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Workers hope new law becomes an economic lifeline for Postal Service

The Postal Service had a net loss of $4.9 billion last year and operating revenue of $77 billion, it says.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Postal Service worker Mallory Shepard says she needs a lifeline.

“We are so short-staffed all of the time. I am currently doing the work that three people used to be staffed for,” she said. “So much more has been put on each person as far as the workload.”

Shepard and the Postal Service hope help is on the way in a piece of bipartisan legislation. The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would free up nearly $50 billion in expenses over the next decade and allow it to modernize and improve service across the country. 

The House passed the legislation with bipartisan support last month. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

Shepard, a union shop steward who has worked as a mail clerk for almost a decade in Waverly, Iowa, said she wants savings from the bill to enable the agency to hire more employees to improve customer service.

New York Continues To Struggle With Coronavirus Spread As Parts Of U.S. Look To Reopen
A Postal Service worker operates his mail delivery truck in New York on April 29, 2020.Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images file

Thanks to an uptick in pandemic-related e-commerce, Covid’s spreading among postal workers and a surge in packages, the Postal Service faced widespread criticism for longer delivery delays in the last two years.

The average vehicle in the Postal Service’s fleet is nearly three decades old, and maintenance costs to keep the fleet running “remain high,” the Postal Service Office of Inspector General said in a 2020 report.

In addition, the Postal Service had a net loss of $4.9 billion and operating revenue of $77 billion last year, it has said.

The new legislation would require all post offices to serve customers for at least six days a week, a change from a previous government watchdog agency’s recommendation of only five days a week to save money.

Advocates say the bill could most benefit rural America, where post office closures and reductions of in the number of clerks affected some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

Post office job fair in California
People fill out job applications at the post office in Garden Grove, Calif., on Jan. 4.Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images file

“There are parts of his country where people have to drive hundreds of miles just to get basic services because they live in very rural areas, but there’s a post office right there,” Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a phone interview.

Dimondstein said the bill would allow the agency to hire more mail clerks and expand hours, rather than continue to cut them.

Hundreds of post offices across the country closed, particularly in the middle of the country, where they had lost money by staying open, according to the inspector general.

Sandy Marshall worked as a clerk at a post office in Iowa until it was torn down during the pandemic after a severe reduction in hours.

“It has been rough on a lot of the communities,” she said.

The town she worked in had a “post office, a bar and that was about it,” so apart from being a necessity, the post office also gave residents the opportunity to socialize, especially during the pandemic, Marshall said.

The Postal Service Reform Act would improve the Postal Service's finances by removing a requirement that the agency pre-fund health benefits for employees and shift to a “pay-as-you-go” method. The new legislation would also require employees to enroll in Medicare, which would reduce the cost of health care premiums, according to the bill.

“I think across the board this is good news,” Dimondstein said. “Since it’s an entity that doesn’t run on taxpayer money, it doesn’t run on putting money in the bank. It runs on a break-even basis of serving the people. This bill will then help provide better service to the people in the country.”

Apart from the savings, the legislation would create an online dashboard so customers could track delivery times — a service that competitors like FedEx and UPS readily offer. The post office where Marshall now works in New Market, Iowa, doesn’t have an automated system, which means she does everything by hand.

Shepard, the shop steward in Iowa, said: “We do get a bad rap sometimes. But really, we all truly care about every single one of our customers, and everybody really, truly tries to do the best they can every single day.”