WASHINGTON - Stepping up their grassroots lobbying of lawmakers, the Letter Carriers will stage a nationwide protest on March 24 against the Postal Service's Saturday service shutdown scheme. In addition, they're already urging carriers and constituents to write and call their lawmakers in protest.
NALC members plan to hit the streets on what would ordinarily be their day off to tell citizens and customers about the negative impact of USPS plans to cancel Saturday pickups and delivery, starting on Aug. 5, except for parcels.
The NALC's national mobilization accompanies a similar effort for several days in February by the other big USPS union, the Postal Workers.
NALC and other workers also want to drum up support for legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to keep Saturday delivery while offering other solutions to the Postal Service's financial ills.
But lawmakers are apparently splitting along partisan lines when it comes to USPS' plan to save $2 billion yearly by eliminating Saturday service - a move that unions, citing USPS studies, add would actually lose at least $5.2 billion in revenue.
USPS says it needs to kill Saturday service, eliminate overtime, cut the equivalent of 22,500 fulltime jobs, close thousands of facilities and hire more part-timers at low pay and with no benefits - among other ideas - to close a $16 billion deficit.
Sanders and DeFazio would ensure continued Saturday service, plus other comprehensive reforms to put the USPS on a sound financial footing and let it enter new lines of business. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., also introduced a non-binding "sense of Congress" resolution putting lawmakers on record for saving six-day delivery. He took the lead in challenging if the Saturday shutdown plan violates federal law.
But the top two Republicans on panels that write Postal Service laws, House Government Affairs Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., stuck by the postmaster general's Saturday shutdown. Last year, Issa wanted to impose a financial czar on USPS. The czar could unilaterally fire workers, cut pensions and trash union contracts. Issa's scheme went nowhere.
The grassroots lobbying precedes a financial deadline, on March 27, for lawmakers to approve a money bill to keep the government going. That measure is an opportunity to stop the Saturday service cut in its tracks, says NALC President Fredric Rolando. The money bill includes federal subsidies for free postal service for the blind.
"The day of action on Sunday, March 24, will mobilize public support for Saturday delivery service," he said. "The timing will allow us the perfect opportunity to remind our representatives in Washington to maintain the six-day mail delivery language in the continuing budget resolution," the March 27 money bill, the NALC adds.
"We want to make this fight about the cost of losing Saturday mail delivery and how it would affect people in each and every state," Rolando explained.
"Letter Carriers are encouraged to gather friends, family, co-workers and community coalition partners at specified post offices in major media centers with signage and T-shirts that reflect the feelings of the citizenry, such as 'Virginians for Saturday delivery' or The people of California want six-day delivery,'" NALC elaborated.
But the unions want to do more than just halt the Saturday shutdown and other moves Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe plans. They worked with Sanders and DeFazio on bills (HR630, S316) to turn the USPS finances around. Their bills include:
- Ending the requirement, imposed on the Postal Service by a GOP-crafted 2006 law, that it prepay future retirees' health care benefits, covering the next 75 years, in 10 years. The first two prepayments each cost the USPS $5.5 billion yearly and the health care fund is overpaid. Donahoe wants to curtail, not end, the health care prepayments.
- Ordering the government to calculate the amount USPS overpaid in the past to federal pension funds and having the feds return that money to the Postal Service.
- Banning closing post offices without advance notice, thorough investigation, and a 90-day comment period after the USPS' decision. DeFazio's legislation says the probe must include "the effect closing or consolidation would have on the community ... on employees of the Postal Service at the postal facility, and whether the closing or consolidation would be consistent with the policy ... that the Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where postal facilities are not self-sustaining."
- Letting the Postal Service sell other products or services "consistent with the public interest." That would specifically include check-cashing services, technology and media services, warehousing and logistics, renting out excess space, public Internet access, drivers licenses, car registration, hunting and fishing licenses, notary public services and voter registration. DeFazio's legislation says.
Connolly took the lead on the legal issue. In a letter to Donahue, he said the corporate chieftain is acting illegally in killing Saturday pickups and delivery.
"Based on your own comments, USPS clearly recognized this provision contained in annual appropriations acts for nearly three decades prohibits the agency from administratively transitioning to a five-day delivery mail schedule," his letter said.
He also noted that even the agency admits it needs Congress' OK to shut down Saturday, citing past presidential budget requests to do so and USPS testimony.
"Logic dictates that when USPS and the administration repeatedly request that Congress explicitly provide USPS the authority to reduce mail service from six days to five, it is clear acknowledgement that, absent congressional action, USPS lacks the statutory authority to do so," Connolly wrote.
Connolly added that killing Saturday pickups and delivery will hurt, not help, USPS finances. "Six-day delivery remains a critical strength and competitive advantage for USPS that will enable it to grow business and bolster revenue over the long run. Accelerating a decline in mail volume by moving to five-day delivery could result in further steep losses, wiping out any operational cost-savings," he elaborated.
Connolly too cited the USPS study showing that killing Saturday pickups and delivery would cut mail volume by 7.7 percent and revenue by $5.2 billion in the first year alone, far exceeding Donahue's claimed savings. "USPS has failed to account for revenue losses when pursuing so-called cost savings and consistently failed to provide Congress with any substantive empirical data to make its case," he wrote.
Photo: U.S. Postal Service letter carrier of 19 years, Michael McDonald, gathers mail to load into his truck before making his delivery run in the East Atlanta neighborhood, Feb. 7, in Atlanta. David Goldman/AP