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Workers rally to save US Postal Service, say proposed federal bill would restore financial footing

Dawn Gagnon | BDN
Dawn Gagnon | BDN
U.S. Postal Service workers participate in a rally Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011 on State Street in Bangor. The workers said instead of downsizing to survive, Congress has the power to restore its financial footing without spending a dime of taxpayer money.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Despite claims that the U.S. Postal Service must drastically downsize to survive, workers who took part in a rally Tuesday on State Street said Congress has the power to restore its financial footing without spending a dime of taxpayer money.

During the Save America’s Postal Service rally, one of nearly 500 such events held around the country, more than 60 area postal workers called upon Congress to pass House Bill 1351.

Organizers of the Bangor event, which drew members of four union locals who traveled from as far as Surry and Carmel, said the rally’s location — across the street from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s office at 6 Main St. — was chosen to thank Michaud for his support for the bill, which they said has bipartisan support and 216 co-sponsors as of Tuesday.

The rally was part of postal workers’ response to recent announcements about planned nationwide cutbacks in processing, transportation and delivering capabilities in response to dropping annual mail volumes.

Among the services at stake in Maine are the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility in Hampden and as many as 34 post offices, most of them in rural areas.

The feasibility of closing regional processing plants and post offices is the focus of two national studies now under way.

“For the last four years, the Postal Service profited $600 million by delivering letters and selling stamps,” said rally organizer John Curtis, a retired letter carrier from Surry now working with the National Association of Letter Carriers.

“The reason we’re in the red is that Congress in 2006 mandated that the Postal Service prefund — for 75 years in advance — retiree health benefits,” he said.

“No other government agency is on that aggressive a prefunding schedule. Just the Postal Service. They saw it as a cash cow,” he said.

The mandate is why the Postal Service has been running in the red for the past several years, he said.

“The bill that we’re pushing today fixes this,” he said. “It relaxes the prefunding schedule and lets the post office access its own capital. It’s not a bailout. There’s no taxpayer money involved. The only reason we have to go to Congress is that the post office is a quasi-government agency and they have to approve anything we do.”

As Curtis spoke, postal workers waved signs and chanted such slogans as, “Tell the Hill pass the bill” and “We don’t want a bailout. We just want to get the mail out.” Many of the motorists who drove by during the 90-minute rally honked their horns in solidarity.

The mandate to prefund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and do so within a decade, is a burden no other public agency or private firm faces, spokesmen for the National Association of Letter Carriers and the American Postal Workers Union said in an information sheet being distributed to the nation’s news media.

“The Postal Service is actually paying, out of its operating budget, for the future retirement benefits of people who haven’t even been born yet,” the union officials stated.

A regional Postal Service spokesman had this to say about the rally:

“Postal employees are within their rights to express their opinions on these issues,” Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the Northern New England District, said Tuesday afternoon.

“They are also within their rights to participate in an informational rally on their own time,” he said.

“These are challenging times for the Postal Service and its employees as we work to make the necessary changes to our business model that will provide mail service for the nation for many decades to come, and in so doing, will also employ future generations of Americans,” he said.

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