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Fact-checking The Washington Post’s ‘Fact Checker’

The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” Glenn Kessler, has challenged on his blog the statement by NALC that the Postal Service’s plan to end Saturday would eliminate 80,000 jobs.

Sadly, Kessler has made a hash of it.

Kessler argues that the NALC’s statement is misleading, because the data our statement relies on is from a 2010 Postal Service presentation about a 2009 study (he posted slides from that presentation). Kessler also argues that fewer jobs would be lost, that many of those are part-time jobs and that most of the job loss would be through attrition rather than layoffs.

Based on these largely erroneous assertions, and based on some selective quotations, Kessler gave our statement two “Pinocchios” (on his four-Pinocchio scale of untruthfulness).

Yes, the USPS presentation is from 2010. That does not make it inaccurate. The number of city and rural carrier routes has declined only slightly since then—total delivery carrier employment is down just 7 percent—and packages make up only a tiny 2.3 percent of total mail volume. So the jobs impact of the Postal Service’s modified five-day delivery plan should not be much different today from what was forecast in its 2009 study.

Moreover, that study is the only one that the Postal Service has made public about its five-day plan, and it is the only study that has been subjected to scrutiny and review by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). As the slides from that presentation indicated, 25,846 city carrier technicians (all full-timers), 49,354 rural carrier associates (mostly part-timers), and 3,886 temporary rural carrier jobs would be eliminated under the five-day plan, and the work of 2,700 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs would be eliminated in mail processing. That makes for roughly 81,786 full- and part-time positions. That is the basis of the NALC’s statement, which is 100 percent accurate.

Kessler also missed the mark on his criticism of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who accurately decried the fact that the Postal Service’s plan would lead to layoffs in the USPS. Kessler apparently fell for the Postal Service’s false claims that even a reduction of 25,000 FTE jobs could magically be handled through attrition only.

Yet Kessler’s own statements in his column prove that the Postal Service is wrong. Kessler wrote:

It’s important to realize that both of these jobs are not the primary mail carrier positions. The carrier technicians work five different routes a week, essentially filling in the sixth day. They earn slightly more pay, so more-senior people tend to take the position near retirement to boost their annual wage. (If the job were eliminated, they could simply bid for another route; less-senior people would be displaced.)

Leaving aside the obvious point that the full-time city carrier technician jobs are “primary positions” to those who hold them, the less-senior letter carriers who would be “displaced” would lose their jobs. In the real world, labeling laid-off workers as “displaced workers” does not change the fact they are “out of work.”

The bottom line is that tens of thousands of full- and part-time positions would be eliminated under the five-day plan, imposing hardship on those who are released (laid off) and on other Americans who would be denied job opportunities in the future.

Kessler also seems to think that part-time jobs are not real jobs. He wrote:

Calculating the impact in FTEs is the best way to understand the impact of a proposal, especially when many part-time employees are involved.

That is not true to folks who lose their part-time jobs. To the millions of Americans who hold one or more part-time jobs, such jobs are no less real than full-time jobs. They generate real income that workers need to support themselves and their families.

NALC Chief of Staff Jim Sauber spoke with Kessler and made this very point, saying that the tens of thousands of rural carrier associates who work one day a week delivering mail need these jobs “to make ends meet,” even if they are “second jobs.”

Both the Postal Service and Kessler are grossly out of touch with the reality of today’s labor market.

Kessler concluded that

NALC and its friends in Congress are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, they say their numbers are based on USPS figures. But that’s for an old plan — and they ignore or belittle the newer estimate from USPS.

This is preposterous. The new five-day plan is virtually same as the old plan; instead of ending delivery for 100 percent of mail on Saturday, the new plan would end 97.7 percent of it—and there are no newer estimates from the Postal Service. The agency has not produced or submitted any new figures to Congress, the postal unions or the PRC. NALC cannot be faulted for using the only study the Postal Service has formally provided.

If anyone is trying to have it both ways, it’s Kessler. He accepts at face value the savings estimates made by the Congresional Budget Office (CBO), estimates based on the same “old plan” that Kessler criticizes NALC for relying on to address the jobs issue. The CBO has never calculated the savings of the modified plan.

In any case, we look forward to Kessler’s careful review of the Postal Service’s alleged “new estimate” and its false claims that USPS can achieve job cuts “through attrition, not lay-offs.” In addition, we look forward to his review of the basis for USPS’ claims that ending Saturday mail delivery would save $2 billion and that ending door-to-door delivery would save another $2 billion.

Finally, it should be noted that even if the Postal Service could adopt its five-day plan without destroying tens of thousands of current jobs and future job opportunities for young workers and returning veterans, it would make no sense to do so as a matter of strategy. Slashing delivery days, slowing mail service and inviting new competitors to provide service on Saturday to meet existing demand does not add up to a winning business plan. It would reduce the value of mail, drive away business and threaten the Postal Service’s success in the package market, since affordable parcel delivery relies on a shared delivery network for letters, magazines, flats and parcels. Degrading that network would drive up USPS package charges and stop in its tracks the recent financial recovery at the Postal Service.

Congress should continue to reject the Postal Service’s misguided plan, and the Fact Checker should do better at getting his facts straight.

Updated June 17: A paragraph from this article’s original post was removed after Kessler’s blog post was amended. Other small word changes were applied for clarity.