US Postal employees and their supporters held rallies in every Congressional district across the country from 4:00 to 5:30 PM yesterday to urge politicians to save the postal service.
The rallies came just weeks after Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe told Congress that the US Postal Service (USPS) is "on the brink of default."
"Without the enactment of comprehensive legislation by September 30, the Postal Service will default on a mandated $5.5 billion payment to the Treasury to pre-fund retirement retiree health benefits. Our situation is urgent," he said.
The USPS says radical changes must be implemented in order to save the organization up to $3 billion a year. The plan is to eliminate 220,000 full-time jobs and shut down 3,700 post offices and 300 processing centers by 2015, scale back services and cut retirement benefits. Since 2007, the USPS has cut 110,000 jobs. Since January, 280 post offices have closed.
Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 220,000 employees in the clerk, maintenance and motor vehicle crafts, called the changes a "reckless assault on the Postal Service and its employees. Crushing postal workers and slashing services will not solve the Postal Service's financial crisis."
Guffey says the plan "ignores the fact that the USPS has massive surpluses in its pension accounts. The overpayments could and should be used to resolve the Postal Service's cash crisis."
The USPS employees that held rallies yesterday called on politicians to support HR 1361, legislation they say would addresses the financial crisis by allowing the agency to use the pension surplus to meet its retiree health benefits pre-funding obligation. In 2006, Congress passed a postal reform law requiring the USPS to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over a ten-year span.
There's no other federal agency or private enterprise in the US that's forced to pre-fund benefits like this.
"This is like saying you're going to have your house payment of 30 years and then they come back and say, 'We' are giving you five years to pay it.' That's pretty much what they're saying. It doesn't make sense," says John Beaumont, president of the California State Association of Letter Carriers. "If we didn't have to make these payments, the Postal Service would be in the black at present time."
James Wigdel, San Francisco spokesperson for the USPS, agrees saying the agency would have shown a profit over the past few years if it didn't have to make the payments, but he says there's another side to the story. "Our customers' needs have changed dramatically over the past few years. More and more people are doing their mailing business online. Mail volume has declined by 43.1 billion pieces. Customer visits to our post offices have decreased by 200 million and retail transactions in our lobbies have decreased by two billion, so our customer needs are definitely changing."
Do those changes require the firing of 220,000 workers? Is the USPS really on the brink of default?
Gray Brechin, project scholar of the Living New Deal Project at UC Berkeley's Department of Geography who has written extensively about the history of the USPS, says no, it's a manufactured crisis. "This is about dismantling the Postal Service, getting rid of unions, privatization, and selling post office buildings to developers."
Brechin says Congress has successively demanded that the USPS run itself more like a business since making it a quasi-corporation in 1971. "For the free-market fundamentalists, the idea that anything should be government, anything should be in the public domain is absolutely anathema," he says. "They want to get rid of everything. I think the postal reform act in 2006, which most of us never heard about, was a back door way to destroy the postal service. It seems to be deliberate."
Listen to the Your Call show focusing on what's really at stake and what's in store for the future of the USPS.
John Beaumont, president of the California State Association of Letter Carriers and member of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
James Wigdel, San Francisco spokesperson for the US Postal Service.
Grey Brechin, project scholar of the Living New Deal Project at UC Berkeley's Department of Geography.