Imagine A Saturday Without Mail

Part of a series on the U.S. Postal Service

Delivering mail house to house, six days a week, is something letter carriers guarantee. But in these days of FedEx, e-mail and online bill-paying services, there's not as much mail to deliver.

That's part of why the U.S. Postal Service wants to cut its losses and end Saturday deliveries.

Los Angeles resident Victor Granadino does not like the idea. For Granadino, whose father was a letter carrier a generation ago, the Postal Service is wrong to propose cutting service to just five days a week. In his dad's day, mail was delivered twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon.

"I think we need our mail on Saturdays, especially for people who receive checks," Granadino says. "Even if it's junk mail, it has to be delivered."

Across town, resident Bill Webb argues that people rely on Saturday deliveries for things like prescription drugs. He says many in his South L.A. neighborhood would miss their beloved letter carrier on the weekends.

"I think it would hurt the senior citizens more than the young people. They have essential needs — Social Security checks, things of that nature," says Webb.

But Postmaster General John Potter says that since 2007, the volume of mail nationwide is down by 20 percent — some of that due to the slow economy. There are fewer business fliers and pieces of corporate communication that need to be delivered, and as for bills, many people pay them online.

Famous Postal Workers

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USPS Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett says that this year, the Postal Service had a larger-than-expected loss of $8.5 billion.

"Delivery costs is what makes over half our entire costs, over $30 billion a year," Corbett says. "We're doing what we can to be efficient there, but what we really need to do is simply reduce the number of trips."

Another big cost is prefunding postal retiree benefits, which total $5.5 billion a year. "No other government agency and no other company, public or private in the world, has a requirement of that magnitude," Corbett says.

The Postal Service was once the country's largest employer but now has fewer than 600,000 workers. And the National Association of Letter Carriers argues that cutting Saturday delivery service would mean another 80,000 jobs lost.

"We think it's ridiculous to do anything to dismantle the delivery network that we have to 150 million addresses six days a week," says NALC President Fredric Rolando. "One of our competitive edges is Saturday delivery."

Any change in the Postal Service requires an act of Congress. Rolando worries that communities would lose more than just their mail if Saturday service ends.

"Carriers are so familiar with the neighborhood and who belongs there and who doesn't," he says, calling letter carriers local heroes. "We save lives, been the first on the scene of an accident, stop crime, deliver babies, watch out for children, check on the elderly."

Is Snail Mail Relevant?

In this digital age, some people question the need for so-called snail mail.

For example, in one old episode of Seinfeld, the whacky character Kramer asks to cancel his mail service all together.

"What about your bills?" asks mailman Newman.

"The bank can pay 'em," responds Kramer.

"What about your cards and letters?" Newman asks.

"E-mail, telephones, fax machines, FedEx, telex, telegrams, holograms," retorts Kramer.

"All right, it's true," an exasperated Newman huffs. "Of course no one needs mail. You think you're so clever for figuring that out?"

L.A. Postmaster Mark Anderson says Internet communication still doesn't bring the emotional moments that hard-copy mail does. "There's nothing like a good old Christmas card, a birthday card sent through the U.S. mail," he says.

And, he notes, someone has to hand-deliver all those online purchases.

"Most of my shipping and receiving is for my online sales," says Vic Bedrossian, who owns a small watch and jewelry shop called Anytime in Culver City, Calif. He relies on the Postal Service so he can sell domestically and internationally.

"If we have one day less to ship and receive, that makes a huge difference when trying to satisfy your customer," Bedrossian says.

If it absolutely, positively has to be there on Saturdays, there are other options. But even the big guys, FedEx and UPS, sometimes depend on mail carriers.

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