Local workers say financial troubles are ‘big lies’
By Mindy Cooper/ The Portland Observer
Contrary to popular belief, local letter carriers say the U.S. Postal service’s financial crisis, which has been making headlines for the past several months, is not the problem threatening mail delivery to go to a five-day schedule come September.
Instead, they say the problem is political.
For the past year, Portland’s Postal Service union has been working to inform the public that eliminating one day of delivery per week is detrimental to both the quality of service for customers and the well-being of postal employees.
“In the greater Portland area, there are over 1,500 letter carriers,” said Jim Cook, the president of Portland’s letter carrier’s union. Since 2006, he said, no new letter carriers in the metro area have been hired full-time.
Instead, he said, the Postal Service has been hiring “temporary transitional employees,” with few benefits compared to career employees.
According to Jamie Partridge of northeast Portland, who has been a mail carrier for 27 years within the city, the postal service has decreased the workforce by 20 percent in the past four years in part to pay an unrealistic and problematic 75 years worth of future retirement benefits.
“The main reason the Postal Service is bleeding money and losing $8 billion a year for the last five years has been because of a law passed in 2006,” said Partridge.
He said the monetary issues are traced back to five years ago, when Congress passed legislation which included a requirement to pay 75 years worth of future retiree health benefits in a 10 year period.
“This equates to approximately $5.5 billion per year out of the Postal Service’s operational budget,” he said.
The requirement began at the same time as the worst economic recession since the Great Depression hit the country.
The economy inevitably affected mail volume, which creates revenue, but Cook explained even then, the Postal Service’s finances would be doing fine if wasn’t for the large sums of money required to pay to two separate retirement funds.
“It’s not logical. No other business, public or private, has this requirement to pay 75-years of future retiree health benefits,” he said. “Without the ‘burdensome requirements’ the Postal Service would not be in the financial crisis.”
Partridge says the result is that the Postal Service is putting one tenth of its budget, about $6 billion a year aside
for people who not only “don’t work for the Postal Service yet, but they aren’t even born yet.”
“The financial crisis facing the USPS is an accounting problem,” he said.
In an effort to fix the perceived financial crisis, Post Master General Jack Potter in March 2010, announced a 10-year-plan aimed to eliminate Saturday delivery and close thousands of post offices with possible privatization.
Come Sept. 30 the postal service has to make another $5.5 billion payment, said Partridge.
“The Post Master says we are up against the dead limit, and we don’t have the money to make the payment, so the Postal Service will go insolvent,” he said. “That is not quite the same as bankrupt, but pretty close.”
Both Cook and Partridge say the mandatory payments have not only been miscalculated, but are also unjust.
Although he wasn’t scheduled to work last Saturday, Partridge could be seen making the rounds and delivering mail on his route in northeast Portland. “This is my sixth day working 10 hour days this week,” he said.
On Saturday, he said, people get their pharmaceuticals, newspapers, and for people who work during the week, this is the only time they interact with their mail carriers.
“I work Monday through Friday,” said Griselda Gonzalec, a resident of northeast Portland who has known Partridge for at least a couple of years. She said she likes having her mail delivered on Saturday, and was surprised to hear the delivery day is in jeopardy.
“Six day service is unique to the Postal Service,” said Cook. “This plan would eliminate approximately 80,000 jobs and disrupt the flow of community and communication over the weekends.”
Many people rely on the mail coming on Saturday, he said. “You would also get a bottleneck of mail following a long weekend, and reducing the delivery to five days a week saves only a small percentage of the operational budget.”
“There is an $80 billion surplus in the retirement fund, and about $40 billion in the health benefit retirement fund,” said Partridge. “So the Postal Service has a lot of money in reserve, but it can’t use it for operating expenses because of this congressional mandate from 2006.”
According to Partridge, the Republican chair of the House Government Oversight Committee is opposing the letter carriers, calling their plan a tax payer bailout, and tea party Republicans are organizing to oppose them.
“It’s a big lie,” he said.
According to Cook, the US postal service and letter carriers union hasn’t used any taxpayer money for operations since 1982, yet people, including some new members of congress, still think the Post Office operates on government subsidies.
“We are not saying to take taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We are simply asking for an accounting transfer to take the surplus funds from the retirement systems.”
Partridge also blasts a proposal by the Post Master General to unilaterally change union contracts to reduce future health benefits and pensions.
The local letter carrier’s union has been working to inform the public why eliminating one day of delivery per week is detrimental to both the quality of service and they are asking the public for help.
“We are going to stand up and fight back,” Partridge said. Next month, he said, there will be a town hall meeting on the postal crisis.
“We are trying to build the support to get congress or the president to do the right thing,” he said. “And transfer the funds to make the Postal Service whole.”