Lordy, what a group we were. The good old US Postal Service in 1977 was loaded with hippies and cranky Vietnam veterans and misfits in a permanent state of pique over being seen as misfits. A more disheveled lot of employees you will never see. Crews didn’t get much motleyer. Nobody could tell us what to do, or make it stick if they did. Language was the sort now delicately referred to as “inappropriate.” Booze breath and cigarette smoke prevailed in the workplace. But my goodness. We got the job done. We Moved The Nation’s Mail.

We arrived as early as 4am and we moved it hard and fast, even those of us who had to top up with an 8am Bloody Mary on the way out to the route. We had supervisors who made sure all the territory was covered and then joined us for breakfast at the next barstool over. Discipline was lax, ineffective, and mostly not necessary.

Because we had one thing working for us. And that was something we called the Sanctity Of The Mail. Carriers and clerks who followed no other creed believed in the Sanctity Of The Mail. New hires were inculcated in it. No lost little lamb of a first-class letter was left behind. If we discovered a mis-sorted letter while out on the route, we saw it properly delivered on the way back to the station. Our goal was to come back with a clean truck. We had pride.

Things began to deteriorate once the management began employing computers and barcodes and imagined it could streamline service and regulate employees by consulting the raw data on their devices. The first supervisor who tried to hold back mail to make “the numbers” come out in his favor started a revolt on the workroom floor. The old farts defended the Sanctity Of The Mail and the new workers were inspired. I don’t know what the ethos is now, when carriers are no longer responsible for sorting their own mail, instead receiving it sorted by an imperfect machine, making the clean truck impossible–and when GPS tracking rewards only the carriers with a steady trudging pace. Pride in work is bound to suffer.
What could be worse? Glad you asked. Now we have a Postmaster General dedicated to the dismantling of the post office. He is another in a depressing line of self-serving Trump hires whose stated goal is to eviscerate the public wealth, such as Betsy Devos in Education, or Andrew Wheeler of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is devoted to eliminating environmental regulation and ensuring plunder can proceed apace. And all are in the service of the billionaire class and those aspiring to it, who see no value in the public good if there is private money to be made.
They’ve wanted the Postal Service goodies for years.
But the USPS is explicitly charged with providing a low-cost universal service at no profit because that was deemed in the public interest. It costs the same to deliver a letter to an outpost on the Bering Sea as it does to send one across town. This is no profit-making model. And it will be gone as soon as private companies begin to divide the spoils of a ruined Postal Service.
The raiding started a while ago. The George W. Bush administration required the Postal Service to pre-fund retirement health benefits 75 years into the future–for employees that haven’t even been born. No other agency has that burden, and it accounted for up to 90% of its losses, until the pandemic, and was engineered precisely to cause the public service to fail.
Unfortunately for the pirate class, the post office, responsible for prompt delivery of medicines, ballots, parcels, and love letters, is wildly popular with citizens, who are not inclined to abandon it as long as it continues to perform well. So chief pirate Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is seeing to it that it won’t.
The requirement to pre-fund benefits meant it was cheaper to pay employees overtime than to hire sufficient staff. Routes went unassigned and service standards tanked. And now, faced with yet more staffing shortages from COVID, and a boom in parcel business, the PG has announced there will be no more overtime paid. Which means each carrier must leave the station at a prescribed time whether all her mail is ready or not. And whatever can’t be delivered in eight hours is brought back to the station. And day after day, it will pile up. Delay is guaranteed. Parcels will languish on the dock. First-class mail will have no meaning. Patrons will choose other carriers.

Trump, for his part, refuses to sign any legislation that includes a bailout of the Postal Service, which he calls “a joke”–presumably mystified by its inability to turn a profit, which, of course, it is not designed to do. He understands what a Business is for, even though he doesn’t know how to run one, but he does not understand the concept of a Service at all.

The new PG, a major Trump donor, started his campaign of destruction a month into his tenure without consulting any unions or postal experts. Time is of the essence. If the beleaguered agency can’t even guarantee a mail ballot will be processed in a timely manner, or at all, the vote-by-mail threat to the Republican Party might yet be averted.
Besides, it’s never too early to sell off public treasure.