It’s all part of a push to privatize, which threatens the living wages of hundreds of thousands of employees.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Speaker 1: Will you put the machines back?
DeJoy: I’m very proud to lead the organization. The rest of your accusations were actually outrageous.
Speaker 1: Will you put the machines back?
DeJoy: No, I will not.
Speaker 1: You will not.
DeJoy: I Will not.
Speaker 1: You will not. Well, there you go.
DeJoy: There I go what. These machines [crosstalk 00:00:16].
Speaker 3: Madam Chair, let the witness answer the question.
Marc Steiner: What? I mean, how can the post office work without automatic mail sorters? Who can do that? This is ridiculous, but just how ridiculous is it? I’m Marc Steiner here with the Real News. Good to have you with us. Things were popping in the post office and it’s the center of the struggle in America right now, it seems.
In Tacoma, Washington, the post office restarted the machines on their own defying DeJoy’s orders. And that clip you just saw was from yesterday’s hearings, which we’ll be talking about during the course of this conversations.
Over the weekend, over 800 demonstrations took place in all 50 states, more are happening today. So today we’re looking at those hearings, talk about those demonstrations, the struggle to save the post office, looking at how the Koch Brothers for the last 50 years have been trying to put the post office out of business, and what the future may hold in terms of struggle to save and build a post office for this country.
We’re joined now by Courtney Jenkins. CJ Jenkins just came from today’s demonstrations in Baltimore, and here he serves as legislative director of the American Postal Workers Union Local 181. He’s a rising young union leader and star and who was a mail carrier, and at 32 years old has been a union activist for over a decade.
And Lisa Graves is the executive director of True North Research, is its editor-in-chief, she spearheaded several major breakthrough investigations into how we’re distorting our American democracy. Her research has been cited by almost every major newspaper.
She was featured in the film 14th, and prior to founding True North Research, she was a co-director of Documented Investigations, led the Center for Media and Democracy, and she just wrote the Billionaire Behind the Efforts to Kill the Post Office that appeared in the Public Interest. And in True North it was called, Wait a Minute Mr. Koch Man: The Plot to Kill the US Post Office. And I love that title. And welcome CJ and Lisa, it’s so good to have you both with us.
Lisa Graves: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: So let us begin. CJ, you just came off demonstrations today, talk about that and what’s happening across the country, and then I’ll let Lisa chime in to that as well. These demonstrations as I read about, over 800 all 50 states fighting to support the post office. So talk a bit about what just occurred.
Courtney Jenkin…: It was a great showing today downtown Baltimore at our main post office. First, thank you for having me, Mr. Steiner and the Real News Network.
Marc Steiner: Great to have you with us.
Courtney Jenkin…: We’ve had actions across the country for the American Postal Workers Union, our national day of action today. We invited all types of just the public community organizations, anyone who wanted to host a rally on a day of action today following the oversight hearing yesterday, they were welcome to do so.
So there were different community organizations, labor unions, just concerned members of the public who came out to the downtown facility today between 12:00 and 1:30. It was a good show, and that this is happening across the state of Maryland, but across the country.
And what we’re seeing is again, community associations, concerned groups just popping up and saying, “Hey, we got to protect our public postal service.”
Marc Steiner: So Lisa, I’m just really interested in your take on this. The post office is, I think in one of the by-lines one of your recent pieces is one of the few and most beloved institutions in the federal government. And you’re seeing people come out across the country. It does feel like the post office is at the heart of the struggle for the future’s democracy and more. How do you read it?
Lisa Graves: I think that’s exactly right Mr. Steiner, and I want to thank you so much for having me on, and also it’s an honor to be on with Mr. Jenkins. This is the battle for our democracy. This is the most popular agency in the government. It’s actually the most popular brand in America, and it serves every American equally.
It’s vitally important to our democracy and to our production chains, to our distribution chains in America, and especially during this pandemic. And so these efforts by Mr. DeJoy to really cause chaos and change the work in the postal service you could see in the charts, the hearing yesterday, how the service has declined under his watch.
In the very short time he’s been here as the head of the postal service, he has basically caused chaos. And he said in the hearing yesterday that he was not going to reverse course and get those machines, those fast mail-sorting machines that were removed, re-installed. That’s just wrong. He needs to be removed actually from that [inaudible 00:04:29].
And I think that actually the postal service board of governors needs to be reformed and changed because it’s been captured by Mitch McConnell and these privatizers.
Marc Steiner: I’m going to come right back to this privatizing question, and what you wrote about with the Koch brothers, because it’s really illuminating, and we have to really understand the depth of that.
I want to talk about what this… And I’m curious, CJ, from your perspective in terms of the postal union, what the internal struggle is going to look like when it comes to saving the post office.
In Tacoma, Washington, you have the post office actually told the DeJoy to take a leap and they restarted the machines. Is there going to be an effort by postal workers to do any kind of job actions like this? What is your strategy?
Courtney Jenkin…: Well, there have been pockets of resistance across the country. I get a chance to talk to a lot of rank an file organizers across the nation, and there are pockets of resistance pushing back. Where there’s the letter carrier who says, “No, I’m going to complete my route that day.” Or the maintenance employee who says, “I’m going to reassemble that machine.”
There hasn’t been a strategy because each facility, each local post office is different in its own way. So trying to figure out how to have a one-size-fits-all, that’s pretty much where we’re at right now, but really it’s a legislative battle that we are fighting as a union, as a full major postal workers union to get the support through the pandemic with this emergency appropriation, but along with conversation around postal reform, which is something that we’ve been pushing forward in different ways.
We have different agreements and disagreements on who is in the postal reform conversation. But that is one of the things that is a longterm goal. Right now, though, just the pockets of resistance you’ve seen, those are just workers coming together, which is sometimes the best way to do things, in their own facility or their own office, and having a conversation and putting a plan of action together.
The four major postal workers union to my knowledge have not publicly come out and even made a position on the postmaster general with a board of governors. So it looks like, again, this is a grassroots type of resistance and pushback, which is what it always should be.
Marc Steiner: Which is really interesting because I think Lisa, when you wrote about the Koch brothers and their efforts starting in the early ’70s to privatize the post office, that was also on the heels of job actions across the country, that [inaudible 00:06:49] eight-day strike that also led to the… Postal workers were able to get more money. It also led to the battle to destroy the post office. So these things are really interrelated.
Lisa Graves: Well, that’s right. And one of the things that I discovered in my research was just how long Charles Koch who is one of the richest billionaires in America, and on the planet who basically controls his own private mega corporation, Koch Industries, that he’s been staking the people who’ve been trying to private the postal service since the 1970s.
It was a fringe idea back then, although it was one that was also spurred by anti-labor, anti-workers sentiment. But it’s a fringe idea now. And what he’s done is really pushed this fringe idea, fertilize it with his cash, to push it into the mainstream of the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Shouldn’t be a political issue. This is our service, whether you’re democratic, republican, independent, or any other party, this is a service that serves us all.
And so the fact that you have this intervention by this president to try to weaken it, to withhold funds, to urge these negotiators and these coronavirus talks to not give the postal service the money that the previous postmaster general said quite clearly the postal service needs, and to put such power in the hands of Steve Mnuchin, a guy who quite frankly, made his riches in part on the foreclosure of the homes of many Americans across the country. He’s exactly the wrong guy at the wrong time.
And they managed to squeeze into position this postmaster general who is deeply conflicted in terms of his own financial holdings with competitors of the postal service. Plus, the fact is, is that he was one of three men that Mr.
Trump chose to be the deputy finance chair at the RNC. And he’s personally raised millions of dollars to help this president.
And then on top of that, you have a guy who is close to Mitch McConnell, Mike Duncan, who’s the president of board of governors who was recently appointed during Trump’s term, who also has deep financial ties to the Republican Party and has helped fund Mitch McConnell’s rise and capture of power.
You have the postal service being led by the most partisan men in modern history, and they’re engaged in destruction in my view, of our democracy. And I don’t think anything DeJoy said should give anyone cause for a reassurance that they are not going to try to dismantle our postal service and hike the cost for everyone across the country if we let them.
And I’m so proud of the work of people across the country that Mr. Jenkins has pointed out, and others who are standing up and saying, “This is our postal service, and we’re going to save it from these predators.”
Marc Steiner: So CJ, how’s that playing out among the workers themselves and the and the ranking and file of postal union. You’re the one whose jobs are being threatened as well as the service that you provide the country. So what’s happening inside the union, especially rank and file?
Courtney Jenkin…: Well, the rank and file, we’re frustrated to be quite honest with you. Because our entire careers, no matter how long that’s been, whether it’s 30 years or three days, we’ve been taught to move the mail. And now we see these decisions being made which inhibit our ability to do that. Go against the oath we’ve taken.
So, the members that I represent come to me on the workflow and then voicing their frustration because they’re seeing the news and their neighbors, their friends, their family, they’re calling them now and saying, “What’s going on with the postal service?”
And we have to remind those folks that we don’t make the decisions. We are workers, there are rules in place. If We’re given an instruction or told to do something, we have to do it. We have to carry it out.
So again like the workers, we’re trying to respond as these issues come up as well. So if there’s an issue at your local post office, the Postal Workers Union, we want to be able to get there, properly educate the public to what’s going on, and what they could do to support. Whether it’s calling their representatives, supporting us at an action, calling their neighbors.
I think that’s the way this moves. I’m approached by my neighbors when I go check my mail every day. They know I’m a postal worker, and they are concerned and they are listening. So the rank and filers, the local unions themselves, again, because things are so isolated, with issue happening in Baltimore, it may not be happening at Tampa Bay.
So what we’re trying to do is just have a communication network and support one another in these endeavors, as we go out into the streets, and socially distant, of course, and try to bring attention and awareness to this.
But let’s not be mistaken. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and our folks are, the morale, as you can imagine right now, especially it’s kind of low as they turn on the news and they’re being attacked from leadership, I guess we can call it.
So it’s just, now they’re getting rounded up, they’re seeing the community come out. So these conversations on the work floor are happening more frequently. I was actually at a rally today and it’s interesting, a sister of mine in the local union, she’s a member. She was coming out of the post office because she’s a customer as well.
And I recognized her even with her mask on, and she picked up a sign and she joined in the rally. So it’s that type of thing. We are customers, we are a public service, and we’re just trying to, I guess the saying, get in where we can fit in at this point.
Marc Steiner: The statement, that theme here, I want to talk a bit about Ayanna Pressley in her testimony the other day, what she did at the hearing.
Ayanna Pressley: The postal service is one of the largest employers of veterans and has one of the most diverse workforces in our country. 40% of postal workers are people of color. And for generations, working for the USPS was one of the only living wage jobs accessible to Black and Brown Americans.
No doubt, many of these families have a personal story of how the USPS job made it possible for them to buy their first home, or to send their child to college. Now it is well documented that many of these same families have been disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and will bear the brunt of any efforts to dismantle the USPS.
Marc Steiner: I don’t think people always get the understanding of how racial justice is part of this battle. Whether you’re talking about black community, whether you’re talking about the Latino community, or if you go out to the Rez, the post office workers are all native. I don’t think we get to understand what this means to racial justice. And CJ, why don’t you start with that? And then please, Lisa, I want you to jump in on this.
Courtney Jenkin…: So Congressman Ayanna Pressley made several great points at the hearing. Not just about the impact to the service, to the general American public, but how communities of color deeply rely on the postal service. Those that aren’t connected to the internet still rely on that unemployment check or that stimulus check, or that financial document that come through the mail.
But I mean, even myself, I’m an employee of the postal service as well. I’m a young African-American male from Baltimore, Maryland. There aren’t too many options out there of living wage, decent wage jobs with benefits.
I’ve been able to build a solid foundation in my own life, then I look at my peers and they don’t have those type of things. They’re working at those big private companies, box retailers that are so anti-union, and they’re coming to me and they’re saying, “Hey, what can we do? I’m frustrated with my employer.”
But my family, my grandfather started at the postal service when it was still part of the cabinet. And he moved onto the department of labor, and then he became one of the first African-American families to move to a town called Columbia, which was just being developed in Maryland.
The middle class life was able to put my dad through college and again, build a solid foundation through employment at the postal service. I had family, friends that worked for the postal service right now that I represent as members, and they’re buying homes, putting kids through college, going back to school themselves, and being able to do it in a community of color we are a part of, and improve that community.
They’re going out and they’re organizing their communities now becoming public service, purchasing, again, homes, small businesses, all because of the unionized workplace that the postal service provided where 40% of the employees are people of color, almost a quarter are Black people. You know what I mean?
So this is something throughout the nation where if you attack the postal service from any angle, whether it’s privatization or anything like that, it’s really an attack on communities of color, minorities, women. That type of folk.
Marc Steiner: So Lisa, picking up on what CJ was saying. And I was thinking about that chart you put up about the Koch brothers in your article and the public interest, showing the timeline from 1970 to now.
This is partially the issue of racial justice is deep here, and as well as the anti-union fervor of some of these folks on the right, these billionaires who want to just kill unions. And that’s very much part of the struggle, which is why this is so essential, I think
Lisa Graves: I think that’s right, and I think one of the things that you mentioned, and Mr. Jenkins mentioned is how the postal service reflects the beautiful diversity of our communities. The postal service is perhaps the most diverse workforce in America, and it’s not the type of workforce like Walmart, where Walmart is the largest civilian employer in the United States, but the postal service is second largest civilian work workforce in the country.
But the Walmart workers are paid so low that the taxpayers have to subsidize them with additional benefits because Walmart has been so harsh on its workers while its leaders have become some of the richest billionaires also in the world.
The postal service works for us all, and so there isn’t that effort to take money, to take cream off the top to line someone’s pockets, to make some billionaire or stockholders richer. What it does is provide great jobs for the American people, including more than 100,000 veterans. And our veterans also represent a substantially diverse part of America due to the GI Bill and opportunities that military service provides.
And so these attacks really have a disproportionate impact on people of color in America, as well as on women. Women in the workforce, in the postal service have tremendous opportunities that they might not have in some of the private sector places, or these chain stores or big box stores where there’s so many people paid such low wages.
And the postal service has been sustained by the stamps that people buy, and buy the packages people get at a fair and reasonable price. But that’s not the case with the private sector. You know how much more it costs to get something delivered by FedEx or by UPS? It costs a lot more than it does for the mail.
But at the same time, we know that that bill in 2006, which was pushed forward by one of Koch’s right hand man, a guy named James Miller, who was on the postal board, that 2006 bill basically stifled the postal service from raising rates for first class stamps, but by about more than a penny a year on average, which doesn’t allow it to have the type of funds it needs, even a modest increase in that to really make sure that it has the most modern fleet, that its fleet of trucks is in excellent condition and is modernized even perhaps green. It really makes it so that people like DeJoy come in and are trying cut the amount of workers or try to cut over-time, that’s absolutely necessary during this pandemic.
And the fact is, is that DeJoy, whose expertise is in logistics, he had to know how disruptive his actions were going to be to the postal service. He was micromanaging the time trucks leave, and where they can park on a street. He is fundamentally responsible for the crisis that the postal service is facing. And he in my personal view needs to be removed, and the people who chose him need to be held accountable and removed as well. This is unacceptable for a public service that serves America. And this racial impact is substantial, and it also needs to be redressed.
Marc Steiner: And let’s pick up on another point here as we conclude. I think that you both hit on some really critical points here. I was thinking about, this is republican, Clay Higgins of Louisiana and what he had to say.
Clay Higgins: This [inaudible 00:18:47] is exactly why America does not trust Congress. Our cities are on fire, violent mobs roam our streets at night. The Chinese have crushed the American economy with a virus, and democrats are talking about a mailbox conspiracy.
Marc Steiner: So to me, and Lisa, I’ll start with you here, and CJ, please jump in. But this goes to the heart of the struggle that America’s facing right now, it’s built around the post office and what he said was emblematic of the divide. Some people, someone wrote about these hearings were like a clown show. On some levels, that may be true. But what does this portend for us, at least in terms of the struggle that’s ahead of us?
Lisa Graves: Well, it’s astonishing to see the lies perpetuated by some of these republican members. And Senator John Johnson to be saying that this is all some sort of conspiracy to have people call… People are not getting their medicines on time. They’re not getting their check to themselves on time or their rent delivered on time. And that’s because of the policies of this administration.
The fact that they want to tell the American people don’t believe what you’re seeing with your own eyes, don’t believe what the postal workers are sharing with you with their own eyes, what they’re seeing with the machines cut, with rats in the facilities because of food and stuff that’s been delayed.
It is the ethic of the postal service as Mr. Jenkins pointed out, to get that mail in and out on the same day, because otherwise it accumulates like dirty dishes in your sink, and we cannot allow this crisis to persist, and we cannot, we must reject the misleading claims by these partisans who want to put their party ahead of our country.
Marc Steiner: So let’s talk about what the future may hold here and where their struggle may come next. This clearly could have an effect on the election, and that’s part of what this whole struggle began. And in the press, we’re also seeing the battle to what the future of the post office should be.
I had a guest on, Paul Prescott the other day who writes for [Jackbin 00:20:47] and is an AFT activist and a union activist saying that we should be talking about the post office in terms of its ability to deliver the internet, its ability to be a public bank, to do things that other countries have them do, [inaudible 00:21:03] this could be a different place.
Let’s talk a bit about what these fruits of struggle over the next few months, or this next year might be when it comes to the post office. And CJ, you’re in the middle of it every day, we’ll start with you and concluded with Lisa.
Courtney Jenkin…: Thank you, Sir. The future of the postal service, in fact, looks bright if we could just get the right decision makers, policy makers and supporters to do the things that they should be doing. You mentioned postal banking. We actually have a petition going on in Baltimore to try to bring that to cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and the Bronx,
Being more innovative. As Ms. Grave said, she spoke to that pre-funding mandate from 2006 has tied our hands to be able to innovate, to reinvigorate our fleet of letter carrier vehicles, things like that, to introduce things like postal banking, even to have electronic fueling stations at post offices.
Very practical things that draw traffic into a post office and keep it relevant. So the future looks bright if folks will get on board and instead of getting in the way like the congressmen who thinks that things are made up. Well, has he been supporting postal reform legislation? Or is this just a topic that he brought up as a rebuttal to what we’re trying to get done right now in the immediate sense.
Over the next two months, and again, it’ll be policy, legislation, making sure our members turn out to vote. Things like that. Draw more attention to the folks who have been hiding in the background. [inaudible 00:22:27] the board of governance, the postmaster general, these are positions that get a lot of media attention a lot.
And as we could see from the hearings and everything over this past weekend, this postmaster was not prepared for what he was about to take one in this endeavor. So over the next few months, it’ll just be keeping that pressure up, especially as we move after the election into the busiest season for postal workers every year, which is Christmas.
So as you can imagine everyone at home now, we had about a billion or so packages come through the system last Christmas. It’ll probably double or triple now that people really can not go into malls and retail spaces. So it’ll be encouraging folks to have faith in the postal service, pushing back in a longterm of postal reform legislation, and fight back against any attempts to privatize, which has been an ongoing battle that we [inaudible 00:23:15].
Marc Steiner: So Lisa, you’ve covered this battle against our democracy for a long time in your articles and your work. So talk about where this all fits in and what do you see happening?
Lisa Graves: Well, I do want to say in terms of the volume that the postal service is experiencing and is going to experience, there are a lot of Americans out of work, in fact, what should be happening right now is the postal service should be expanded. It should have more people, more workers on board. And there’s so many great ideas from the civil service about what they can do during Katrina, as Christopher Shaw documented in his book, he’s a conservative.
And he wrote about this vital public institution and how during Katrina, the postal workers were bringing water and food to people during the crisis. There in that hurricane. And there’s so many things that the postal service could do, like provide internet, make sure there’s internet. It could be a locust point with these assets in each city and community for distributing goods and services during pandemics and crises.
There are so many ways we could be thinking broadly versus this narrow privatization view of Mr. DeJoy. But that view to respond to your question, Mr. Steiner, is exactly what’s taken hold particularly on one side of the aisle. This idea that the private sector can do it better and cheaper. That’s not true. They’re not doing it better. Amazon can’t hold a candle to the amount of volume that the postal service handles efficiently every single day.
And quite frankly, the cost is so much more in the private sector. These are our assets and we, as a people have to defend them, and there are going to be plenty of opportunities in these coming weeks and months, and in the next year to reimagine how these public services can better serve us from the standpoint of public health, from the standpoint of our democracy, and from the standpoint of making our community better.
And so we are in battle with these, privatizers, this cult of greed and fear that has taken over, and we have to win in order to have a brighter tomorrow. And so I hope that people really are going to be calling, calling, calling as much as they can, as long as they can, over and over until we get this situation righted and turn the course and repeal these laws that have harmed the postal service and get it the funding that the postal service needs, but that we need to have this service flourish and thrive.
Marc Steiner: This has been a great conversation. I think that it’s important for people to kind of really wrestle with what we’ve just talked about here, in terms of this being a struggle for the future of unions, for racial equity, for giving services we all need as a public, and to stand by the post office.
And so Lisa Graves and CJ Jenkins, thank you both so much for your work and for joining us here on the Real News today, it has been a great conversation, and look forward to talking to you both down the road a lot more.
Lisa Graves: Thank you, Mr. Steiner. Thank you.
Courtney Jenkin…: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: Good to have you all. Thank you both. And I’m Marc Steiner here for the Real News Network. Please let us know what you think. Let us know what’s happening in your community with the post office as well. I want to know, and we want to push this on the air because this is key to the future of our democracy. Take care.