Lingering on life support, the last thing the Postal Service needs is suffocating interference from an antiquated union.
Advancements improve and disrupt our lives. Cars made life easier for the masses but devastated buggy whip sellers. Cellphones are crippling the wired telecommunications industry. The Internet has killed off countless industries and given rise to others. It will continue doing so for the benefit of consumers who can access products and information without leaving home.
As the digital age reinvents distribution, few industries are immune from disruption. Even service professionals - think doctors, lawyers and accountants - lose business to consumers who can find online solutions to minor medical, legal or financial concerns.
Free markets reward sellers who improve the lives of buyers. As consumers expect ever-greater efficiencies, businesses adapt or die.
Most American professionals and business owners understand and embrace this concept. They are tough, resilient and respond with innovations that sometimes defy our imaginations.
Then there's the modern union boss. The once-heroic crusader against worker exploitation has become chief defender of obsolete tasks. The contemporary union mentality would have us renting videotape at strip malls, paying Ma Bell for long distance and waiting for uniformed attendants to pump gas. All, of course, to protect outdated jobs.
To understand the business-over-consumer philosophy, consider the new tussle involving the American Postal Workers Union and the Staples chain of office-goods stores.
The Internet has dealt the Postal Service a devastating blow. It's called email. The ability of Americans to instantly send and receive letters, post cards, documents and photos has left them with less need for our government's delivery service. Social media exacerbate the agency's dilemma. Additionally, the service competes with private couriers that constantly find faster and more efficient ways to deliver. Amazon, which used the Internet to revolutionize product fulfillment, plans to offer same-day delivery with drones.
So it's little wonder the Post Office, long a classic provider of the stable government job, can't pay its bills. The service reached a $15 billion credit limit last year and has no sustainable means of fulfilling obligations to retirees.
Postal officials must reinvent the service to survive. And that's just what they're doing. One recent move involves a decision to team up with Staples by opening Postal Service retail centers in the store's locations throughout the country. It's a decision to bring Post Office goods and services directly to people who need them most. It puts the consumer's interests first.
In response to this what-took-them-so-long partnership, the Postal Workers Union has threatened protests and boycotts. Union leaders are upset because hourly Staples employees, not postal workers, will staff the new centers.
"It's a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services," said Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member Postal Workers Union.
He's right and wrong. It could be seen as an assault on their jobs. It is not, by any stretch, an assault on service to the public. It is quite the opposite.
The average postal clerk earns $55,314. Supervisors earn up to $73,000. The wages and growing pension obligations are passed along in the costs of packaging and stamps. Given the vast array of modern delivery options, many of them free, the old business model cannot be justified or sustained. Consumers won't pay for it.
The Postal Service cannot become a subsidized federal jobs program for a country that has already hog-tied future generations with insurmountable debt. By impeding this modern, pro-consumer partnership - one that might prolong the life of the Postal Service - the union races toward extinction.