In the 234 years since the U.S. Postal Service was created in our constitution, we’ve come to rely on it as a vital service for mail and commerce. That system, once considered reliable, has been breaking down, spiraling into evermore unsustainable disfunction.
Truckee’s downtown post office is old, in disrepair, and entirely too small for the current population, nor is it designed for the massive influx of e-commerce it’s getting. The clerking staff is easily one-third of what it needs to be, overworked and underpaid (12-hour days, six days a week, with starting salary $1 less than advertised at Taco Bell). It’s also short of mail carriers who are often worked seven days a week. As a result, no local wants the job, and current personnel are brought in as temps from elsewhere at higher costs, including their hotel rooms and per diems; this makes little sense. Short of reenacting slavery, you can’t make locals work there. We live in a capitalist society, where the free market decides, and it has spoken: No, Thank You.
We still need mail service, though, and for a few extra dollars and less egregious hours, locals would work at USPS, and the problem would be solved. Yet government is hell-bent on their one-size-fits-all approach and the usual playbook when they don’t want our taxes to pay for something. Underfund them, break them, declare they don’t work, and eliminate them.
There’s a constant drumbeat to privatize and monetize government entities, with cries to run them like a business. Louis DeJoy was installed as U.S. Postmaster General for that purpose, slowing mail and cutting staff to the bone. What’s happening at the USPS reminds me of a wisecrack I heard from comedian Dennis Miller: “Companies these days are lean and mean. And that’s the service they give you: lean and mean.”
The thing is, the USPS never was a business; it’s a service, like plowing our roads. Removing snow doesn’t generate profit directly for the town or pay for itself, but without it, we can’t get to work, tourists can’t get here to ski, businesses can’t open, and the whole system grinds to a halt. Both the USPS and snowplows are the grease in the wheels of commerce and contribute to the functionality of the town and our lives.
Starving the USPS is like being surprised your car broke down because you didn’t want to pay for the oil in the engine. (By the way, the mail trucks are old and breaking down, too.)
I did a blog post at chaucersrevenge.wordpress.com on what goes on behind the scenes at USPS, tips on how to make dealing with the post office easier, and ways you can ease the burden of beleaguered postal workers. Here, I invite you to take action. Either we accept the dismal service and long lines as the new normal and just complain about it, or we get proactive and decide the postal service is a vital cog in our community; it’s worth fighting for and needs to be funded accordingly. That means getting all up in your elected officials’ grills. (Be polite.) Funding tends to be channeled to cities. As rural residents you need to get loud if you want government to take your community’s problems seriously and fix them.
Who to pester:
Congressman Kevin Kiley: 202-225-2523
Senator Alex Padilla: 202-224-3553
Senator Diane Feinstein: 202-224-3841
USPS Board of Governors, Chairman Robert Duncan: 606-298-3511
~ Michelle Portesi is a longtime resident, perpetual smart aleck, accidental writer (she writes a Tahoe Truckee lifestyle blog for a local real estate agent), kitchen and bath designer, gardener, and unabashed lover of Tahoe/Truckee. A longer and different version of this opinion piece runs at her blog at chaucersrevenge.wordpess.com