Hunger Strikers Target Congress for Starving the Post Office
Postal and community activists began a hunger strike today to protest cuts that could devastate the Post Office.
A new coalition, Communities and Postal Workers United, announced the four-day fast to put heat on Congress for starving the U.S. Postal Service to the point where drastic service cuts have been announced.
The 10 hunger strikers in D.C. are members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), a Mail Handler, and community supporters. They will take dramatic actions in the halls of Congress and at USPS headquarters to denounce the role lawmakers have played in creating the postal financial crisis.
A 2006 law mandated that the Postal Service send more than $5 billion annually into a fund that is supposed to pay for retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. Some of those future retirees haven't been born yet, but the huge drain on postal finances—nearly 10 percent of postal revenue—has pushed postal finances close to insolvency. The postal unions have been lobbying Congress for years to ease the burden of the “pre-funding” mandate, to no avail.
The hunger strikers are also calling on Congress and the USPS to reverse service cuts already planned, including the closure or combination of 229 of 461 mail processing plants, which will cause major delays in first-class mail.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe intends to reduce mail delivery from six days to five and eliminate delivery to home mailboxes set back from the street. And a new plan will drastically slash hours at 13,000 small post offices, mostly in rural areas.
From Frustration to Action
Activists are frustrated that the media peddle the message that the internet has killed the Postal Service, making service cuts seem like a reasonable response.
The hunger strikers will picket the Washington Post, protesting its role in obscuring how Congress created the postal crisis.
They will hold daily vigils and a press conference at the Capitol, with their days of action culminating in a 4 p.m. rally on June 28 in front of postal headquarters at L'Enfant Plaza.
The hunger strike grew out of a network that first met by phone and then gathered in person at the Labor Notes Conference in early May. In a short time it has drawn endorsements from 14 local or state organizations of the APWU or NALC, 22 presidents of APWU or NALC organizations, the National Presidents' Conference of the APWU, the central labor councils in Seattle and Washington, D.C., and a long list of allied labor and community groups.
Many activists have welcomed this effort to go beyond traditional lobbying, and alliances built during previous mobilizations have been renewed.
Support activities are planned for Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, South Bend, Indiana, and Portland, Oregon. Three additional hunger strikers in Washington state will visit solidarity events in five cities.
Opposition in Congress
The legislative outlook has been gloomy.
Despite talk of a reprieve for the Postal Service, a Senate bill passed in May would provide inadequate relief. And nothing has passed the House: The leadership there seems determined to either put forward an anti-worker bill that would force the postal system to shrink, or to drag its feet and let the burden of pre-funding push the Postal Service to the point of breaking.
The bill passed by the Senate was opposed by NALC and deemed inadequate by other postal unions. The more conservative House appears sure to present proposals that are even worse.
Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, has put forward proposals that blame postal workers for the financial crisis and attack wages, benefits, and even collective bargaining. Issa proposed a bill that would have closed processing plants and post offices, and has refused to allow a committee vote on a positive financial relief bill that was co-sponsored by a majority of House members.
It's clear that the ideologues see an opportunity to cripple a public service and open opportunities to privatize work. At the same time, Republicans see another chance to target public employees—and shrink or disable public employee unions.
Hunger strikers want to cut through these arguments and clarify what’s really causing the red ink at the Postal Service. They know people care about their mail service: Lawmakers from conservative rural districts heard many complaints when 3,500 small offices were threatened with closure earlier this year.
The plan to slow the mail by closing processing plants starts July 1, along with the drastic reduction in hours at rural post offices.
Both have the potential to arouse the ire of the citizenry again—if the blame can be placed squarely where it belongs: on the $5 billion burden lawmakers put on the Postal Service.
David Yao is vice president of the Seattle APWU. To add your name to the hundreds who have already endorsed the hunger strike and week of action, go to www.cpwunited.com.