On the road to save the USPS
A retired mail carrier offers solutions to the threats to postal facilities and jobs.
THE "POSTAL Road Warrior" has finally parked his trusty steed (the "Silver Bullet" is a 13-year-old station wagon) after spending the month of August crisscrossing Oregon to oppose the closure of post offices and mail processing facilities.
"The Postmaster General is driving the postal service into a death spiral, and he must be stopped," said Jamie Partridge, a retired mail carrier from Portland. "Fortunately, on the local level, communities can fight back."
Partridge held organizing meetings in all four Oregon cities that have mail processing facilities scheduled for closure--Eugene/Springfield, Salem, Bend and Pendleton. Through the Rural Organizing Project, he was invited to address gatherings in Powell Butte, Idanha, Foster/Cascadia, Alsea, Lorane, Walton, Deadwood and Rickreall--all rural towns whose post offices are also threatened.
The postal service is required to hold community hearings before closing or drastically reducing service at a postal facility. Postal regulations mandate that the impact on jobs, services and the local economy be considered before cutting or closing a given facility. Because of its universal service obligation, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is not allowed to close a post office just because it is losing money.
Unfortunately, according to Partridge, the USPS is using any number of schemes to dodge its own regulations. For example, the USPS has coaxed rural postmasters to retire and then claimed that they can't fill the positions. Or it has sold buildings that house post offices, leased them back and later claimed that they're unable to renegotiate the lease. And the USPS has administered "surveys" to local residents that present three options--closure, drastic cuts or privatization--without the alternative of maintaining an eight-hour post office.
The USPS has announced it will begin immediately scheduling hearings in those 30 Oregon towns that have no regular postmaster.
On July 1, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe began massive cuts and closures at mail processing plants and rural post offices nationwide, while weakening delivery standards to allow the delay of first class mail. A majority of Oregon's mail processing plants is slated for cuts.
A third of its nearly 400 post offices are scheduled to lose their full-time postmaster, which Partridge explains is a prelude to closure. Rural residents face the double whammy of delayed mail delivery due to plant closures and loss of their full-service post office.
"The cuts and closures are not necessary," says Partridge. "Donahoe is way out of line. The postal service is not broke." A law passed by Congress in 2006 requires the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, a burden not required of any other agency or company. Without the pre-fund mandate, the USPS would almost break even.
"It's not the Internet, not private competition, not labor costs, not the recession," says Partridge. "Congress is killing the U.S. Postal Service. Allow the USPS access to its own funds--not tax but postage funds--from the pension surplus, and the finances can be fixed." The pension surplus involves some $60 to $85 billion overpaid into federal retirement accounts, according to the Office of the Inspector General and the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Communities and Postal Workers United, a national grassroots network, is calling on Donahoe to restore delivery standards and reverse cuts and closures while allowing Congress to fix the finances by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.