Save the Salem mail facility

April 22, 2013

An activist reports on a demonstration to keep a mail facility open in Salem, Ore.

"SAVE SALEM'S mail, or go to jail," was the chant from the crowd of 40 protesters at the Salem mail plant on April 17. They came from Portland, Salem and across Oregon, concerned about the scheduled June closure of the facility.

Five "occupiers" stepped inside the plant, unfurled banners reading "No closures! No cuts!" and "Save Salem's Mail!" and demanded that acting manager, Rick DeWolfe, suspend the closure and allow Congress to fix postal finances. DeWolfe said the closure was not his decision.

When the five refused to leave until postal management agreed to keep the plant open, DeWolfe had them arrested for trespassing. The crowd outside cheered the occupiers as they were led away in handcuffs.

"This closure is unnecessary, unfair and unwise," declared Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier and one of the five arrestees. "About a hundred good-paying, family-supporting jobs will be lost. Mail for the mid-Willamette Valley will be delayed. We're trying to prevent this attack on our communities."

Demonstrators march to the Salem, Ore., USPS facility
Demonstrators march to the Salem, Ore., USPS facility

Other arrestees included elderly, minority, rural and small business people--those sectors hardest hit by delay of the mail. "Postal management needs to stop and reverse these closures and cuts, which are sending our beloved postal service into a death spiral," said Rev. John Schwiebert, also arrested in the occupation.

Joining a rally in front of the Salem post office prior to the arrests were state Reps. Brian Clem from Salem and Val Hoyle from Eugene.

"We need to fight to preserve these local jobs that provide an essential service to our community," said Clem. "My dad delivered mail in Coos Bay for more than 40 years. He loved his job and served his community while providing for our family. It is because of his years of dedicated service that I know how critical it is that we save Salem's mail facility."

"Postal workers and postal customers across Salem, across Oregon and throughout the country have been inspired by our action," said Fernando Gapasin, a longtime union organizer and one of the five arrestees. "We look forward to an escalation of this fightback."

The protest was organized by Communities and Postal Workers United (CPWU), a national grassroots network of local coalitions. After massive street actions including tens of thousands of demonstrators in 112 cities in all 50 states, activists saw a recent victory when they saved six-day delivery.

CPWU is calling on national postal union leaders to launch further "bold actions to save the postal service" such as occupations of congressional and USPS management offices.

IF THE Salem mail sorting plant closes, Salem-to-Salem mail will be trucked 45 miles to Portland for sortation then back to Salem for delivery. The postal service recently relaxed its standards, allowing the elimination of overnight first class mail delivery.

The Salem plant closure will eliminate approximately 100 local union jobs, delay mid-Willamette Valley mail delivery and disproportionately affect small businesses, the elderly, rural communities, the one-half of the public that pays bills by mail and the many who lack access to reliable Internet service.

Since July, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has closed 114 mail sortation facilities, one-third of the nation's mail-processing capacity. The agency announced last month that it was accelerating plans to close even more mail-processing facilities.

The USPS said that it will consolidate 71 plants this year that were originally scheduled for possible closure in 2014. Salem, Bend and Pendleton plants are on that list.

The cuts in service by the USPS could result in a far greater loss of mail volume--and thus of revenue--than postal authorities had previously disclosed. In fact, the losses--outlined in a preliminary study commissioned by the USPS, but which the agency has since kept under wraps--could outweigh any savings realized by the cuts.

The Postal Service has said that implementing slower service standards for first-class mail would cause mail volume to decline by 1.7 percent.

But at a 2012 hearing of the Postal Regulatory Commission, it was disclosed that market research done by the USPS on a number of its agenda items (ending Saturday delivery, closing small post offices, degrading first-class mail service standards) produced a preliminary estimate of a dramatic 10.3 percent drop in mail volume or $5.2 billion in the first year.

The protesters call the postal financial crisis "manufactured," pointing to a 2006 congressional mandate, which forces the U.S. Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, says CPWU, the USPS has also overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.

The activists are calling on postal management to suspend cuts and closures and allow Congress to fix the finances by repealing the pre-funding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.

Twin bills, HR 630, sponsored by Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, and S 316, sponsored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, would fix postal finances and prevent plant and office closures and service cuts.

State representatives Hoyle and Clem have introduced House Joint Memorial 15, with 30 sponsors, urging Congress to pass this Postal Service Protection Act of 2013.

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