Ditching at-the-door delivery?

Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier and organizer with Community and Postal Workers United, reports on attempts to eliminate at-the-door mail delivery.

Postal workers rally to defend door-to-door delivery (Lauriel Arwen)Postal workers rally to defend door-to-door delivery (Lauriel Arwen)

DESPITE TELLING local KATU News that it's "just an idea...we're not really pushing for it...it's just a discussion...they're just talking about in Congress," the Portland district of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is indeed soliciting property owners and managers to "convert" from at-the-door to at-the-corner-cluster-box mail delivery.

But the local letter carriers union is fighting back.

According to Jim Falvey, president of the Portland-area National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82:

The Portland district has instituted a program that involves the solicitation of property managers and/or owners whose location has multiple delivery points. One example was Royal Villa, a 55-and-over retirement community located in King City near Tigard, with about 250 door-to-door deliveries. Postal management solicited the property-managing firm and offered to install cluster boxes free of charge and maintain them at no cost. In return, the postal service wanted to eliminate door-to-door delivery.

Postal management does not have to ask or even inform the residents that this "conversion" is going to occur if they get the cooperation of the manager or owner of the property.

Falvey was incensed to learn that residents of Royal Villa, many of whom are elderly or frail, would be forced to walk some distance in the wind, rain, snow, ice, dark and other dangerous conditions to retrieve their mail. And of course, he was angered that letter carriers' work would be reduced and jobs eliminated.

Alerted by a local mail carrier, who found out through a manager's slip of the tongue, the union president contacted Royal Villa's property manager and convinced her to stand up to the postal service offer of free mailboxes. Falvey was also ready to knock on doors at Royal Villa, if the property manager had decided to go with "conversion."

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THE LETTER carriers union, both locally and on a national level, is mobilizing to fight cluster box conversions, which would change the one-third of deliveries now at-the-door and eliminate 80,000 mail carrier jobs. The postal service, according to a recently released Government Accountability Office report, could save up to 55 percent per delivery by converting from at-the-door to cluster boxes.

The Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, President Barack Obama and committees in the House and the Senate, led by Rep. Darrell Issa and Sens. Tom Carper and Tom Coburn, are all proposing legislation to allow this service cut, based on an alleged postal financial crisis. Congress itself is responsible for the postal "debt," through a 2006 mandate to pre-fund retiree benefits 75 years ahead. Without this mandate, the postal service would have been profitable.

At its state convention, the Oregon State Association of Letter Carriers (OSALC) resolved to fight for at-the-door delivery, which "facilitates quality service, such as individualized parcel and bulk mail drop and pick-up locations," as well as "residential customer contact, which protects the health and welfare of neighborhoods, especially looking-in on the frail and seniors."

Business customers also benefit from at-the-door delivery, as contact with letter carriers facilitates appropriate shipping and receiving opportunities. The OSALC also noted that "cluster box mail receptacles are less secure than at-the-door, and are more often targets for mail thieves," and "mail is more likely to accumulate day to day, and more likely to be dropped on the ground, leading to litter problems."

Following the lead of Canadian postal workers, who are also facing the elimination of at-the-door delivery, OSALC is encouraging local branches to mount campaigns to inform business and residential customers about the dangers of ditching door delivery. Fortunately, postal regulations require that property owners or "owners' associations" or "managers" approve, in writing, the conversion from at-the-door delivery. Unfortunately, the USPS can insist that any new housing, where delivery has not been established, can be forced to receive mail at a cluster box.

Active letter carriers "must not engage in campaigns for or against changes in mail service," according to postal regulations. However, their labor unions, retirees and community allies are not so restricted. Taking a tip from the Canadians, local unions plan to contact media and elected officials for support.

First published at Community and Postal Workers United.