The Head of the Postal Workers Union Says the Postal Service Could Be Dead in Three Months

Hamilton Nolan April 16, 2020

A USPS postal worker wears protective gloves while making deliveries in Cambridge, Mass., during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 8, 2020. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Among the most promi­nent vic­tims of the coro­n­avirus finan­cial cri­sis is the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice, which could quite lit­er­al­ly run out of mon­ey to oper­ate if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment does not approve a res­cue pack­age for it soon. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion — which, like much of the GOP, has long advo­cat­ed for cut­backs and pri­va­ti­za­tion of the postal ser­vice — active­ly pre­vent­ed the USPS from being bailed out in the CARES Act, even as Don­ald Trump has made a show of pub­licly thank­ing Fedex and UPS for their work. Not very subtle. 

Fifty years ago last month, U.S. postal work­ers staged an unprece­dent­ed and his­toric eight-day strike, back­ing down the Nixon admin­is­tra­tion and win­ning the right to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. A half cen­tu­ry lat­er, Mark Dimond­stein, the leader of the 200,000-strong Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union, says that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is using today’s cri­sis as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to destroy the postal ser­vice as a pub­lic enti­ty once and for all. In These Times spoke to Dimond­stein about the exis­ten­tial per­il fac­ing postal work­ers, and what they plan to do about it. 

What specif­i­cal­ly are you ask­ing for from Con­gress right now? 

Mark Dimond­stein: The pan­dem­ic is hav­ing a huge eco­nom­ic impact on mail. The Post Office is not tax­pay­er fund­ed, so it nor­mal­ly runs on rev­enue from postage and ser­vices. And if 40 to 50% of that dries up in this pan­dem­ic — which is what looks like it’s hap­pen­ing, in a very quick and pre­cip­i­tous way — then that mon­ey has to be made up. So the Postal Board of Gov­er­nors is ask­ing for $25 bil­lion for relief, and anoth­er $25 bil­lion for mod­ern­iza­tion, which gives them mon­ey to mod­ern­ize the fleet. This is a relief for every sin­gle per­son in the coun­try. It’s not a relief for a pri­vate entity. 

We had bipar­ti­san sup­port for some real relief [in the CARES Act], and it was actu­al­ly stopped by Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury Mnuchin, rep­re­sent­ing this administration. 

What do you think is the source of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s hos­til­i­ty towards res­cu­ing the Post Office?

Dimond­stein: I think it’s pret­ty straight­for­ward. In June of 2018, an Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get report — that’s the White House — open­ly called for an oppor­tu­ni­ty to sell off the Post Office to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions. Their agen­da is to enrich a few of their pri­vate sec­tor friends at the expense of the peo­ple of our country. 

What makes it even more shame­ful is, we have mas­sive unem­ploy­ment at a rate that’s nev­er been seen, even dur­ing the Great Depres­sion of the 1930s. And there are 600,000 good, liv­ing-wage jobs in the Post Office. That they would dare come after these jobs makes it much more shameful. 

The under­ly­ing thing is, they’re com­ing after a right of the peo­ple. If the Post Office is pri­va­tized and sold off to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions, then who gets mail will depend on who we are, where we live, and how much it would cost. 

How urgent is the sit­u­a­tion at the Post Office right now? If the res­cue pack­age doesn’t hap­pen, when could peo­ple start see­ing an impact on their mail? 

Dimond­stein: The Post Office has done some mod­el­ing, so there are esti­mates of what would hap­pen. Some time between July and Sep­tem­ber, the Post Office will like­ly run out of mon­ey. And when they run out of mon­ey, their oper­a­tions will cease. There isn’t any way to put fuel in the trucks, there isn’t any way to pay work­ers, there isn’t any way to keep the lights on. 

We had bipar­ti­san sup­port in the House and Sen­ate [to fund the Post Office in the CARES Act]. And a Wall Street, Gold­man Sachs Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury said to both parties,”You will not have an incen­tive pack­age that the Post Office is in.” Even though they gave $500 bil­lion to the pri­vate sec­tor. So we have to flip it. We now need Con­gress to tell Mnuchin, There will be no incen­tive pack­age that you want with­out the Post Office in it.” 

Are you afraid that they might try to come after your col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights as some sort of tradeoff? 

Dimond­stein: The pres­i­den­tial task force that Mnuchin head­ed up actu­al­ly called for an end to our col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. So that’s on their agen­da too. Since 2010, our work­ers made great sac­ri­fices, and made huge con­ces­sions worth bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars a year to the Post Office. So we’ll vig­or­ous­ly oppose any effort to tie any strings to it — no strings should be tied to any­thing that hap­pened Covid-related. 

You’ve got postal work­ers on the front lines, doing essen­tial work. We’ve had over 30 postal work­ers die from the coro­n­avirus. Thou­sands have been sick, thou­sands more have been quar­an­tined. And they’re gonna talk about com­ing after our wages and ben­e­fits? No way. 

Your union has a fair­ly large mem­ber­ship. Since you find your­self in this bor­der­line exis­ten­tial sit­u­a­tion right now, are there any more mil­i­tant actions you might take as a union, if it comes down to life or death for the Post Office? 

Dimond­stein: We haven’t giv­en a lot of thought to that right now. Right now we’re focused on work­er health and safe­ty pri­mar­i­ly, and focused on get­ting Con­gress to do the right thing. In terms of how peo­ple will react if Con­gress doesn’t, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I am sure that work­ers will be high­ly upset. Their fam­i­lies will be high­ly upset. Their com­mu­ni­ties will be high­ly upset. And I would think that cer­tain­ly there would be esca­lat­ing efforts on the part of the peo­ple of this coun­try to make sure that the Post Office is saved.

I want to men­tion one oth­er thing: The whole ques­tion of whether the bal­lot is going to be pro­tect­ed. Here you have a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple are unable to come vote phys­i­cal­ly. Poll work­ers are unable to come and be safe in their civic duties. Poll by mail is safe, there’s a paper trail, it’s work­ing in states that do it by law, it’s work­ing in states that do it vol­un­tar­i­ly. It increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion. And look, there are those in this coun­try who would rather not have peo­ple com­ing to the bal­lot box. The work of the bal­lot box is large­ly going to become the mail. So again, the pub­lic Post Office is the civic life of this country. 

Your union endorsed Bernie. What are your thoughts on how the pri­ma­ry turned out?

Dimond­stein: I think Sen­a­tor Sanders did a ter­rif­ic job over the last num­ber of years, 2016 and 2020, boldy rais­ing issues that need­ed to be raised. And that’s why peo­ple respond­ed so well. Sanders has raised up sin­gle-pay­er health­care, i.e. Medicare for All. It was a fringe issue. Now it’s not a fringe issue. Look at what this pan­dem­ic says to us: We live in a soci­ety. If we’re going to be healthy, every­body has to have health insur­ance. If you’re sick, guess what? You may give it to some­body else. 

I think what hap­pened was, and Sanders put it this way him­self: He lost the elec­tabil­i­ty argu­ment. That’s unfor­tu­nate, because I think Sanders was the most elec­table. I think this pan­dem­ic under­scores that we have to have a more col­lec­tive, take-care-of-each-oth­er approach, whether it’s on paid sick leave, whether it’s on Medicare for All, whether it’s on child care, whether it’s on the abil­i­ty of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment – I mean, the idea that this gov­ern­ment couldn’t fig­ure out in advance to have tests for peo­ple, and to be able to get it done quick­ly? That’s an absurdity. 

What do you think this cri­sis is going to mean for the labor move­ment going for­ward? Will it dam­age unions, or will it be a big opportunity? 

Dimond­stein: If we’re real­ly gonna be a move­ment, I think this is the time when work­ers are say­ing to each oth­er, We have to have a true voice at work.” Work­ers all over this coun­try are absolute­ly vul­ner­a­ble in this pan­dem­ic. I think it’s a valu­able les­son for work­ers of this coun­try that we need stronger unions, and we need stronger soci­etal and col­lec­tive benefits. 

I would hope — and there’s cer­tain­ly some sen­ti­ment out there, in the arti­cles I’ve been read­ing, from the Instacart work­ers, to the Wal­mart work­ers, the Ama­zon work­ers, all sorts of ware­house work­ers and so on — that they have felt much more vul­ner­a­ble with­out hav­ing an orga­ni­za­tion to defend themselves. 

The labor move­ment has to act like a move­ment. The labor move­ment needs to be much more clear­ly, in my view, fight­ing for all work­ers, whether they’re in unions or not. That means fight­ing for soci­etal-based health insur­ance, not employ­er-based health insur­ance. Soci­etal-based sick leave, not employ­er-based sick leave. The AFL-CIO and the oth­er unions have a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to be at the fore­front of the entire work­ing class in those negotiations.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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