The president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union is calling on Congress to make emergency funding for the Postal Service a necessary condition in negotiations with the Trump White House over the next coronavirus stimulus package as the prized government institution faces the possibility of imminent collapse.
Mark Dimondstein, who has served as president of the Postal Workers Union since 2013, told In These Times in an interview Thursday that "we had bipartisan support in the House and Senate" for direct USPS funding in the CARES Act, a multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed into law last month.
But as the Washington Post reported last weekend, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stepped in and threatened to tank the legislation if it included the $13 billion direct grant that congressional negotiatiors originally agreed to. A $10 billion loan for USPS was ultimately included in the final package, but the Treasury Department has yet to approve the funds.
"We've had over 30 postal workers die from the coronavirus. Thousands have been sick, thousands more have been quarantined. And they're gonna talk about coming after our wages and benefits? No way."
—Mark Dimondstein, American Postal Workers Union
"A Wall Street, Goldman Sachs Secretary of the Treasury said to both parties, 'You will not have an incentive package that the Post Office is in.' Even though they gave $500 billion to the private sector," Dimondstein said. "So we have to flip it. We now need Congress to tell Mnuchin, 'There will be no incentive package that you want without the Post Office in it.'"
The Postal Service—which runs on revenue from stamps and other products and hasn't taken federal funding since the 1980s—has been hit hard by the steep decline in mail volume caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Postmaster General Megan Brennan told lawmakers earlier this month that USPS will "run out of cash" by the end of September without congressional action.
USPS also remains bound by a 2006 congressional mandate requiring it to prefund its retirees' health benefits through 2056, a law analysts say is at the heart of the agency's current financial turmoil.
"The Post Office is not taxpayer funded, so it normally runs on revenue from postage and services," Dimondstein said. "And if 40 to 50% of that dries up in this pandemic—which is what looks like it's happening, in a very quick and precipitous way—then that money has to be made up."
"So the Postal Board of Governors is asking for $25 billion for relief, and another $25 billion for modernization, which gives them money to modernize the fleet," said Dimondstein. "This is a relief for every single person in the country. It's not a relief for a private entity."
Dimondstein warned that Republicans and the Trump administration could be attempting to use the coronavirus crisis to advance the conservative movement's longstanding goal of privatizing the Postal Service.
Asked about the Postal Service's crisis in a press briefing earlier this month, Trump dismissed calls for USPS funding and said the agency should simply "raise prices."
"The underlying thing is, they're coming after a right of the people."
"I think it's pretty straightforward," Dimondstein said of Trump's agenda. "In June of 2018, an Office of Management and Budget report—that's the White House—openly called for an opportunity to sell off the Post Office to private corporations. Their agenda is to enrich a few of their private sector friends at the expense of the people of our country... The underlying thing is, they're coming after a right of the people."
One of the central components of the White House's proposal, which it touted again in February as the Postal Service warned of looming financial disaster, was rolling back postal workers' right to organize.
"The presidential task force that Mnuchin headed up actually called for an end to our collective bargaining rights," Dimonstein noted. "So that's on their agenda too."
Dimondstein vowed to "vigorously oppose" any effort by the Trump administration to gut workers' wages or union rights as a condition for desperately needed coronavirus relief funds.
"You've got postal workers on the front lines, doing essential work," said Dimondstein. "We've had over 30 postal workers die from the coronavirus. Thousands have been sick, thousands more have been quarantined. And they're gonna talk about coming after our wages and benefits? No way."