Postal service

Company hired to make Postal Service trucks plans to do so at non-union facility: NPR

The US Postal Service has big plans to replace its aging fleet of 165,000 gas-powered delivery vehicles. And some are pushing for electric trucks to be built by unions in Wisconsin.



LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The US Postal Service needs new trucks and lots of them. Like many car buyers, he must decide whether to stick with traditional gas-powered vehicles or switch to electric vehicles. Congress and the unions are among those pressing the Postal Service on how to move forward. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: The Postal Service delivers to 163 million addresses, using nearly 200,000 vehicles. These small, boxy-looking red, white, and blue trucks and vans make up the federal government’s largest civilian fleet. But Victoria Stephen, director of the postal service, says most vehicles have been on the road since the 1990s.

VICTORIA STEPHEN: And they lack basic safety features and ergonomic features, including air conditioning, airbags, anti-lock brakes.

QUIRMBACH: So last year Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a controversial Trump appointee, signed a deal worth up to $6 billion with Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation, a longtime manufacturer military vehicles. The company will build up to 165,000 new delivery vans over the next decade. The Biden administration wants most to be electric. And the Postal Service agreed to have 20% of the first 50,000 battery powered. He says he cannot afford more due to the higher price of the sticker and the cost of charging infrastructure. But that’s not going well for some in Congress.

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CAROLYN MALONEY: Clearly the post office has to go back to the drawing board.

QUIRMBACH: This is House Oversight Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney during a congressional hearing last week. During this hearing, government analysts raised questions about the calculations of the price of gasoline and the maintenance of Postal Service vehicles. Maloney wants him to do a new environmental impact study and cost estimate and possibly negotiate a better purchase price on electric vehicles. But some Congressional Republicans defend the Postal Service’s slow approach. James Comer represents Western Kentucky, where he says, like many non-urban communities, there is a lack of charging stations.

JAMES COMER: We just don’t think these rural areas are ready and have the infrastructure to electrify the postal fleet.

QUIRMBACH: The postal deal is also controversial because Oshkosh Corporation plans to build the vehicles at what could be a non-union facility the company is developing in South Carolina instead of Oshkosh’s longtime unionized plant in the Wisconsin.

At a recent rally outside the Oshkosh headquarters, Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale led the chant.

STEPHANIE BLOOMINGDALE: Do it here.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Do it here.

BLOOMINGDALE: Do it here.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Do it here.

BLOOMINGDALE: And make it a union.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Make it a union.

QUIRMBACH: Robert Lynk leads the local United Auto Workers at the Wisconsin plant and says the Postal Service chose Oshkosh because of its skilled union employees.

ROBERT LYNK: Our good craftsmanship, the quality of our work, over 84 years of being unionized here – and we’re going to keep fighting until we’re part of it.

QUIRMBACH: The fight over Postal Vehicles also became an issue during Wisconsin’s high-profile Senate election this year, where Republican incumbent Ron Johnson champions the company’s plans to build the Postal Vehicles, either gas or electric, outside of their home state.

For NPR News, I’m Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

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