workers set to deliver on D.C. hunger-strike threat
Liza Béar | So far, the United States
Postal Service’s announcement that overnight, single-piece, first-class
mail will end for most of the country on July 1 has met with very
little fanfare. That should change on June 25 when hunger strikers
occupy the halls of Congress in a timely protest organized by the newly
formed Communities and Postal Workers United, a national coalition.
aim is to highlight the July 1 deadline and to expose the main reason
for the postal budgetary crisis — a 2006 congressional act that
requires U.S.P.S. to prefund retiree pension and health benefits a
surreal 75 years in advance, thus effectively starving the Postal
Service of operating income.
being sent within the New York metro area won’t be affected.
delivery standards are based on geographic distances between
mail-processing facilities,” said Sue Brennan, a U.S.P.S. spokesperson.
“For example, New York City to Los Angeles is three days and will
remain three days. D.C. to Richmond was overnight and will likely
change to two-day service.”
conjunction with the hunger strike at the Capitol, a rally will be held
at U.S.P.S.’s D.C. headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza
Hotel on June 28.
hunger strikers and their supporters are calling on Postmaster General
Patrick Donahoe to maintain delivery standards and suspend cuts and
closures while allowing Congress to fix the service’s finances by
repealing the mandate and refunding a pension surplus.
to Robert Weiner, former spokesperson for the House Government Reform
Committee, U.S.P.S. could theoretically accede to the demands and “fix
the finances,” if the committee’s chairperson would stop blocking a
bipartisan bill sponsored by 229 members that gives the Postal Service
the same 20-to-30-year pension prepay funding requirements as other
of a slew of supposedly cost-cutting measures — such as mail-processing
plant closings and reduced hours of service — slowing first-class mail
by one or more days is considered by many to be self-defeating, since
it will drive away businesses and customers while hurting those most
dependent on the mail and general delivery: the elderly, the homeless,
the urban poor and rural populations.
the strike is community organizer Johnnie Stevens, 55, a founder of
Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services.
taking vans down to D.C. on the 28th,” said Stevens, a Chelsea resident
whose wife gets her medicine delivered by mail. “We’re working with
Picture the Homeless in the Bronx and the Reverend Al
Sharpton-sponsored National Action Network Youth Move group. It’s not
just a workers’ issue. It’s not just a union issue. It’s not just a
postperson issue,” Stevens said. “It’s an issue of losing a guaranteed
service for a community.”
Julion, president of the Chicago letter carriers union, points out the
devastating impact post office closures will have on inner-city
neighborhoods, composed predominantly of black and brown people who are
not financially well off.
people don’t have access to the Internet and still
rely on the Postal Service as a primary means of communication,” Julion
wrote in an e-mail statement. “In that sense, these urban areas are
just as remote as some of the rural communities.”
those most affected are homeless people dependent on General Delivery,
a service provided in 35 states for people without a mailing address or
a P.O. box. Anticipating cuts in General Delivery services, recipients
of federal benefits have been notified to acquire a Direct Express DebtMasterCard,
which is not always cost-free and has already shown malfunctions.
Jackman, 56, an activist and former postal worker who has lived in a
Bronx shelter since September 2009, gets her mail at nearby Picture the
Homeless, a membership group. Ironically, after she lost her job, she
became homeless when the post office didn’t deliver her notices for
unemployment hearings. (After she slipped and broke her ankle, she
could no longer get to a public phone to confirm the dates of her
hearings, and therefore lost her case for unemployment benefits by
all the damage done to the public by service cuts, the impact on postal
working conditions is even more severe.
Couget, a shop steward at the Times Square Station who suffered an
on-the-job neck injury, notes the building’s physical deterioration —
leaky roof, no hot water all winter, no AC — and the disorganization on
the work floor created by cuts in clerks and mail-handlers. In
addition, he said, the elimination of several routes and carrier jobs
at Times Square has resulted in the redistribution of that workload on
the remaining workers.
worst example,” said Couget, “is Route 19’s carrier, 65-year-old Joe
Kaplan, who has 34 years of service. Management dumped the 1211 Sixth
Ave. News Corp skyscraper tower onto his route in August 2011, adding
several hours of work to a full shift. Supervisors will routinely
pressure these carriers to simply work faster and longer to make up the
difference. There has been a wave of retirements simply because the job
has become so miserable.”
of maternity leave is “another barbarity,” according to Couget.
have four union sisters in my station who worked into their third
trimester because they wanted to save the meager 90 days of possible
unpaid leave in order to maximize recovering and to bond with their
child,” he said. “At least one of them worked until the day she gave
birth in order to do this.”