USPS File
FILE - A USPS employee works outside post office in Wheeling, Ill., Dec. 3, 2021. The Postal Service’s fleet includes 190,000 local delivery vehicles. More than 141,000 of those are models that went into service between 1987 and 1994 and lack safety features like air bags, anti-lock brakes and backup cameras. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Critics accuse the company of bait and switch for winning a big government contract based on its experienced union workforce—but choosing to create non-union jobs in South Carolina.

A sleepy House committee meeting about a government contract led to a previously undisclosed admission that a Wisconsin company had no intention of creating new jobs at a union facility in its hometown.

The House Oversight Committee met on Tuesday to review the agreement between Oshkosh Defense and the US Postal Service (USPS) which contracted the maker of specialty vehicles to build a new fleet of up to 165,000 postal delivery vans.

Since winning the contract, Oshkosh Defense announced it intends to open a new facility in South Carolina—a state hostile to unions—and create about 1,000 jobs there. Many observers believe the company won the contract because of the track record of its experienced union workforce in Wisconsin.

Under questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Victoria Stephen, leader of the USPS “Next Generation Delivery Vehicle” section, admitted USPS officials knew Oshkosh Defense was planning to take its work to a non-union state “shortly before the public announcement” of the contract, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

Ocasio-Cortez posted on Twitter that union workers, climate organizers, and corporate corruption activists came to her with “critical information to sound the alarm.”

“The USPS just inked a $3B defense contract to produce tens of thousands of obsolete postal trucks that guzzle TONS of gas,” she wrote. “But at least Oshkosh Defense uses union labor, right? Until they got the cash. Now they’re running with the money to build a scab facility to trash the [planet].”

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson made headlines in February when he said he would not try to persuade Oshkosh Defense to create those new jobs in its namesake hometown, where Johnson also lives.

USPS Grilled for Sticking to a Fossil Fuel Fleet

A government watchdog told the committee that the Postal Service relied on false assumptions as it evaluated purchasing the new delivery fleet.

The Postal Service initially suggested only 10% of the vehicles would be electric-powered, citing high upfront costs while acknowledging long-term maintenance costs would be higher using so many fossil fuel-powered vans. 

Jill Naamane of the Government Accountability Office said the Postal Service analysis used to justify a mix of gas and electric vehicles relied on gas prices that don’t reflect current price spikes.

While the Postal Service estimated in 2020 that gas would cost $2.21 to $2.36 per gallon, the national average in March was $4.24 per gallon, according to the AAA Gas Prices website.

The Postal Service also failed to account for lower gas mileage of gas-powered vehicles while using air-conditioning or place a premium on electric vehicles’ reduction of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, Naamane said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Democratic lawmakers have said the plan needs more battery-powered vehicles to meet President Joe Biden’s goals to address climate change.

Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) closed the hearing by saying, “It’s clear the Postal Service needs to go back to the drawing board.” But it’s far from clear whether Congress or the Biden administration are willing to force a renegotiation—on vehicle power or a location for the jobs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.