Postal employees and citizens who support the U.S. Postal Service rallied September 27 in every Congressional district across the nation — a historic first. Rallies took place in each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts, including the suburban metro area districts of Minnesota Republicans Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen.
Some 60 participants marched around Bachmann’s district office in Woodbury, then a delegation met with one of Bachmann’s staff members, who promised to convey their views to the 6th District Congresswoman, who is also a presidential candidate.
“We are here to urge Congresswoman Bachmann to support H.R. 1351,” said Chris Wittenberg, a national business agent for the National Association of Letter Carriers. The legislation would allow the Postal Service to use its own surplus pension funds to pay down a $5.5 billion annual obligation for pre-funding retiree health care.
The Postal Service would be showing a small surplus if it did not face the pre-funding obligation, which no other entity — public or private — must pay, participants said.
In Eden Prairie, about 90-100 people, mostly postal workers, gathered outside the offices of Paulsen, who represents the 3rd District.
One-half the group went inside to present Paulsen’s office with petitions and postcards collected in support of H.R. 1351 at the Minnesota State Fair this summer.
Back outside, Mark Gortzke, state president of the Minnesota State Association of Letter Carriers, told the group: “Erik is not upstairs but the staffer said he is open to sponsoring 1351. That means we need to keep the pressure on.”
(Gortzke told a reporter that he and others met with Paulsen a couple of weeks prior to the rally. “He admitted he didn’t know much about it,” Gortzke reported, but added that Paulsen said he would study the issue and seemed open to further discussions.)
At both Bachmann’s and Paulsen’s offices, demonstrators said they worry the Postal Service’s history of serving all U.S. communities will fall apart if Congress does not act.
Rural letter carrier Dennis Behnke said the Postal Service is essential to many rural communities. Private companies like United Parcel Service and
FedEx “don’t deliver to every address, every day like we do,” he said.
If Congress does not free up postal funds to cover the retiree health care payment, the Postal Service may resort to drastic measures such as eliminating Saturday delivery. Such a decision would not only undermine universal postal service, it would have a devastating economic impact, said Lisa O’Neill of Branch 9 of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
“We’re talking about 80,000 jobs that would be lost,” she said. “And this legislation would not cost taxpayers one dime. Why would you cut 80,000 jobs in an economy like this?”
Added Bill Usher, chair of the legislative committee for the Minneapolis local of the American Postal Workers Union: “The Postal Service has plenty of money. We just need Congress to let us use it.”
“I’m just really concerned about the Postal Service,” said Jeri Johnson, a rural Letter Carrier serving Maple Grove and board member of the Minnesota Rural Letter Carriers Association. “You hear more and more about it in the news,” she said. “So much misinformation is coming out… People don’t get the truth.”
“I’m close to retirement but I want the Postal Service to continue…” she added. “It’s such an important part of our society.”
“We’re the only federal agency in the U.S. Constitution,” noted Gortzke.
“I want to thank everybody for showing up,” said Jeri Johnson, site leader for the rally at Paulsen’s office, as the group prepared to disperse. “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this and I was really nervous.”
This story includes reporting by Labor Review editor Steve Share and Workday Minnesota editor Barb Kucera.