My Turn: Post office is not broke

Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I have a very different view of the problems facing the U.S. Postal Service than Mr. Gattuso in Sunday's commentary. I happen to believe that service is in the name for a reason. The Postal Service was never meant to be a business. I would like to encourage all Alaskans to read the Postal Commission's report and think for themselves how it might affect their service. These days, security and screening are big concerns for the Postal Service. I do not think the post office is in near the financial trouble that Mr. Gattuso and the Postal Commission seem to think. We have the biggest and best Postal Service in the world and a majority of Americans agree.

When the Postal Service was first established, the purpose was to provide equal access to our elected officials for all Americans. The post office was and still is the preferred means of communication with our elected officials. The Postal Service was the only way for people to communicate from different regions of our country. This is still true in more places than we commonly think. People living in the Bush communities of Alaska are dependent on the Postal Service. They not only need it as a means of communication, but also to transport food and other essential necessities to their communities.

It is not the purpose of the Postal Service to operate at a profit. The post office is regulated to try and break even. The talk of privatizing is generally done by people representing big business. The only reason we can mail a letter from Alaska to the rest of the country for 37 cents is because the rest of the country is also paying 37 cents. Anyone can figure out that it costs more for the Postal Service to process a letter from Barrow to Miami, than from Los Angeles to San Diego. The reason for the Postal Service to retain its monopoly on letter mail is obvious: If it were to lose the routes it makes a profit on then the only ones that are left would be the routes that lose money. The post office is a service to each and every one of the citizens of the United States and should remain so.

Having read all 200-plus pages of the Postal Commission's report, I came to the following conclusions. The commission was dominated by representatives of big business. In fact, there was only one commissioner from labor and he dissented on many of the recommendations. The commission would like to implement a corporate style board of directors. The only problem is if you read their recommendation, the board would elect eight of its own members while three would be appointed by the president. In a real company, the stockholders elect the board. The stockholders of the Postal Service are the American public. They should have some say in who serves on the board. The recommendation that a commission should be set up to look at closing unprofitable post offices is not the answer. Do we as Alaskans want some guys from Texas and New Jersey telling us what our postal needs are? The commission also recommends that the Postal Service explore more opportunities to build partnerships with the private sector. I fail to see the reasoning in this recommendation. A recent partnership with Emery cost the Postal Service millions of dollars. The this would create middlemen, not reduce costs. In the age of the Unabomber and anthrax, we need trained postal employees to be handling the mail, not some minimum wage earner at a major retail store.

As Mr. Gattuso notes in his column, the Postal Service is going to operate at a profit this year. People have been saying for the last decade that e-mail was going to make the Postal Service obsolete. They said the same about the telephone. Not every one in this country owns a telephone, let alone a computer. What many of you might not know about the last postal rate increase is while the price of a stamp went from 34 to 37 cents, bulk mail prices went down. The reasoning was to win back the trust of the advertising sector by giving them discounts after the anthrax attacks (some discounts exceed the cost incurred by the Postal Service to deliver the mail.) Bulk mail is vital to the Postal Service and they should start paying their fare share to help keep the Postal Service alive and well. In a survey conducted by the Postal Commission, the majority of Americans think well of our current Postal Service and that it needs only minor changes. I happen to agree.

Mick Lowry of Auke Bay serves as Alaska state president of the American Postal Workers Union.

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