Junk Mailers Back Plan for Postal Service’s Survival

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:22pm

As the U.S. Postal Service struggles for its financial survival, it is getting some much-needed lobbying help from a large and loyal customer: the junk-mail industry.

Trade associations representing catalog companies, nonprofit organizations, financial services firms and magazine publishers say they are backing a new post office plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, saving the agency around $3 billion per year.

“The Postal Service is in dire financial shape. They can’t control their costs and their revenue continues to decline,” said Anthony Conway, a post office veteran who is now the executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. Saturday is “the least volume day of delivery, and I think it’s no longer necessary or affordable.”

Conway’s group includes a virtual “who’s who” of high-volume bulk mailers: AARP, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Easter Seals and National Wildlife Federation.

“It’s still the go-to medium, and we need it to be affordable, and we need the Postal Service to survive,” Conway said.

According to post office spokesman Gerry McKiernan, agency officials will formally unveil their recommendations today for cutting billions of dollars in excess costs. Under the plan, McKiernan said retail locations would remain open on Saturdays, as would most sorting and logistics operations, but letter carriers would be benched for the weekend — or perhaps without a job altogether.

“There’s been numerous consultations with the unions,” McKiernan said. “We are not getting a positive response.”

A National Association of Letter Carriers spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but union President Fredric Rolando criticized Postmaster General John Potter’s proposed Saturday delivery cuts before a Senate subcommittee last week.

While mail volumes have been plunging and draining revenue, Rolando said changes to the Postal Service’s retiree health system were the culprits behind the agency’s fiscal woes.

“The 200,000 men and women who deliver the mail on city carrier routes today urge you to exercise great caution and to stop and consider the real cause of the immediate crisis: the unworkable and unreasonable pre-funding policy adopted in 2006,” Rolando said in a March 17 statement. “Congress should correct the retiree health pre-funding policy first — it is the single most effective step you can take to stabilize the Postal Service’s finances.”

If the post office ultimately approves the Saturday shutdown, lawmakers would then decide whether to omit language from next year’s appropriations legislation that has mandated Saturday delivery for more than 25 years, according to McKiernan.

In addition to nonprofit organizations, corporate junk mailers also are getting behind a proposed five-day workweek for letter carriers. Association for Postal Commerce lobbyist Gene Del Polito on Tuesday said that his group has “no issue” with the post office’s new proposal.

According to its Web site, the board of Del Polito’s organization includes executives from Sprint, Accenture, Reader’s Digest, JPMorgan Chase, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, Time, Hearst magazines and Capitol One.

With two prominent trade groups now on board, other organizations representing high-volume corporate junk mailers also say they are giving the proposal a second glance. Direct Marketing Association lobbyist Jerry Cerasale said his group “does not speak with one voice” and is looking to scrutinize alternative proposals before it lobbies in favor of a Saturday shutdown.

“Every one of our members will have to adjust somehow if they drop Saturday delivery. We’re waiting to see the actual savings numbers … the Postal Service will be filing with the Postal Regulatory Service by the end of the month,” Cerasale said. “We all need the Postal Service to survive, so that’s one of the issues here that we have to look at.”

Cerasale’s group includes mailbox favorites Valpak, RedPlum and Fingerhut.

The Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, which represents bulk-mail marketing and printing firms, also is considering asking lawmakers to not include language in a 2011 spending bill that would continue Saturday mail delivery.

“On one hand, we understand the attraction for the Postal Service, but we’re very concerned of the negative impact on the volume of mail,” spokesman Leo Raymond said. “Some elements of the mailing community rely on Saturday delivery. … Some say they can adapt, some say they can’t.”