Completing the sixth day of their hunger strike to save six-day delivery, five postal workers broke their fast and declared a "people's victory." "Along with hundreds of thousands of postal workers and our community allies who have been battling for years to save America's postal service, we were able raise awareness and increase pressure on the decision-makers as they attempted to wrangle back-room deals," said hunger striker Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier from Portland, Oregon. The strikers established an "emergency" encampment on the National Mall Monday, demanding that Congress and the President halt closures and cuts to the U.S. Postal Service.
"The lame duck is still threatening to cripple the postal eagle," declared Partridge, acknowledging that Congress will reconvene after the Christmas holiday. Six-day mail delivery is on the chopping block, according to Representative Darrell Issa, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Tom Carper who are engaged in secret postal reform negotiations. One of the hunger strikers, John Dennie, a retired mail handler from New York, was arrested in Issa's office Thursday for refusing to leave until the Congressman pledged to save six-day mail delivery.
Friday afternoon, the postal hunger strikers paraded with a horse and carriage from the Postal Museum, up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to celebrate the 237-year history of the postal service and 150 years of Saturday delivery (city free delivery was established 1863). They attempted to deliver a giant postcard calling on Obama to use his veto power to save six-day mail delivery. President Obama has twice allowed for cutting to five-day delivery in budget proposals. "We helped elect Obama and he owes us," said Ken Lerch, a local letter carriers union president.
Cutting mail delivery to five days will eliminate 80,000 postal jobs, according to postal unions. The hunger strikers claim the cuts would gut service and send the postal service into a death spiral. "We will not stand by as our beloved postal service is destroyed," said Tom Dodge, hunger striker, postal worker from Baltimore, and a coordinator of Communities and Postal Workers United (CPWU).
Last June, 10 CPWU activists staged a hunger strike declaring that Congress was starving the postal service. The activists claim that a 2006 Congressional mandate, which forces the USPS to prefund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, is bankrupting the service. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, say the strikers, the USPS has also overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.
"Not the internet, not private competition, not labor costs, not the recession - Congress is responsible for the postal mess" said Kevin Cole, a return hunger striker and postal maintenance worker from California. "Corporate interests, working through their friends in Congress and the Presidency, want to undermine the USPS, bust the unions then privatize it."
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced in mid-May that he would close half the mail sorting plants in the country and cut hours from 25% to 75% in half the nation's post offices, over a two-year period. Thirteen thousand jobs have already been eliminated and delivery standards relaxed. "Extensive disruption has resulted from these plant closures," said Dennie. The hunger strikers delivered evidence Friday morning to the Postal Board of Governors documenting the PMG's criminal delay and obstruction of the mail and calling for his prosecution. The strikers are calling on postal management to suspend cuts and closures and allow Congress to fix the finances by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.
Photo: Letter carrier walks through fresh snow delivering mail in Berea, Ohio. Mark Duncan/AP