‘Out of money by early fall’: Postal unions press for pandemic relief

Drop in mail volume comes as costs to protect workers increase

A postal worker wearing a mask picks up mail from a sidewalk box in April. Union leaders say without a boost in federal funding, costs from the coronavirus pandemic could leave the Postal Service without funds to operate this fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A postal worker wearing a mask picks up mail from a sidewalk box in April. Union leaders say without a boost in federal funding, costs from the coronavirus pandemic could leave the Postal Service without funds to operate this fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 27, 2020 at 5:10pm

Postal union officials called for more financial support in upcoming COVID-relief packages on Wednesday, warning that the agency could run out of money by the end of September and disrupt essential services.

“Without real relief, appropriated relief, not more debt, not more loans, appropriated relief, … the post office could likely run out of money by early fall,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “And that would put the whole question of service to the people in serious and dire jeopardy.”

Dimondstein joined AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler in calling for support of Postal Service provisions in the $3 trillion coronavirus aid package passed by the House on May 15. The bill would provide a $25 billion appropriation to the post office, and, according to union leaders, free up a $10 billion loan authorized by an earlier relief law.

Senate Republicans have been cool to another relief bill, saying they want to see the effect of four laws already enacted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that another package is an option, but he stopped short of saying he will begin bipartisan negotiations when he returns to Washington.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the Postal Service in a double crisis, Dimondstein said. As many as 12,000 workers have fallen ill, with 64 fatalities, and the economic contraction has caused a dramatic drop in letter and other flat mail volumes.

“It is projected that the Postal Service will lose $22 billion over the next 18 months because of the pandemic, and $54 billion over the next 10 years,” said Paul Hogrogian, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Hogrogian said that overall mail volumes are down 30 percent, and he added that the spike in package shipping that has accompanied the pandemic is expected to be temporary. And the outbreak has increased Postal Service expenses for personal protective equipment, deep cleaning of facilities and temporary workers to replace postal employees.

“But make no mistake about it: It is not a question of if, but when, the Postal Service runs out of cash,” he said. “The Postal Service is in dire need of relief to continue its very existence.”

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The officials generally gave high marks to Postal Service management for handling the crisis by engaging in constructive negotiations with the various unions to ensure effective protections for workers and leave for those who fall ill.

“We can clearly see, as employees, that management is making genuine efforts to provide safe working conditions,” said Dwight Burnside, an NPMHU official at the Merrifield processing center in Northern Virginia. “PPE is stocked properly and provided upon request. Social distancing is being maintained as much as possible.”

But the constructive approach to workplace safety has not been reflected in the administration’s response to Postal Service finances.

Shuler put the blame squarely on the White House.

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“Sadly, it boils down to, essentially, partisan politics, and the president pushing his own privatization agenda,” Shuler said, highlighting union worry that new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, former CEO of a logistics company that contracted with the Postal Service, will push more outsourcing.

“While past administrations may have been indifferent to the Postal Service, this administration is outright hostile,” said Hogrogian. “The president has recently called the post office a joke.”

The NPMHU leader expressed frustration that private companies had received federal funding to survive the economic downturn but the postal service still had not received support. The Treasury Department has yet to release the $10 billion loan authorized by a previous relief law.

“We have to keep pressure on the House Democrats’ leadership: don’t back down,” Hogrogian said. “They have to insist that postal relief is included in any new stimulus.”