Senators Plead for One-Year Moratorium on Postal Consolidation

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Half the Senate wants to block Phase 2 of USPS's Network Rationalization plan. Are they serious, or merely posturing?

Fifty vacationing Senators attached their names to a letter sent today to the chairwoman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, asking them to block Phase 2 of the U.S. Postal Service's Network Rationalization plan. They want a one-year moratorium on the closure of 82 processing facilities and the elimination of 15,000 jobs, as well as a ban on delivery cuts.

“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively into the future,” the senators wrote in a letter to Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-LA). The letter, which was drafted by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)—who has emerged as a staunch defender of the direct mail industry—also was sent to Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mike Johanns (R-NE), leaders of a subcommittee on Postal Service finances.

A similar letter was sent to Appropriations leaders last week, but with only 22 signees. The new version carries the signatures of 43 Democrats who, one Washington insider speculated, were persuaded by postal unions to join the effort. The Senate is in summer recess until September 8.

On the face of it, the effort appears largely symbolic. In announcing the implementation of Phase 2 in January 2015, USPS made clear that it would continue to trim its workforce through attrition and that the 15,000 affected workers would be reassigned to other facilities. The Postal Service also released a study showing that the change would cause only minor changes in service, moving the average delivery time of First Class Mail from 2.14 days to 2.25.

Bulk mailers generally support consolidation for operational efficiencies that could help keep rates stable. After the first phase of consolidation was completed in 2013, complaints were few. “Service levels actually improved in the year following the implementation of Phase 1,” noted America Catalog Mailers Association President Hamilton Davison when Phase 2 was announced.

Asked to comment on the Senators' action, the Postal Service responded with a written statement saying, “In 2012 and 2013 the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities. This rationalization of our network was highly successful, resulted in negligible service impact, required no employee layoffs, and generates annual cost savings of approximately $865 million. The Postal Service expects the completion of network rationalization will generate an additional $750 million in annual savings.”

Should Mikulski and Shelby choose to act on their colleagues' recommendation, they will be forced to weigh the fact that the Network Rationalization plan has already been approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission. Phase 2 consolidations were originally scheduled to commence in January 2014 and, hence, have already been delayed a year.

With political pundits giving Republicans a good chance to recapture the Senate this fall, sending the letter may have simply served as a last-chance vehicle for Senate Democrats to go on record on the subject of job cuts.

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