OAKLAND, Calif. - Postal workers and their supporters here were among many thousands throughout the country who demonstrated Sept. 27 to save the U.S. Postal Service from austerity measures they say are totally unjustified and would cause a vital institution to collapse.
Joining the protest were the American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union, National Rural Letter Carriers Association and National Association of Postal Supervisors.
They say the threat to the USPS's financial stability does not come, as is often claimed, from a drop in use of regular mail as electronic communications have grown.
Rather, they say, the problem lies with a bill Congress passed in 2006, requiring the postal service to "pre-fund" health care benefits for future retirees by paying a 75-year liability in just 10 years. The unions point out that no other government agency or private company faces such a mandate.
The Oakland postal workers said they gathered in front of Oakland's Federal Building for their rally because they wanted to thank U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Calif., for co-sponsoring a bill now before Congress that will make unnecessary the threatened mass layoffs, drastic service cuts and loss of workers' collective bargaining rights.
H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. with a bipartisan list of 216 co-sponsors, "would resolve all of the Postal Service's financial problems," Robert Rutter, president of the Greater East Bay Branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said in an interview.
Rutter said the bill would relieve the Postal Service of $5.5 billion a year in prefunding the retirement benefits, by letting the USPS use the billions in overpayments to meet its financial obligations. He pointed out that the postal service receives no taxpayer funding.
Vital services performed by the USPS, including delivery of medicines, would be seriously undermined by the threatened cutbacks, he said.
A 25-year postal worker who staffs the windows and sorts mail at Berkeley's main Post Office spoke of the effects of the proposed layoffs of 120,000 postal workers.
"What happens to postal workers affects everyone," she said. "When we lose our jobs, it not only devastates our immediate and extended families, but it also keeps the whole economy down," she said. "The Postal Service affects everyone - families and the people who depend on our services.
"We need to get beyond 'I' and 'me' to 'us' and 'we,'" she said.
The National Association of Letter Carriers said demonstrations were planned at local offices of all House members, including the three Republican members of the Congressional "supercommittee," Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Dave Camp and Fred Upton of Michigan.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW