October 31, 2018
Earlier this year, Amazon became the second U.S.-based company to be valued at more than $1 trillion. Yet for all its dominance and efficiency, Amazon relies on a dusty, centuries-old system to deliver at least a third—and possibly as much as half—of its packages around the country: the United States Postal Service.
In mid-October, I spoke with a mail carrier who works at a midsize hub of the U.S. Postal Service in rural New England. As a rural carrier associate, they make just under $18/hour in a continuous, part-time position. During the week, the carrier says that between 75 and 80 percent of the packages they deliver are Amazon packages; on Sundays, when no letters are delivered, they deliver Amazon packages exclusively, the result of a revenue-generating agreement the USPS entered into with the company in 2013.
At the time of the Amazon agreement, the USPS was suffering in the wake of misguided budgetary changes instituted by Congress and the financial crash and was losing $16 billion per year. The Amazon partnership seemed like a godsend. Though even basic contract information remains elusive, we know something about the scale of Amazon’s operation: Early this year, the company announced it shipped more than 5 billion items worldwide through Amazon Prime in 2017; meanwhile, something like half of all Amazon’s shipments in the United States are ultimately delivered by the USPS, an arrangement that market analysts seem to agree is a mutually beneficial one: the Postal Service, which receives no federal funding, reported a net loss of only $2.7 billion in 2017.
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