By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Barack Obama's not-so-subtle dig at the U.S. Postal Service—"UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. ... It's the Post Office that's always having problems"—has sent his cheerful relations with America's postal unions to the dead letter office. The remark, a reminder of how Obama tends to stumble when he gets off script, was made during an August 11 town hall on healthcare in Portsmouth, N.H., as the president tried in vain to defend the inclusion of a "public option" alternative in his reform package.
Ted Keating, the president of the powerful and politically well-connected National Association of Postal Supervisors, was one of those who took offense, taking the president to task in an August 14 letter for using the post office as a "scapegoat" and for failing to account for the overtime, management, and work-hour reductions the USPS has made over the last year.
The paper went on to note that Obama's comparison of the private companies with the post office did not take into account the lack of a level playing field between the entities. "The Postal Service has to contend with unions, lawmakers and the Postal Regulatory Commission and as a result, can't raise prices or close facilities on a whim the way its private-sector counterparts can when mail volume plunges," the paper said—which, while a robust defense of the post office, is not exactly helpful in the context of the president's vision for healthcare reform.
It probably comes as a surprise to UPS to learn it does not, in fact, have to deal with unions. Or that the system is so heavily weighted in favor of private companies when the post office does not have to pay taxes on its income or on its planes, trucks, vans and postal buildings, unlike UPS, FedEx, and the rest of the private delivery companies. It also overlooks the fact that the post office sets a mandatory minimum price that a private shipper can charge for parcel and express mail services that, by law, is higher than what the post office charges.
Obama's use of the postal service as an example of a failing government enterprise was "a kick in the chest," Keating said in his letter, a portion of which was reprinted in the Federal Times. "Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year. For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief," Keating continued.