Oh, my United States Postal Service. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I seriously do love the USPS, and although it’s a little embarrassing, and I occasionally feel a bit coy about this affection, it’s high time I step forth and proclaim it.
I run an internet-based business, which means I spend (as do all the rest of the internet businesses, from me up to Amazon.com) a very large chunk of my time and attention into the logistics of getting your order from my warehouse to your doorstep. After we select and fill the appropriate carton with the ordered items, we all have to consider the need for packing materials; the size; the weight; the distance to travel; the desired speed of travel; whether the recipient will be present when the order arrives, and what to do if he/she is not; whether to insure the shipment; how to track the shipment; what to do if it doesn’t arrive. It’s really pretty breathtaking, when you think about it, what goes on between that “click here to complete your order” and finding a box on your doorstep.
The USPS has been going through a rough patch lately, I know, and if it’s been difficult to understand why, I’ll try to summarize the issues, which were also mentioned here. You might have heard that the PO is looking squarely at an almost $10 billion deficit. It has come about in part because of the drop in First Class mail service thanks to the increasing popularity of online bill-paying services, the weakened economy, and competition among package delivery services. However, some of that deficit is the result of a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to prepay retiree health benefits. It is the only agency, public or private, that has been required to do so at this level – the Postal Service was required to prepay 75 years of health care coverage in 10 years’ time. Further, the USPS overpaid the pension obligations from 1972 to 2009 and has requested (but not received) a refund on their overpayment. Their deficit would become a $1.5 billion surplus if these issues would corrected; Congress is looking at bills to address them. In the meantime we face the prospect of slower service, shuttered facilities, and thousands of layoffs.
I find this heartbreaking.
So: why do I love them?
First and foremost, they are the green team of shipping.
Think about it – the postal carrier comes to your address just about every day anyway, yes? Remember that the other services have to make a special trip to deliver your package. Besides that obvious green advantage, here are a few more:
- A third of all postal deliveries are made on foot
- The USPS delivery fleet includes electric, hybrid, and biodiesel vehicles
- The USPS uses water-based inks for its stamps
- Priority and Express envelopes and boxes have been Cradle-to-Cradle certified for meeting high environmental standards from manufacture to disposal
- The USPS has been working to reduce energy use and incorporate green design elements in its buildings
- Postal workers are unionized
As if that’s not enough, some other things you may not have known about them:
They hire more veterans than any other civilian employer: 135,800 of their 570,000+ person workforce, according the the American Postal Workers Union.
It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the US Constitution, and does not receive a cent of tax money – all its operations are funded by the revenues it generates. It is also obligated to deliver to every single U.S. Postal address, and in many rural areas the post office is the de facto community center.
Only the items shipped via the US Postal Service have federal law enforcement protection. If you are leery of online monetary transactions and banking, there’s no safer way to deliver your personal checks.
Their annual food drive, “Stamp Out Hunger,” surpassed 1 billion lbs. of food collected in 2010 after 18 years of this annual event. Held every year on the second Saturday in May (May 12 this year) it has become a major source of non-perishables for food banks across the country.
Personally, I like the US Postal Service because I like their website better than the website of those guys in brown shorts.
And the postal carriers are the underrated masters of navigation in your neighborhood. If I’m ever in a new part of town and I’m lost, or I’m unable to find a business or a house, or if I want to find the homes for sale in a particular neighborhood, or I want to know where I can get a cup of coffee, or my gas tank is about to hit empty, I KNOW that I can ask the postal carrier and he or she will set me straight, every single time.
How can you help remedy the sorry situation the Postal Service finds itself?
First of all, use the postal service to ship packages when you can. For cross-country shipping they may be a day or two slower than the other guys for the standard, every day, ground shipping option (parcel post in USPS parlance) but you’ll probably find they are cheaper in many cases. If you’re shipping within about a 500 mile radius, you might even find the faster service (Priority Mail) is cheaper, not to mention faster than the other ground services, and their flat-rate cartons are free!
Second, buy your postage online. Besides the fact that you’ll avoid the lines at the P.O., you’ll get a bit of a discount. What’s more, it’s really easy, and even kind of thrilling to see postage come out of the printer. Even though you’ve paid for it, it feels a bit like printing money, or at least what I think printing money would feel like if I did that. The down side of printing your postage is that you may get cold stares from the unfortunates that are waiting in line at the P.O. when you breeze past them to the counter and drop off your packages.
Third, contact your congressional representative and let them know that you do care to keep the Postal Service operating at its current level of service.
So, in honor of the mighty men and women in blue stripey shirts and black socks with shorts and whatnot, I’m offering free shipping all the time to orders of $80.00 or more. That’s two lunchboxes, in most cases (for two smalls you’d have to throw in a couple extra food containers, which is usually a good idea anyway – have one at work, have one in the dishwasher). It’s the least I can do to keep those fine men and women going!