Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a louder megaphone than at any point in his political career, and he’s using it to amplify issues he has been talking about for decades. One such issue: the U.S. Postal Service.
After the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Sanders stuck around on Wednesday to address the American Postal Workers Union All Craft Conference. Sanders, a long-time USPS advocate, spoke of his desire to preserve postal delivery standards and eliminate the agency’s requirement to prefund future retirees’ health benefits.
The senator praised the Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail to any customer, “whether you are a low-income elderly woman living at the end of a dirt road in Nevada or Vermont or a wealthy CEO living on Park Avenue.”
“The beauty of the Postal Service is that it provides universal service six days a week to every corner of America, no matter how small or how remote,” Sanders said. “It supports millions of jobs in virtually every sector of our economy. It provides decent-paying union jobs to some 500,000 Americans, and it is the largest employer of veterans.”
It does all this, he added, at a cost “far less than anywhere else in the industrialized world.” These accomplishments have not shielded the agency from those who wish to dismantle it, he lamented.
“Yet, the Postal Service is under constant and vicious attack,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the same billionaires who want to privatize Social Security, Medicare and public education, also want to privatize the Postal Service.”
Mark Dimondstein, APWU’s president, described the atmosphere in the room as Sanders spoke as “electric.”
“People were thrilled, excited,” he said. When introducing Sanders, Dimonstein said, “There is one candidate for president of the United States that stands head and shoulders above the others as a true friend and champion of postal employees and all U.S. workers.”
As a senator, Sanders has proven to be a thorn in the side of other lawmakers looking to assuage the various parochial interests of postal management, unions and customers. Hillary Clinton’s most formidable challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination has said “providing fewer services and poorer quality is not the way to save the Postal Service,” and has spoken out against job cuts at the agency, arguing “good-paying postal jobs” can help protect the middle-class in local economies.
In the last Congress, Sanders introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, which won the support of unions like APWU. The legislation would have completely repealed the prefunding requirement and preserved six-day delivery standards. It also would have reinstated overnight delivery, which would in turn have protected processing plant closures. The bill also attempted to grow revenue by expanding business opportunities at the agency.
Thirty of Sanders’ Democratic Senate colleagues signed on to the bill as cosponsors, who preferred the measure to the bipartisan, USPS-backed bill authored by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Sanders continued his legislative push earlier this year, when he led a coalition of 85 senators in a symbolic vote voicing support for restoring delivery standards that the Postal Service had cut to enable more plant closures. He has also played a key role in blocking President Obama’s nominees to serve on the USPS board of governors over concerns they plan to further degrade USPS services.
Currently, just three of the nine board positions are filled, and the terms of two of those remaining will expire in December.
On Wednesday, Sanders reiterated his call for USPS to expand its offerings beyond just mail and package delivery.
“At a time when more than 68 million lower-income Americans have no bank accounts or are forced to rely on rip-off check-cashing storefronts and payday lenders, allowing the Postal Service to offer these kinds of financial services would be of huge social benefit,” Sanders said.
The 2006 postal law that created prefunding for retiree health benefits also placed restrictions on the agency’s ability to offer non-postal products, though the postal inspector general has argued USPS could move forward with banking services. A new USPS reform bill introduced by Carper last month would give the agency more authority to provide non-postal products.
In addition to his history of supporting the Postal Service and its workforce, Sanders has also consistently been a friend to unions. In recent months, the senator has attended multiple rallies to decry the number of low-wage workers on federal contracts and to promote those employees’ ability to collectively bargain.
"There is no justice in America when the largest low-wage employer is not McDonald’s; it is not Burger King; it is not Walmart; it is the United States government," Sanders has said.