NEW YORK — If you received a greeting card over the Passover-Easter holiday thank a letter carrier – it may be your last opportunity to do so.
It’s been all over the news: the U.S. Postal Service is drowning in red ink and only drastic cuts can save it. Even the Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, is getting into the act, announcing that six-day mail delivery will end in August. But a growing number of voices are saying that, drastically cutting services is not the answer. On Sunday, March 24, 3000 letter carriers and their supporters held a rally in midtown to raise objections and consciousness. They were joined by labor leaders and elected officials.
The U.S. Postal Service is in fact facing serious fiscal problems. But postal union members, and many other outside observers, feel the “crisis” is artificial, a contrivance designed to further privatization — and union busting.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), H.R. 6407, was signed into law by George W. Bush. The law requires the USPS to fund the present value of future health care benefit payments to retirees, 75 years into the future, and to complete this pre-payment within 10 years. According to Wikipedia this is “a requirement to which no other government organization is subject. Thus, in addition to the weak economy and the diversion of mail to electronic means, the mandates of PAEA have had a considerable impact on Postal Service finances. In 2012, the USPS had the third year in a order of losses from operations, which amounted to $4.8 billion.”
Charlie Heege, president of Branch 36 of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), expressed the feelings of many of the protesters when he said, “Dismantling our post service by closing and selling off our neighborhood post offices is wrong for all New Yorkers.”
The strategy Postmaster General Partrick R. Donahoe advocates is one of cutting services — starting with six-day mail delivery — and closing post offices. Heege and others feel that six-day mail delivery is essential to small businesses and to seniors who don’t have internet access or who have mail-order prescription plans. The working poor would also be adversely affected as internet access is a luxury that some cannot afford. In addition, many neighborhoods rely on the presence of letter carriers, who provide a sense of security due in part to their knowledge of the normal goings-on. The closure of post offices is also problematic as the bulk of these closures (or downsizings) target low income neighborhoods or rural areas. Heege and his NALC faithful were joined in the Manhattan rally by a large number of postal clerks, members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) who recognize that any service cutbacks or post office closures will cost jobs.
Speaking at the rally, Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, told the letter carriers and APWU clerks that other New York unions supported their efforts to save the Postal Service — and regarded the cutbacks and closures as part of a broader union-busting and privatization trend.
“Your two and a half million brothers and sisters of the New York State AFL-CIO are in this fight with you,” Cilento said.
Congressional Rep Grace Meng, (NY – 6 CD) spoke at the rally — amid the din of honking horns.
“All those people, as you know, are honking in support of you and in support of six-day service,” Meng told the crowd.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY – 10 CD) said that he will stand against what he regards as an anti-labor lobby led by Republicans.
“We’re wise to their tricks. The labor movement is wise to their tricks … we will stop them, we will protect six-day mail service, we will protect the post office, we will protect all the jobs, and we will repeal the mandate for 75 years pre-funding of pensions because we need the pensions. We need the pensions. And we need decent financing for the pensions but we won’t let them use the pension system as an excuse to destroy unions, to destroy the federal services, to destroy
your jobs — or any jobs,” Nadler said.
Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (75th AD) said that cutting public services, not police or military, helped only FedEx, UPS, and their allies in the drive for privatization of the Postal Service.
“There are a lot of people in politics today who are detertmined to cut back on public services, to cut back on everything that is funded by the government except maybe for the police and military,” he said.
The rich will not be affected, according to Gottfriend, because, “…you know, UPS and Fedex are not going to cut back, so the people with the money are going to keep getting all the services that they can pay for. It’s working people, and the people who provide the services for working people, who are going to get cut back and ground down.”
Victoria Pannell, a 13-year-old Activist from Harlem, said that, “Most of the post offices that were being considered to close were located in rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average. Once again, the poorest of the poor will suffer the most.”
The cutbacks and closures will not only hurt the poor, but will harm many other working people, according to George Mangold, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
“When you start dealing in the private sector you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs — in the printing industry, in the mailing industries, in all the other industries combined. This would be a catastrophic loss, nationwide,” said Mangold.
NYC public advocate Bill de Blasio sees a connection between cutbacks and unemployment.
“One of the reasons we have the unemployment we have in this country is because somehow it became okay for all the levels of government, and all the public services, to cut back workers, and now look what it’s done to us as a country,” de Blasio said.
Jonathan Smith, President of the New York Metro Area Postal Union (NYMAPU – the largest APWU local in the U.S.) said that Congress stole money for war, and is now looking to close post offices in poor areas — by design.
“This is a community issue, this is a moral issue. Sometime the fight comes down to right and wrong. And the postal service works, and it was working until Congress decided to steal to supply war. Let’s tell the truth. And it’s mighty funny that all the post offices that they want to close are in the poorest communities. That’s not by accident,” Smith said.
If the labor leaders and politicians’ forecasts are accurate next year’s Passover-Easter cards may have to be sent electronically to some areas. If the recipient doesn’t have internet access, they’ll be out of luck. And their letter carrier or postal clerk may be out of a job.