only about the bottom line... (cont...)

7:21AM PDT on May 2, 2011

I like my snail mail!

9:37PM PDT on Mar 17, 2011

I'm very happy with the services proved by the USPS! My mail is delivered right to my front door --along with on-line purchases. When my husband and I go away, they hold our mail until we return, and then deliver all the mail they were holding on the day we get back. They have several locations, and some are open 24/7 so you can conduct your business using their automated services. They even have boxes, mailing envelopes, stickers, and other items you might need available to you 24/7 --just in case you use the automated services when the employees have gone home. You can buy and print mailing stickers from their website, place them on your packages, and leave them for the mail carrier to pick up! What more can you ask for? To be perfectly honest with you, I receive a lot of packages, and I prefer the USPS to FedEx and UPS.

Finally, leave it to a Republican (Sen. Susan Collins - R., Maine), to attribute the agency's woes at least in part to its 'overly generous employee benefits.' It seems that "blame the public servants for our budget deficits" is the most popular theme of a party that wants to privatize services to make their corporate supporters even richer. This is an area that REQUIRES government regulation and oversight! We're all aware of the stress suffered by our postal workers. That's how the term "going postal" was coined. They're overworked. I hope the USPS isn't going to be the next victim of the Republican agenda.

8:34AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

India is a huge country and even today population in hinterland still depend on MONEY ORDERS sent by the earning members staying faroff BUT still the emails, online transactions, online payments and receipts are having their effects. The postoffice has now little work and are resorting to selling insurance products, train tickets, etc. to make their existence viable. I, personally do not even remember when I posted last a written communication to my near and dear ones. Has the slow death of Post office set in????

10:32AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

There has to be a public post office for the same reason there has to be a government, law and order, and social services - to protect and to serve a normal, healthy society. Try living in a country without these services, like Somalia.

We pay taxes and put up with bureaucracy because life outside of a secure society is unbearable-try it sometime. We will always need a dependable means of public mail delivery, even if it's reduced. Not a problem if the internet and private firms do most of it, or do it faster. Business does better when it's complemented by good government. The idea that capitalism is an end in itself is as stupid as arguing government is an end in itself, or that technology is an end in itself. We use them all to better serve human life.

Those pushing for abolition or reduction of important public agencies are trying to advance a political agenda that eviscerates the middle class and benefits the very wealthy at everyone else's expense. Besides being hurtful to the country it's also not a good long-term strategy - after awhile the middle class will get tired of providing for their security, and serving in their wars, and then society might really fall apart. Exactly what happened to the Roman empire.

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