Portland area postal workers rally to save jobs, Saturday delivery

A crowd estimated at 1,000 gathered at Pioneer Courthouse Square Jan. 8 before marching through the streets of downtown Portland to rally in support of saving postal services. In a notice posted in the Federal Register, the USPS has proposed to revise its service standards to eliminate overnight delivery of First-Class mail, change next-day delivery to two days, and two-day delivery to three days. The Postal Service proposes shuttering 3,700 post offices and 252 mail processing centers.

An estimated 1,000 Portland-area postal workers, their families, and allies marched through the streets of downtown Jan. 8 to call attention to tax-free solutions before Congress that will save America’s postal service from massive cuts.

The march and demonstration were coordinated by the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82, which represents 1,200 letter carriers in the greater Portland area. It started at Pioneer Courthouse Square and ended on the front steps of the Main Post Office on Northwest Hoyt. Signs calling for saving six-day delivery, door-to-door and curbside delivery, community post offices, and family-wage jobs dotted the blocks-long procession.

“Oregonians know about the USPS’s financial crisis, but few know what caused the crisis or that there are solutions before Congress that won’t cost the taxpayer a dime,” said Branch 82 President Jim Cook. “In fact, by subjecting the USPS — unlike any other agency or company in the country — to a pre-funding obligation starting in 2007, Congress itself has caused the bulk of the red ink.”

Cook was referring to a requirement imposed by Congress in 2006 that forces USPS to massively prefund the cost of retiree health benefits (to the tune of $5.5 billion a year) over the next 75 years in just 10 years’ time. This cost covers not only current employees, but employees who have yet to be hired — and it is on top of the cost for health benefits for current retirees. No other company or agency in America is required to prefund future retiree health benefits.

Some 19 postal-related bills have been introduced in Congress. Some offer to help the agency, while others try to destroy it.

At the rally, letter carriers talked about two bills in particular that postal unions and the AFL-CIO support —  HR 1351 and S. 1853.

S. 1853, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would eliminate the pre-funding requirement, along with making other changes aimed at saving the Postal Service.

HR 1351 addresses a decades-old accounting error that led the Office of Personnel Management to overcharge the Postal Service by as much as $75 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. It also would return a $10.9 billion overcharge in the postal portion of the Federal Employees Retirement System pension fund;

HR 1351 has bipartisan support with 227 co-sponsors, including the entire Oregon congressional delegation except Greg Walden.

On Dec. 7, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced HR 3591. That bill mirrors the language in S. 1853.

Postal unions adamantly oppose HR 2309 and S. 1789. Combined, the bills would end door-to-door and curbside delivery for 90 percent of postal patrons; end Saturday delivery; close thousands of community post offices; close half the mail processing plants; eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs; and end overnight delivery of First-Class mail. Neither bill repeals the pre-funding requirement.

Cook said Republican leaders of the House are pushing for HR 2309 and have buried bills favorable to the union.

“We called for this rally to build public understanding of the current postal crisis and support for the very viable solutions available,” Cook said.

(Editor’s Note: NALC and USPS have been in bargaining for a new contract since August 2011. The 2006-2011 National Agreement was set to expire Nov. 20. Bargaining has been extended three times — first to Dec. 7; a second time to Dec. 16; and a third time to midnight Jan. 20, 2012. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, federal law establishes a system of mediation and binding arbitration to resolve the dispute. Federal law forbids strikes by postal workers.)

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