6:13am

Sat November 27, 2010
Snail Mail Struggles: The Postal Service Series

Imagine A Saturday Without Mail

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:44 am

Part of a series on the U.S. Postal Service

Delivering mail house to house, six days a week, is something letter carriers guarantee. But in these days of FedEx, e-mail and online bill-paying services, there's not as much mail to deliver.

That's part of why the U.S. Postal Service wants to cut its losses and end Saturday deliveries.

Los Angeles resident Victor Granadino does not like the idea. For Granadino, whose father was a letter carrier a generation ago, the Postal Service is wrong to propose cutting service to just five days a week. In his dad's day, mail was delivered twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon.

"I think we need our mail on Saturdays, especially for people who receive checks," Granadino says. "Even if it's junk mail, it has to be delivered."

Across town, resident Bill Webb argues that people rely on Saturday deliveries for things like prescription drugs. He says many in his South L.A. neighborhood would miss their beloved letter carrier on the weekends.

"I think it would hurt the senior citizens more than the young people. They have essential needs -- Social Security checks, things of that nature," says Webb.

But Postmaster General John Potter says that since 2007, the volume of mail nationwide is down by 20 percent -- some of that due to the slow economy. There are fewer business fliers and pieces of corporate communication that need to be delivered, and as for bills, many people pay them online.

USPS Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett says that this year, the Postal Service had a larger-than-expected loss of $8.5 billion.

"Delivery costs is what makes over half our entire costs, over $30 billion a year," Corbett says. "We're doing what we can to be efficient there, but what we really need to do is simply reduce the number of trips."

Another big cost is prefunding postal retiree benefits, which total $5.5 billion a year. "No other government agency and no other company, public or private in the world, has a requirement of that magnitude," Corbett says.

The Postal Service was once the country's largest employer but now has fewer than 600,000 workers. And the National Association of Letter Carriers argues that cutting Saturday delivery service would mean another 80,000 jobs lost.

"We think it's ridiculous to do anything to dismantle the delivery network that we have to 150 million addresses six days a week," says NALC President Fredric Rolando. "One of our competitive edges is Saturday delivery."

Any change in the Postal Service requires an act of Congress. Rolando worries that communities would lose more than just their mail if Saturday service ends.

"Carriers are so familiar with the neighborhood and who belongs there and who doesn't," he says, calling letter carriers local heroes. "We save lives, been the first on the scene of an accident, stop crime, deliver babies, watch out for children, check on the elderly."

Is Snail Mail Relevant?

In this digital age, some people question the need for so-called snail mail.

For example, in one old episode of Seinfeld, the whacky character Kramer asks to cancel his mail service all together.

"What about your bills?" asks mailman Newman.

"The bank can pay 'em," responds Kramer.

"What about your cards and letters?" Newman asks.

"E-mail, telephones, fax machines, FedEx, telex, telegrams, holograms," retorts Kramer.

"All right, it's true," an exasperated Newman huffs. "Of course no one needs mail. You think you're so clever for figuring that out?"

L.A. Postmaster Mark Anderson says Internet communication still doesn't bring the emotional moments that hard-copy mail does. "There's nothing like a good old Christmas card, a birthday card sent through the U.S. mail," he says.

And, he notes, someone has to hand-deliver all those online purchases.

"Most of my shipping and receiving is for my online sales," says Vic Bedrossian, who owns a small watch and jewelry shop called Anytime in Culver City, Calif. He relies on the Postal Service so he can sell domestically and internationally.

"If we have one day less to ship and receive, that makes a huge difference when trying to satisfy your customer," Bedrossian says.

If it absolutely, positively has to be there on Saturdays, there are other options. But even the big guys, FedEx and UPS, sometimes depend on mail carriers.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

These days of budget shortfalls and service cuts, the U.S. Postal Service says it wants to end Saturday delivery service. The move is part of a comprehensive plan aimed at cutting costs and keeping pace in the modern world of FedEx, UPS, email and text messaging.

As we continue the NPR series on the post office, NPR's Mandalit del Barco gets the view from Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Ms. REBECCA RENTERIA (Postal Service Employee): Good morning. Thank you.

Unidentified Woman: Good morning. Thank you.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Like letter carriers throughout the year, Rebecca Renteria is greeted each day by a chorus of human and furry friends.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Ms. RENTERIA: I'm not scared of the dogs. I'm a cat lover.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: As Renteria hands Victor Granadino a stack of letters and bills, he tells her her job isn't much different from when his father was a mailman a generation ago, except back then mail was delivered twice a day - in the morning and in the afternoon.

Granadino says the U.S. Postal Service is wrong to think about cutting out Saturday service.

Mr. VICTOR GRANADINO: I think we need our mail on Saturdays, especially for people who receive checks. Even if it's junk mail - I'm sorry to say that, but you know, it has to be delivered.

DEL BARCO: Across town, resident Bill Webb argues that people rely on Saturday deliveries for things like prescription drugs. He says many in his South L.A. neighborhood would miss their beloved mailman on the weekends.

Mr. BILL WEBB: I think it would hurt the senior citizens more than it would hurt young people. They have essential needs like Social Security checks, you know, things of that nature.

DEL BARCO: But the postmaster general says since 2007 the volume of mail nationwide is down by 20 percent - some of that due to the slow economy. There's less advertising and other business mail. And many people pay their bills online.

Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett says this year the Postal Service had a larger-than-expected loss of $8.5 billion.

Mr. JOSEPH CORBETT (U.S. Postal Service): Delivery cost is what makes up almost half of our entire cost, so over $30 billion a year. We're doing what we can to be efficient there, but what we really need to do is simply reduce the number of trips.

DEL BARCO: Another big cost is prefunding retiree benefits, which total $5.5 billion a year.

Mr. CORBETT: That's something that no other government agency and no other company, public company or private, in the world has a requirement of that magnitude.

DEL BARCO: The Postal Service was once the country's largest employer but now has fewer than 600,000 workers. The National Association of Letter Carriers argues that cutting Saturday delivery service would mean another 80,000 jobs lost. Frederic Rolando is the union's president.

Mr. FREDERIC ROLANDO (President, National Association of Letter Carriers): We think it's ridiculous to do anything to dismantle the delivery network that we have to 150 million addresses six days a week. One of our competitive edges is Saturday delivery.

DEL BARCO: Any change in the Postal Service requires an act of Congress. Rolando worries that communities would lose more than just their mail if Saturday service ends.

Mr. ROLANDO: Carriers are so familiar with the neighborhood and who belongs there and who doesn't or been the first on the scene of an accident or stop crime in neighborhoods, delivering babies, watching out for children. We check on the elderly.

DEL BARCO: But in this digital age, some people question the need for so-called snail mail.

(Soundbite of music)

DEL BARCO: In this old episode of "Seinfeld," the character Kramer asks to cancel his postal service altogether.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Seinfeld")

Mr. WAYNE KNIGHT (Actor): (as Newman): Well, what about your bills?

Mr. MICHAEL RICHARDS (Actor): (as Kramer): The bank can pay them.

Mr. KNIGHT: (as Newman) The bank? What about your cards and letters?

Mr. RICHARDS (as Kramer): E-mail, telephones, fax machines, FedEx, telex, telegrams, holograms.

Mr. KNIGHT: (as Newman) All right, it's true. Of course nobody needs mail. What? You think you're so clever figuring that one out?

DEL BARCO: But someone has to deliver all those online purchases.

(Soundbite of cuckoo clock)

(Soundbite of rooster crowing)

DEL BARCO: Vic Bedrossian, who owns a small shop called Anytime in Culver City, says he relies on the postal service to sell clocks and watches.

Mr. VIC BEDROSSIAN (Owner, Anytime): If we have one less day to be able to ship and receive, that makes a huge difference when you're trying to satisfy your customer.

DEL BARCO: If it absolutely, positively has to be there on Saturdays, there are other options. But even the big guys, FedEx and UPS, sometimes depend on the Postal Service.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

SIMON: And you can find out more on our series about the U.S. Postal Service at our website, NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: If it fits, it ships. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.