Congress is starving the United States Postal Service to death, postal workers, retirees and patrons say.
Members of the newly formed Community and Postal Workers United are on hunger strike around the country this week, hoping that decision-makers will save the USPS from financial ruin.
Strikers want Congress to repeal a mandate costing the USPS billions, refund the USPS for overspending on pensions and suspend facility closures and cuts to services.
“We’re starving because they’re starving the Postal Service,” said strike organizer Jamie Patridge, a retired postal worker. “We’re here to tell Congress they should be ashamed.”
In 2006 Congress forced the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, totaling $5.5 billion a year or ten percent of the USPS budget. According to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, without this mandate USPS would be enjoying a $1.5 billion surplus today instead of its $20 billion deficit.
“No other agency is required to do that, especially in a recession,” Patridge said.
The USPS also awaits a refund for tens of billions of dollars in retirement pensions since 1971. The overspending was due to an accounting error.
Ten postal workers and patrons kicked off the hunger strike in Washington, D.C., with a sidewalk vigil Monday morning. The group plans to lobby the 227 legislators who do not currently support H.R. 3591, a bill that would repeal the pre-funding mandate, refund the USPS to pay its debt and establish criteria for the closing of post offices. The strikers will also visit the headquarters of national postal workers unions and demonstrate until Thursday evening.
Similar peaceful protests are demanding attention in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Several organizations have endorsed the hunger strike, including Occupy chapters, Jobs with Justice chapters and the American Postal Workers Union.
USPS is one of America’s largest employers, second only to Walmart.
Patridge and others have lobbied Congress for two years with phone calls, letters, emails, rallies and marches since Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe proposed closing half the country’s post offices and mail processing centers and cutting services like overnight deliveries.
“This is just the beginning,” Baltimore postal worker and strike organizer Tom Dodge said.
When a post office in Frederick, Md., closed last November, its responsibilities were transferred 50 miles to the Baltimore center where Dodge works.
“It was a total disaster,” Dodge said. “The building was not big enough to hold all the mail so mail was everywhere … we had safety issues with stacked equipment way too high, mail too high. If those stacks had fallen over, someone could have gotten hurt.”
Nearly 50 facilities are set to close this summer.
“It’s going to affect the poorest people the most,” Dodge said. He argues that poor people without Internet access must pay their bills through the mail, and “forty-five cents is a heck of a bargain to send your bills.”
“We’re supposed to provide universal service to everyone, no matter the profit,” he said. “We should provide more customer service instead of cut it.”
Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced H.R. 3591 last December. No major action has been taken since.