Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton joined more than 100 demonstrators outside the main post office in Minneapolis yesterday, leading the call for federal lawmakers to strengthen – not dismantle – the U.S. Postal Service.
“I’ve never heard of anyone whose business is in trouble deciding the way to fix things is to make service worse,” Dayton said of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s Feb. 6 announcement that the Postal Service would transition to a new schedule in August, eliminating most mail delivery on Saturdays.
It’s a decision not sitting well with the business owners, Postal Service employees, elected officials and retirees who attended yesterday’s rally, organized by local unions that represent USPS workers.
Dan Garhofer, president of St. Paul-based Branch 28 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, vowed unions would lead the effort to prevent any cuts to mail delivery. “We’re going to fight, we’re going to scratch, we’re going to claw and we’re going to do whatever we have to do to make sure six-day delivery stands,” Garhofer said.
Letter carriers and other supporters of six-day delivery got some good news last week, when the U.S. Government Accountability Office – Congress’ auditing arm – ruled that the Postal Service lacks authority to cut Saturday delivery, mandated by U.S. law since 1983.
Postal executives disagreed with the GAO ruling, arguing the agency will remain in compliance with the 1983 law by continuing to deliver packages and Priority Mail on Saturdays. The dispute could end up in court. The Postal Service expects to generate cost savings of approximately $2 billion annually by cutting Saturday delivery. The agency faces projected annual deficits of approximately $20 billion.
A big reason for those deficits is a provision of 2006 postal-reform legislation – passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush – requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund health care benefits for retirees 75 years in advance. It’s an onus put on no other public or private agency, and it’s costing the Postal Service more than $5 billion a year.
Speakers at yesterday’s rally likened the pre-funding requirement to a poison pill, designed to kill off the Postal Service by creating the illusion of fiscal instability.
“There are politicians in this country who have been attacking the public services people rely on,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said. “No amount of phony pension accounting should cost us six-day service.”
Democrats in Congress, including Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, have introduced legislation to repeal the pre-funding requirement and modernize the Postal Service, enabling the agency to find new streams of revenue, from notarizing documents to shipping beer and wine.
Speakers at the rally also read letters of support from U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison. Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson, meanwhile, declared March 24 “Protect the Post Office Day” citywide. She read aloud from a letter, signed by a majority of council members, warning members of Congress that cutting Saturday delivery threatens a vital link between seniors to their communities – one that goes beyond delivery of the mail.
“We know that letter carriers keep an eye on senior citizens who live alone,” she said.
Bill Moore, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO State Retiree Council, said that for many seniors, “Saturday mail delivery is not a luxury.”
“Elderly people depend on it for their prescription medicines and for information they don’t get from the Internet. We need the mail. Do we lose our ability to read and write and do other things on Saturday? What planet do these postal executives live on, anyway?”
Michael Moore edits the Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation.