For the fifth time in two years, self-described “postal defenders” have won a reprieve. The latest came on Jan. 7 when Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bergstrom dismissed charges of second-degree criminal trespass against seven people protesting the privatization of the United States Post Office (USPS). The judge said the defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. The case, which was scheduled to go to trial Jan. 14, was over a year old.
The trespass charges involved an Oct. 29, 2013 action where 15 activists had gathered in the third floor lobby of the Main Post Office in downtown Portland, holding signs and carrying a petition with over a thousand signatures of people opposed to the cutbacks at the post office. The protesters wanted to meet with the USPS district manager and hand-deliver the signatures. When that didn’t happen, seven protesters refused to leave. Michael Meo, Bennett Poe, Kent Spring, Michael Colvin, Jamie Partridge, John H. Herbert and Rev. John T. Schwiebert were subsequently arrested.
Despite the arrests, “postal defenders” continued their attempts throughout 2014 to meet with postal managers, including a visit to the home of the district manager last June.
Portland Communities and Postal Workers United (PCPWU), organizers of the action, have been fighting cuts and closures to the postal service for the past several years. In May of 2012, 10 activists were arrested occupying Portland’s University Station post office, which has since been closed. In April, 2013, five protesters went to jail for a civil disobedience action at the Salem mail plant, which has since been dismantled, with mail processing machines moving to Portland. The same group was arrested in July after occupying the private Matheson mail handling plant. They also have blockaded Dill Star Route, Inc. trucks multiple times, demanding those companies stop taking family-wage union postal jobs. In December of 2013, the postal defenders occupied the Eugene/ Springfield mail processing facility, which had been slated for closure the following month.
None of the cases went to trial, and all charges eventually were dropped.
The USPS has slashed hours at half the nation’s post offices — mostly rural — putting retail postal services out of reach for most working people. And as public post offices are being cut and closed, postal retail counters are being set up in Staples and Walmart, run by low-paid, poorly trained store clerks.
Eighty-two mail processing plants, including three in Oregon, are due for closure this year. In anticipation of the closures, USPS changed its service standards starting in 2015, delaying every class of mail and virtually eliminating overnight First Class delivery.
All the USPS cuts, closures, and contracting out have been done in the name of a “financial emergency.” Since 2006 the USPS has been forced to spend nearly 10 percent of its budget pre-funding retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. No other U.S. agency or private business faces such a crushing financial burden. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, but the USPS has also overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.
Union officials and PCPWU maintain the postal service isn’t broke. PCPWU says the agenda of corporate America and their friends in Congress is to cripple the USPS, to soften it up for union busting and privatization. The USPS is a $65 billion annual business with over $100 billion surplus in its pension and retiree health benefit funds, over 30,000 post offices and 200,000 vehicles. Postal activists claim that America is being confronted with a huge transfer of public wealth to for-profit, private corporations.