Rural letter carriers union protests proposed cutbacks

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ST. LOUIS - "This is an attack on workers, a weird, sick attack on our fellow Americans," Congressman Emanuel Cleaver told the nearly 5,000 delegates and guests at the 109th Annual Convention of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA) here on August 13.

Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, Mo, said some people in Washington D.C. "seem to have had a mental breakdown."

According to him, current proposals to eliminate Saturday service are "essentially stupid." "It makes no sense."

"Why would we give other mail organizations a competitive advantage" over the USPS, he asked? "We need Saturday service to remain competitive."

Additionally, it is estimated that about 50,000 postal employees would lose their jobs if Saturday service was cut, weakening an already fragile economic recovery.

According to the NRLCA president, Jeanette P. Dwyer, "The Postal Service has upheld a personal and professional standard of service, delivering to every household nationwide six days a week." Dwyer continued, "Many customers rely on the Postal Service to deliver prescription medications, Social Security checks, and financial statements. Many other citizens and businesses rely on Saturday service for the collection of outgoing invoices and materials."

Eliminating Saturday service would "erode this service and undermine the Postal Service's core mission. It is completely unacceptable," Dwyer concluded.

Historically, the right-wing of the Republican Party has wanted to gut the USPS.

Under the George W. Bush administration they got their chance, as the PAEA (Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act), which passed in 2006, requires the USPS to pre-fund health care benefits 75 years into the future - something no other government or private agency has to do - at a cost of about $5.5 billion annually.

And due to the resulting manufactured deficit, Republicans are once again looking for ways to cut the USPS's budget - hence the proposals to eliminate Saturday service.

According to Dwyer, PAEA has "left the USPS drowning in red ink. While no other federal agency or business is burdened by such an extreme pre-funding requirement, the Postal Service is shackled and left to fail," Dwyer concluded.

Cleaver added, "This challenge, this manufactured crisis, wasn't created by you. Congress orchestrated it, and put obstacles in your way."

Eliminating Saturday service would also likely result in post office closures, something the NRLCA and Cleaver also object to.

Cleaver called post offices "a gathering place." He said, "When you eliminate Saturday service you eliminate an opportunity for people to gather. Eliminating Saturday service would negatively impact hundreds of- thousands of Americans, especially the elderly and disabled."

Cleaver also challenged the myth that the USPS cost tax payer money. He said. "The truth is: You cost tax payer nothing. How could the American people get a better deal than that?"

The convention also highlighted the role of rural letter carriers in the community with a "Heroes" Award for letter carriers who went above and beyond the call of duty.

For example: Todd Waddle from Lee's Summit, Mo ran into a burning house and helped rescue an elderly customer, and Chrystal Gellespie from Latta, South Carolina came across a wrecked car and helped to rescue the person trapped inside. In all, five letter carriers were presented with awards.

Travis Kidd from Dozier, Alabama, who helped to rescue a stroke victim, told the assembled delegates and guests, "It's not just our job to deliver the mail. It's our job to get to know people and check up on them."

The convention also addressed the fact that the USPS is losing revenue due to internet communications and competitors like UPS and FedEx.

According to Jakki Krage Strako, the USPS vice president for the Great Lakes area, so far this year first class mail and bulk shipping / packaging has generated $29 billion and $12 billion in revenue respectively. However, she added, first class mail in down by 4 percent so far this year, and has fallen by 25 percent since 2007.

"The world has changed the way people communicate. We have to grow despite these changes," she added.

Strako also appreciated the work of the rural letter carriers and emphasized the fact that "everything was rural when the postal service started."

The NRLCA includes more than 100,000 full-time and part-time rural letter carriers who deliver mail on 73,461 routes, and serve more than 40 million customers driving.

Photo: Wikipedia/Rural Letter Carriers Facebook page

Correction: The previous photo has been changed to a photo from the Rural Letter Carriers Facebook page. We regret the error and thank all those who pointed it out to us.