By JAMIE PARTRIDGE
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 is indeed soliciting property owners and managers to convert from at-the-door to at-the-corner “cluster box” mail delivery. And the local Letter Carriers union is fighting back.
According to Jim Falvey, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) 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 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 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 carrier work would be reduced and jobs eliminated.
Alerted by a local mail carrier who found out through a USPS 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 mail boxes.
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. [KATU News reported that 394,821 total deliveries across Oregon and Southwest Washington, as far north as Castle Rock.
USPS, 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. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, President Obama, and committees in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate — led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), 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 in advance. Without this mandate, union officials say, the postal service would be profitable.
At their 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.”
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.
(Editor’s Note: Jamie Partridge is a retired letter carrier and an organizer with Community and Postal Workers United.)