New hunger strike for USPS

December 17, 2012

Postal workers and their supporters are fighting for union jobs, reports Eric Ruder.

"THE LAME duck is about to cripple the postal eagle," said Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier, upon his arrival in Washington, D.C., from Portland, Ore., to participate in a hunger strike against the federal government's assault on postal workers.

A half-dozen postal workers and their supporters plan to set up an "emergency encampment" in Lafayette Park across from the White House on Monday, December 17, to demand that the lame-duck Congress and the president halt plans to carry out closures and cuts to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The hunger strike and encampment will continue around the clock until 5 p.m. on Saturday, December 22.

According to Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Darrell Issa, six-day mail delivery is one of the key services facing elimination. Lieberman and Issa are currently engaged in secret negotiations to "reform" the USPS, and President Obama has facilitated their scheming by twice proposing elimination of six-day delivery in budget proposals.

Cutting mail delivery to five days would eliminate 25,000 jobs, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers. According to the hunger strikers, getting rid of so many jobs would gut service and send the postal service into a death spiral.

Postal workers held a hunger strike in front of Congress in July
Postal workers held a hunger strike in front of Congress in July

"We will not stand by as our beloved postal service is destroyed," said Tom Dodge, one of the hunger strikers and a postal worker from Baltimore. Dodge is also a coordinator of Communities and Postal Workers United (CPWU). "We helped elect the President and many in Congress," Dodge continued. "They owe us. We will engage in dramatic actions on Capitol Hill and at the White House to turn up the heat on decision makers."

This past summer, 10 CPWU activists held a hunger strike to publicize the fact that Congress was starving the postal service. In particular, a 2006 Congressional mandate forces the USPS to "pre-fund" retiree health benefits 75 years in advance and has created a false crisis designed to bankrupt the service, according to the activists. Without the mandate, the postal service would be in sound financial health, say the strikers. In fact, the U.S. Postal Service has now overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.

"Not the Internet, not private competition, not labor costs, not the recession--Congress is responsible for the postal mess," said Partridge. "Corporate interests, working through their friends in Congress and the presidency, want to undermine the USPS, bust the unions, then privatize it."

In late spring, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced a two-year plan to close half the mail-sorting plants in the country and to cut hours by 25 to 75 percent in about half of the nation's post offices. About 13,000 jobs have already been eliminated, which has been facilitated by the post office's lowering of its delivery standards.

Hunger strikers are pushing for Donahoe to suspend the cuts and closures and for Congress to fix the postal service's finances by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.

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