Postal workers offer solution to financial woes

Sep 28, 2011

As part of a national day of protest, a large, raucous crowd of unionized postal workers demonstrated outside U.S. Rep. Candice Miller’s Shelby Township office on Tuesday, calling for passage of a bill that could solve the Postal Service’s financial difficulties.

While Congress ponders cuts to the Postal Service that could mean layoffs of up to 220,000 workers, closing 3,600 post offices and shutting down 300 mail distribution centers, the four unions representing the federal agency’s workers say the problem offers a simple solution.

A 2006 congressional mandate says that the self-sufficient agency finance $5.5 billion annually for a decade to pay for retiree health care over the next 75 years. Critics say the Postal Service has run up a $21 billion shortfall over the past four years.

But union leaders say that if the 2006 austerity measure hadn’t been put into place during the ‘06 “lame duck” session of Congress, the Postal Service would have posted a $611 billion profit over the past four years.

“They want us to pay for retiree health care now for the next 75 years, for people who haven’t been born yet,” said Mike Sheridan of the South Macomb Letter Carriers union.

No representatives from Miller’s district office ventured outside to face the crowd of about 200 -- nearly double the attendance that was expected. The postal workers gathered at the curb on Van Dyke near 22 Mile Road, waving pro-union signs and American flags and urging supporters of the cause who were driving by to honk their horns. Many emphatically complied.

Miller, a Harrison Township Republican who wants to cut government spending, issued a statement in response to the picketing postal workers: “The United States Postal Service is a part of our nation’s history; they provide tremendous services and need to be preserved. However, we do recognize the huge financial crisis the Postal Service faces, and with email and other kinds of technologies, the usage of the mail service has declined.

“We need to make adequate reforms to keep the Postal Service operating and I will continue to monitor all of the legislation that is currently in the House of Representatives regarding the U.S. Postal Service.”

A bill to allow the Postal Service to divert the 75-year retiree health care investment toward basic operations has 211 co-sponsors in the House, including some Republicans, but it’s been bottled up in a GOP-controlled committee, accord to Sheridan.

In addition, Sheridan said no other federal agency has faced such a draconian mandate.

Another prospect that has arisen in Washington calls for ending Saturday mail delivery. At a time when 110,000 postal jobs have been lost through attrition over the past several years, adopting a five-days-a-week service would cut 80,000 more workers.

The four postal worker unions held demonstrations on Tuesday in all 435 congressional districts, including an event outside of Democratic Rep. Sander Levin’s Roseville office.

Sheridan said that Roseville gathering was designed as a “thank you” to Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who also represents much of Macomb County, for supporting the legislation they back.

Longtime critics of the Postal Service say the agency has seen its mail volume drop dramatically due to Internet traffic and the agency should be privatized.

But union officials say most Americans fail to realize two basic facts: The Postal Service has not consumed any tax dollars over the past three decades, relying entirely on stamp revenues and other service fees; and UPS and FedEx rely upon the federal agency’s universal service to provide the final leg of mail delivery on 25 percent of its U.S. shipments.

Those “last mile” deliveries are made to obscure rural areas where the Postal Service, dedicated to providing universal delivery to all 150 million homes in America, provides daily service, but the two main private postal companies do not want to travel those routes because it’s unprofitable.

“This is not a bailout. This is about getting our money back,” said Pat Carroll of the National Association of Letter Carriers and a Harrison Township neighbor of Congresswoman Miller.

“All they have to do is give us what is ours.”