Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor at The Washington Post since 2000, has had an undistinguished career from the beginning. From being an Iraq War cheerleader to a deficit peacock and a climate change denier enabler, his influence on the paper's editorial board has been consistently problematic. Not letting down the troglodyte side, his op-ed page is at it again with this doozie: "Congress should stop attacking DeJoy and consider his plan to fix the Postal Service."
Let's start with the basics of the wrongness of that headline. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's plan is not to "fix" the Postal Service. It's to make the Postal Service provide more expensive and worse service to the customer. That's a given. He wants postage to cost more and delivery to be significantly slower. His motives in doing so are not as transparent, but are right there on the surface. This is going to drive customers away. It's going to cost the USPS money to lose those customers. Many who do business via the USPS will switch to private carriers, some of which DeJoy has had (and still has) a personal financial stake in.
Corruption and corporatism aside, Hiatt's editorial board is ignoring the very real harm DeJoy's cutbacks could bring to millions of people who rely on the post office, particularly communities of color, low-income communities, and postal service workers. The ed board dismisses the issue of harm: "the Postal Service hasn't regularly been meeting its targets since long before Mr. DeJoy’s time anyway; business mailers probably should pay more than the effectively subsidized rates they currently enjoy." So it seems the argument is "It's bad already, so what the hell, let's make it worse."
As if the only people harmed are business mailers. The Postal Service is the only entity under a universal service obligation, "broadly outlined in multiple statutes," making it "the only carrier obligated to provide all aspects of universal service at affordable prices." By universal, they mean it—a legal obligation to deliver to every address in the United States. FedEx, UPS, DHL—none of those carriers have that obligation. In fact, most of the time those private carriers will leave packages with the Postal Service and it completes that "last mile" of delivery, generally at an economic loss. That last mile is often many miles in the boondocks, or is in disadvantaged and dangerous areas. And while you can send a first-class letter for 55 cents with the expectation it will reach its destination in two days, it'll cost more like $25 to do that with a private carrier.
So who is harmed? People who can't conduct all their necessary business online because the don't have broadband and they have other technological barriers. People who don't have transportation to do things like pick up their prescriptions at a pharmacy. That means communities of color. Rural America. Senior and disabled citizens. The mail carrier for many of these people isn't just the person who fills their box with junk mail: It's someone looking out for them.
Now we get to the part of that editorial from the Post where the writer(s) state it baldly: "Special interest groups that profit from the postal status quo dominate Congress." The only special interest group they can be talking about is the postal workers' union. Because they're surely not talking about those rural and underserved communities. There isn't another massive lobby trying to save the USPS. Just regular people. And postal workers.
Funny thing about that: The Postal Service work force is more racially and ethnically diverse than the U.S. labor force as a whole. According to a Pew report looking at data from 2018, "23% of Postal Service workers are black, 11% are Hispanic and 7% are Asian." Blacks comprise 13% of the national workforce, Hispanics 17%, and AAPI Americans 6%. White Americans are just 57% of the USPS workforce, compared to 78% of the national workforce. About 40% of USPS workers identify as female.
In 2013, letter carriers made an average annual salary of $51,390 a year, and sorters earned $48,380. Those are solid middle-class jobs that have created generations of a Black middle class, like the family of Josh Dubose in Maryland. His "father, his stepmother, his sister and at least three uncles worked for the U.S. Postal Service."
That created a Black workforce with some power, which is unique in the country. Philip F. Rubio, a history professor who wrote the book There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality, published in 2010, wrote that the post office has "been vital to Black community development, but Black postal worker activism changed the Post Office and its unions. […] This is a dynamic history, one that involves narratives of migration, militancy, community, and negotiation—and all at a workplace that African Americans saw as being inclusively, not exclusively, theirs."
Dubose feels that pride. Speaking to NBC News prior to the 2020 election, he said "It was supposed to be a temporary job, but I'm still here, and it's a job I do with pride. […] It's not easy. We load our trucks each morning and we work until all the mail is delivered. That's why you sometimes see carriers working at night—sometimes not in the safest neighborhoods. But if people trust us with their bills, birthday cards, packages, I don't see why a ballot would be any different. We will deliver what's on the truck."
That's who is being attacked by DeJoy, and put on Hiatt's austerity chopping block. Because it's this multiracial workforce that's going to be cut if DeJoy's plan goes through. It's the communities of color and the disadvantaged that are going to lose a lifeline—aka the usual casualties of the austerity fetishists. The ones who put the Postal Service in financial jeopardy in the first place.