An estimated 600 postal workers and community allies rallied in the streets of downtown Portland March 17 to save postal jobs and services.
U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced earlier this year plans to end Saturday mail delivery, beginning in August. Cutting delivery to five days will eliminate 80,000 jobs, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), hundreds of them in the Portland area. USPS has already cut 168,000 jobs since 2006 and projects the outsourcing of most postal trucking, and closure of 30 percent of mail processing plants and hundreds of post offices by June, cutting another 100,000 jobs and slowing delivery standards.
“It’s a manufactured financial crisis that happened when the 2006 Congress mandated the USPS pay for 75 years of future retiree benefits in a 10-year period,” said Jim Cook, president of NALC Branch 82, which represents 1,200 carriers in the greater Portland area. “Without this ‘stamp tax’ of $5.5 billion each year during the recession, the USPS would be financially sound, expanding services — not shrinking the universal postal service into oblivion.”
Besides the Letter Carriers, an additional 800-plus postal workers in the Portland area are members of the American Postal Workers Union; the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a division of the Laborers Union; and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association.
Cook and others said with new USPS leadership and appropriate legislation, the Postal Service can become financially stable and continue long into the 21st century.
Most of Oregon’s congressional delegation supports legislation to save the Postal Service, and not dismantle it. U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have co-sponsored S. 316 and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has sponsored a companion bill, HR 630. These will modernize the USPS, save Saturday delivery, reinstate overnight delivery standards to speed mail delivery, prevent shutdown of mail sorting facilities, and protect rural post offices.
“And these are tax-free solutions,” said Cook, pointing out that the USPS has not operated on tax dollars since 1982.
The rally began at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and protesters marched through the streets of downtown Portland on a busy St. Patrick’s Day to the Main Post Office several blocks away.
March 17 is the anniversary of the Great Postal Strike of 1970, a two-week wildcat strike by thousands of postal workers protesting unbearable working conditions and poor pay. President Richard Nixon called out the military and the National Guard in an attempt to distribute the mail and break the strike. Postal workers eventually won increases in pay and were guaranteed collective bargaining rights.
Today, union officials say a group of lawmakers working on behalf of corporate interests want to undermine the USPS, bust the unions, then privatize the agency and start selling off some of its prime downtown real estate. USPS owns real estate in virtually every city and state, worth a reported $105 billion.
“The privatization of the Postal Service is symptomatic of what’s wrong with this nation,” Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, told rally-goers. “It’s a nation that puts capital gain over people gain. Think about it. This is about profit. This is about greed. This is about costs on your backs, because you’re going to pay more if this happens.”
Mail centers in Pendleton, Bend will close this year
Mail processing centers in Bend and Pendleton, Ore., and in Pasco, Wash., were notified March 26 that they will shut down by the end of the year.
The closures are expected to eliminate 40 jobs in Bend and 47 jobs in Pasco. Union officials are uncertain how many jobs will be lost in Pendleton. Workers are represented by the American Postal Workers Union and the Mailhandlers Union, a division of the Laborers.
In May 2012, the Postal Service said it would close 140 processing centers across the country — 71 starting in 2014. It has accelerated the start dates and is now planning to consolidate 53 mail processing centers this year.
Mail that is now sorted in Bend and Pendleton will go to Portland for processing. Pasco’s mail handling will move to Spokane.