Postal workers send message

Jamie Partridge reports on rallies across the country to defend Saturday postal delivery.

Postal workers rally against cuts in Chicago (Carole Ramsden | SW)Postal workers rally against cuts in Chicago (Carole Ramsden | SW)

POSTAL WORKERS across the country rallied March 24 against the Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's decision to end Saturday deliveries in August. Crowds from 15 to 1,500 protesters turned out in all 50 states. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) called the national day of action, which saw demonstrations in 112 cities.

While letter carriers were the bulk of the protesters, other postal workers, including clerks, mail handlers, truck drivers, custodians, maintenance and rural letter carriers turned out as well. Elimination of Saturday mail delivery will cost 80,000 jobs.

The protests also attracted participation from postal customers, especially those most affected by the cuts--small businesses, the elderly, the disabled, people who live in rural areas, veterans, low-income people and people of color.

In addition to the NALC, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union sponsored the demonstrations. The national leadership of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents clerks, drivers and maintenance, chose not to sponsor but a conference of local APWU presidents passed a resolution calling for locals to participate.

In many areas, especially the big cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., all the postal unions participated and the message was broadened beyond just saving Saturday delivery to "No closures, no cuts, no delay of the mail."

The chant "Donahoe Must Go!" was especially popular. Postmaster General Donahoe has closed and reduced the hours of hundreds of mail-processing plants and thousands of post offices, out-sourced trucking and custodial jobs, and changed delivery standards causing delay of the mail.

Congress has just passed a "continuing resolution" which mandates six-day delivery at the same level of service as in 1983--as a part of the budget resolution passed every year for the past 30 years.

Nevertheless, Postal Service management and Republican congressional leaders claim that the postmaster general is only "modifying" Saturday delivery not ending it, dropping letters and magazines but continuing to deliver parcels.

The NALC leadership has threatened to call a mass rally at postal headquarters in Washington, D.C. if Donahoe does not back down. Rank-and-file activists have suggested a "work-in" on the first Saturday they are excluded from mail delivery.

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THE NALC reported that tens of thousands turned out for events across the country, including some 1,000 in Chicago, 250 in Rhode Island and 100 in South Dakota.

-- In New York City, about 1,000 postal workers and community members rallied for the day of action on March 24.

"It's just simply a way for them to privatize the post office," said a letter carrier from Brooklyn. "I'm sure there are plenty of organizations that would love to poach our profitable business but they don't want to deliver the rural businesses that don't make them any money. And that's not good for the American people."

"Once they start dismantling the unions, it's just a matter of time before we're right back to where we are before they had unions--where they are controlled [by the bosses]--take it or leave it," said Deborah McDowell from NALC Branch 41 in Brooklyn. "That's basically what it's going to come down to."

Frank Couget of NALC Branch 36 in Manhattan talked about the kind of organizing that will be needed to fend off cuts in service and jobs:

This should be the first of a series of mobilizations of postal workers and residents in defense of the service heading into August against the Saturday cuts. It's the first united demonstration with all the postal unions participating since the fall of 2011. So it's a wonderful step forward and I hope it continues.

Communities United with Postal Workers has been organizing for over the past year to organize postal workers across unions lines and our residents against all the different attacks--whether they be postal closings or the selling of buildings or the privatization of the highway routes, and we've been caucusing within our unions to push the leadership toward a more community oriented model.

A highlight of the New York rally was a fiery speech by Jonathan Smith, president of APWU New York Metro Area:

This is a community issue. This is a moral issue. Sometime the fight comes down to right and wrong. The Postal Service works. And it was working until Congress decided to steal to supply a war. Let's tell the truth.

I find it funny that all the post offices they want to close are in the poorest communities. That's not by accident...I'm tired of the nonsense. I'm tired of the lies. They told us that we could take it to court. They told us we could take it contract negotiations. But we surprised them.

We decided we were going to take it to the streets! Because for some reason they're under the impression that everything has its price. I'm not out here just for the postal workers. I'm out here for the senior citizens that need their medicine. And I think they need it on Saturdays, too.

I'm out here for the small business owners that need an affordable way to send their mail. I'm out here for the 99 Percent! We are the 99 Percent! We are the middle class! And because we are postal workers and we are good at delivering the mail.

I've got a special delivery. And this package is going to Donahoe. It will simply say Donahoe go to hell. The post office is not for sale!

-- In Seattle, more than 300 NALC members gathered for a rally, some traveling from Tacoma and other parts of Washington to attend.

Speeches from NALC members focused on the issue of Saturday delivery. Chants included, "Congress needs to keep six-day and end the mandate to pre-pay." Postal workers' children also brought signs that read, "We want our birthday card from Grandma! We want six-day delivery."

The Washington State Labor Council's Jeff Johnson and David Yao of the APWU put the attack on the Postal Service in a broader context:

This is not a financial crisis--but a political crisis. Some people in Congress hate the Postal Service. They hate public service generally. They blame teachers for the crisis in education. They want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. They don't like the fact that workers have good conditions and wages.

People are misinformed. The Postal Service claims it loses billions yearly--15 billion every year. At least 11 billion of that comes from the pre-funding mandate. United we can't be defeated! Solidarity Forever!

Jeff Israel concentrated on veterans' issues. Until 2006, veterans who joined the Postal Services got health care and pensions. Since then, legal changes have removed these important benefits for new hires.

Danny Katch and Steve Leigh contributed to this article.