With future at stake, postal workers fighting for everyone

The American Postal Workers Union’s contract expires on May 20. The outcome of this contract battle will impact every community in America. What’s at stake is the future of the Postal Service itself.

The United States Postal Service does not receive any money from taxpayers. And contrary to popular belief, the USPS actually showed a profit of over a billion dollars on its operations last year.

The idea that the Internet is making the post office obsolete is a myth, perpetrated by those who favor privatization.

The only reason postal management can claim to be losing money is a 2006 law passed by a lame-duck Republican Congress in 2006 requiring the USPS to set aside $5.5 billion a year to ensure that people who retire 75 years from now will have health benefits. We’re talking about people who haven’t been born yet (I know Republicans care about the rights of the unborn, but this is ridiculous). No government agency or private business operates that way.

The Postal Service is using this artificially created financial crisis as an excuse to not only demand givebacks from employees but to drastically cut back on the service it provides.

The USPS is closing 82 mail processing plants. This means, for example, a letter mailed from an address in Lansing, Michigan to another Lansing address no longer gets sorted in Lansing. It takes the scenic route, through Pontiac, resulting in considerable delay.

Does a letter mailed in Pontiac do much better? Not really. At the Pontiac plant – and similar plants across the country – they are moving everyone off the midnight shift onto day shift or afternoons.

It used to be that the afternoon shift handled mail collected locally destined all over the country, while the midnight shift got mail to the local carrier for delivery the next day. Now, a letter mailed from Pontiac to Pontiac on Monday will not be worked until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest, for possible delivery on Wednesday.

I say “possible delivery” because there are now so many zones being worked at the few plants left standing that they can only devote a limited amount of time to each zone – whatever mail is left over waits another day.

The APWU is demanding all of these plants be reopened and that there be a return to the level of service Americans are accustomed to. We are demanding expanded service, including some banking services so that low wage workers have an alternative to check cashing outfits that charge exorbitant fees. We are demanding a moratorium on closing neighborhood post offices.

In short, we are fighting to preserve a public institution that has served all the people well. We are fighting against a management team, whose Board of Governors is made up of corporate execs who don’t care about the public good, who would like turn it over to profit-seeking privatizers.

Their future plans include eliminating door-to-door delivery in favor of cluster boxes (meaning you’d have to walk some distance to get your mail every day), and elimination of Saturday delivery. In short, our management team is setting USPS on a death spiral and the APWU is fighting to preserve a valuable institution, along with our jobs, wages and benefits.

The cutbacks mentioned above will especially harm senior citizens, many of whom do not feel comfortable paying bills on the internet. The delays in mail processing will make bill payments late. And can you imagine senior citizens trudging through the snow in winter to get mail that used to come right to their home? Not to mention losing the security of having a letter carrier you know come to your door every day – how many lives have been saved by alert letter carriers who know the elderly customers on their route?

Any move to privatize USPS would be devastating to veterans, who get preference in hiring at USPS. And the loss of good jobs would hurt the economy of every community in America.

The APWU has declared a national day of action on May 14th. There will be demonstrations all over the country on that date. Go to www.apwu.org to find the time and place of one near you.

Paul Felton is on the Executive Board of the 480-48a Area Local of the APWU.

Photo: APWU Facebook page