Policy

The Real Reason Postal Workers Don’t Trust Paul Ryan


Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, has weathered plenty of criticism since he released his proposed 2015 budget on April 1. Some of the most spirited attacks have come from, of all people, U.S. postal workers.

American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein zeroed in on a section of the document titled “Reform the Postal Service.” He calls it “a thinly veiled attempt to plunder the Postal Service—to slash service, cut workers’ benefits, and render our great national treasure ripe for privatization.” That’s a bit of an overreaction. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” recites the standard Republican line on the USPS—that the agency needs to be restructured because it can’t afford the annual $5 billion payment it owes the U.S. Treasury to prefund its future retirees’ health benefits. The Ryan budget would, among other things, require postal employees to pay a greater portion of their government-subsidized health care and life insurance.

Dimondstein offers a theory, often repeated in union circles, that both the 2006 law requiring the retirement prefunding and the Ryan budget’s unwillingness to eliminate it are part of an elaborate scheme to weaken the Postal Service so many of its operations can be privatized. “The post office doesn’t run on tax dollars—it runs on the money from the people who use it,” says Dimondstein. “They are taking that public revenue, and they are moving it over to the federal Treasury. And then they are coming back and saying, ‘Postal service, you are broke.’”

This is a commonly heard complaint among postal workers: that Ryan and others, including Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, harbor a secret desire to dismantle the USPS on behalf of private interests. If true, Ryan’s a lousy conspirator. The House of Representatives can’t even pass a postal reform bill, in large part because both Republicans and Democrats fear that closing post offices or otherwise messing with service would alienate voters.

There’s another, long-simmering reason postal workers are wary of Ryan: His wife, Janna, was once a lobbyist for United Parcel Service (UPS) and successfully fought against a bill in the late 1990s that would have made it easier for the post office to set its own prices and introduce new services. During the 2012 presidential election, Bill Brinkley, a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, wrote a much-shared blog post called “Congressman and Mrs. Ryan Working Together To Dismantle The Postal Service.”

“Considering Ryan’s privatization zeal and his wife’s UPS lobbyist connection,” Brinkley wrote, “it’s clear he will not act in a way that’s in the best interest of the Postal Service.” That sums up the way worried postal workers still feel today.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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