Monday, December 19, 2016

The myth of privatized mail service

I can now add to my “collection” of “famous” people autographs—previously consisting of Brett Favre’s on a Green Bay Packer mini helmet—that of Cindy Williams, which I discovered after receiving a signed copy of her book being sold by Amazon (meaning that fans of L&S should mosey on over there and buy her book). I can say that this discovery was the only thing that put a smile on my face after the conclusion of that frustrating road called the “privatization” of mail service. 

What am I talking about? I have been a frequent consumer of products sold on Amazon over the years, and it is my decided opinion that its level of service has been “slipping” of late. It isn’t just during the holiday season, but all year. The “quality” of employee I see coming out of the Kent Fulfillment Center does not inspire confidence, mainly because I’ve seen how these “kids” take their work “seriously” at other places of employment. Unless you pay for “prime” treatment, it takes days before orders to be picked and shipped when they are supposed to be in stock, and sometimes even if an order is listed as “shipping today” that does not necessarily mean “today” is actually “today.” 

But the one thing that makes me cringe more than anything is to see a “standard” shipment  order being shipped by anything other than straight USPS. Yes. I know that small and anti-government types whine and complain about how “incompetent” the “government” is, and how much more “efficient” private enterprise is. That is such a crock, and nowhere more so than in mailing business. There is no “competition” between carriers that leads to lower prices, and you have to pay out the nose for “efficiency” from Fedex or UPS, both of whose ground service is as ridiculously high-priced as is “their time” schedule, meaning non-“priority” mail will just sit for the weekend. “Competitors” like Ontrac and DHL might cost less, but you “get” what you pay for. While USPS actually works weekends on all mail, these private carriers just snore. 

It took three days “shipping today” before the book actually shipped, and then it was scheduled to be delivered four days after the originally “promised” delivery date. This was because it was being shipped UPS “Sure Post,” a misnomer if anything. I was pulling my hair when I learned  this; “Sure Post,” like Fedex “Smart Post,” is private ground package delivery that is so incompetent and slow that it still requires support from USPS to make the actual delivery. Things can be so bad that Fedex and UPS are often forced to bring in temporary labor with no prior experience in mail sorting to assist them. In the case of this order, I was informed that it would not be delivered by the updated “promised” date because the “truck” arrived a few hours late that Friday, so there would be no “handoff” to the Post Office until the following week. I have to admit I was incensed, especially when I was told by UPS “customer service” that I should contact the shipper and not further encumber them by asking them to explain themselves. I did contact Amazon, and received a refund on the shipping charge.  

Private carriers like Fedex and UPS are profitable not because they provide efficient service, but very expensive service. Even their “standard” mail service is far more expensive than USPS’ priority and First Class package service, and of course less reliable. Part of this is because USPS operates seven days a week, not taking the weekend off like the private carriers do. USPS also has a much larger and more efficient delivery network than the private carriers. While email and online bill paying has caused “regular” letter mail handling to decrease,  this isn’t necessarily mail overall. With online retailers like Amazon overtaking store retailing—particularly for videos, music CDs and books—the need for mailing services is as great as it ever has been. And USPS delivers more cheaply and usually more reliably than the private carriers. This isn’t “pro-government” propaganda—just the damn fact.

USPS is losing money, but not for the reasons the public has been led to believe. First off, Congress mandated that it must insure that it has enough funds to pay for pensions and medical coverage for the next 75 years today, why this is must surely be part of an effort to “kill” it, because no other government or private enterprise is “required” to maintain such an upfront fund, and no logical explanation has ever been given for it. Much of USPS’ revenue is being directed to creating this 75-year “buffer,” and won’t be completed for another five years or so. USPS could raise postage rates by 7 percent now and meet operating costs, but it is prohibited by law to raise its rates more than inflation index; private carriers, of course, don’t abide by this rule—and they still can’t be relied for the prices they charge.

Let’s not be kidded by the anti-government, supposedly “cost conscious” lawmakers, Republicans mainly. The USPS has been a quasi-business since 1970 without government subsidies, meaning it is expected to at least operate like a business. But it is not allowed by Congress to act like your typical business. True privatization of the mail system will result in skyrocketing prices to consumers—especially for the most “profitable” parts of the “business” like package shipping and express mail, while the less profitable parts (like letters and actual delivery) will receive less attention, and thus less service. The busting of postal unions leading to the eventual creation of a low-wage workforce, and the likely raiding of the pension fund, which many private companies are already doing their own now, is also a likely result of privatization. The only “winner” will be the few who line their own pockets with millions of dollars in personal compensation. The losers, of course, will be consumers, especially those who think things are “bad” now.

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