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Postal workers determined to keep their jobs

Published Mar 15, 2012 10:21 PM

Can postal workers and the communities that depend on postal jobs and services stop Congress from privatizing the highest rated government agency — the U.S. Postal Service?

“¡Sí, se puede! Yes, we can!” say letter carriers, mail handlers, clerks and other postal workers working alongside customers and neighborhood organizations in Community Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services.

In just a few months, the diverse CLUPJS coalition has organized hundreds of community and union members to voice their opposition to drastic postal cutbacks at dozens of hearings in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan, including Harlem. They’ve held community rallies, spoken at meetings in bookstores and passed out thousands of fliers.

They’re now building for a mass rally at Union Square and a march to New York City’s historic James Farley Post Office on March 17, which is the 42-year anniversary of the great postal wildcat strike of 1970 and the site where that labor action began.

An inscription on the front of that building reads, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Several competing plans being pushed through the U.S. Congress, however, would dismantle the Postal Service, which was founded in 1775. If it were to become law, H.R. 2309 would end Saturday mail delivery service, radically downsize the USPS and close thousands of post offices. In the Senate, S.1789 would phase out door-to-door delivery and eliminate Saturday delivery by 2014.

Without even waiting for votes on these laws, the USPS management has announced plans to eliminate 200,000 jobs, shut down 223 of 461 mail processing facilities by 2015, and close 3,700 local post offices. They also propose to withdraw postal employees and retirees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and create a new program, one with undoubtedly weaker benefits.

National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando warned that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is intent on attacking the collective bargaining rights of postal workers and that he wants to “override layoff protection provisions in the postal unions’ contracts.” (crooksandliars.com)

UPSP postpones closings

On March 7, the USPS announced that it will suspend mail processing plant closures scheduled to start Aug. 31 until early next year “to avoid any adverse impact on the November election.” This comes after some state election officials “had reacted with alarm to the possible disruption to vote-by-mail balloting.” (federaltimes.com)

Postal officials basically postponed making any controversial decisions until after a new Congress will be in session. Some processing plants may still close before Aug. 31 and others are still on the list.

The USPS also faces growing opposition to attacks on the service’s viability. Of the temporary suspension of mail processing plant closures, Johnnie Stevens of CLUPJS told WW, “This just gives us more time to organize the people to fight the extreme cuts.”

The postal workforce has already tumbled from 800,000 in 1999 to 560,000 today, through the use of more automation and increased exploitation of the remaining workers. So far, rules for delivering service have remained the same. New cutbacks would increase the time required to deliver first class mail from overnight to two or three days within most urban cities, longer in rural areas. In effect, these cutbacks would open the gate to private competitors to take over valuable postal business.

The cutbacks would especially hit immigrants, seniors, veterans, impoverished neighborhoods and rural communities, since post offices are being tagged for closing based on the amount of revenue they generate.

Hardship for community, workers

People who depend on mail order prescription drugs, packages, magazines and other time-factored mailings would have longer waits. Immigrants, seniors and the disabled would travel longer distances to pay bills or send money.

The USPS employs one of the most diverse workforces in the U.S. Thus, massive job losses there will especially target African-American, Latino/a, Asian and LGBT communities. Since the 1960s, about 21 percent of the postal workforce has been African-American, with Black majorities in some cities. Living-wage postal jobs have provided an opportunity for better lives to oppressed people, opportunities that they are denied in many private sector industries.

The retrenchment would also negatively affect the $1.2 trillion U.S. mailing industry, with its 9 million jobs.

Postal management claims that these draconian cuts are necessary because of the decline of first-class mail due to the Internet and because of the struggling economy, which has depressed advertising mail volume.

Labor leaders contend that the Postal Service, as currently required by Congress, has tied up more than $100 billion in overfunded retirement and health benefit accounts, money that could be used to avert layoffs and cutbacks.

In 2006, Congress passed a bill which imposed a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company shares. It required the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years to “pre-fund” health care benefits for future retirees. This impossible-to-meet mandate totals $5.5 billion a year.

In addition to overfunding pensions, the Postal Service previously exaggerated their retirees’ health liability by using a 7 percent rather than a 5 percent health care inflation rate. Correcting overpayments and transferring any surplus to the retiree health fund would fully fund the Postal Service’s retiree obligations and eliminate the need for further pre-funding.

Postal union leaders point out that the Postal Service would have made a profit of $611 million over the last four years if Congress had not saddled the agency with unfair financial burdens.

Resistance growing

In an impressive show of solidarity, the American Postal Workers Union , the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association joined forces with other labor unions and community members last Sept. 27 with 492 rallies countrywide. They opposed the most serious threat to USPS jobs since President Richard Nixon called out the National Guard against the postal strike of 1970.

Since then, the NALC has collected over 1 million signatures on a petition in support of protecting the future of the post office. The APWU and the NPMHU have also collected hundreds of thousands of signatures on their own petitions.

And postal workers and community members in Bloomington, Ind.; Toledo, Ohio; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Tucson, Ariz.; New York; and dozens of other cities and towns from coast to coast have spoken out at hearings held by postal officials and shown overwhelming opposition to USPS plans.

The 5,600-member Branch 36 of the National Letter Carriers Union joins a long list of March 17 Operation Zip Code endorsers that includes the New York and Central Jersey branches of the American Postal Workers Union, Communications Workers of America Local 1180, the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street in New York, the Labor Working Group of Occupy Philadelphia and the Queens St. Patrick’s Day for All Parade.

Johnnie Stevens, in a March 5 CLUPJS press statement, said, “Operation Zip Code aims to unite the struggles of those in the 99% who will be hit hardest by postal cuts with the raging postal union fight against cutbacks led by local leaders such as Clarice Torrence, president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union.”

Torrence and other postal union activists are calling for Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s resignation. CLUPJS says Donahoe’s policy will wreck the postal system and ultimately privatize it.