BANGOR, Maine — An estimated 30 U.S. Postal Service employees and supporters gathered Thursday evening to urge Congress to reject legislation they say could be a death knell for the postal service as we know it.
“If Congress doesn’t do something to fix the U.S. Postal Service’s finances by May 15, the postal service plans to close 3,600 post office and 223 processing plants, lay off 100,000 workers, eliminate overnight delivery of first class mail and periodicals, change two-day delivery to three days and end [Saturday] service,” organizer John Curtis, a retired letter carrier from Surry now working with the National Association of Letter Carriers, said during Thursday’s gathering.
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 threat of cutbacks and layoffs has sent postal employees and their supporters into the streets in protest.
“These closures, layoffs and service changes will cause massive disruptions for consumers, small businesses, our communities and our economy,” Curtis said as postal workers and supporters — including members of Occupy Ellsworth and Brewer-based Food AND Medicine — held signs reading “Save America’s Postal Service” and passing motorists honked and waved in solidarity.
While Congress is considering at least four pieces of legislation aimed at revamping the Postal Service, the one that National Association of Letter Carriers is urging Congress to reject is Senate bill 1789.
Sen. Susan Collins is one of the authors of the bipartisan bill, which her spokesman Kevin Kelley said could be considered as soon as next week.
He said the bill does not propose eliminating Saturday delivery.
“In fact, it’s actually the Postal Service that has proposed eliminating Saturday delivery,” Kelley said.
Senate bill 1789 would prohibit the Postal Service from eliminating Saturday delivery for at least two years. Further, he said, it could only be implemented if the Postal Service identifies customers who may be affected disproportionately by five-day delivery and develops remedies; makes full use of its authorities to increase revenue and reduce costs and after implementing all other savings options; and determines that a five-day schedule still is necessary to achieve sustainability.
In a statement distributed at Thursday’s rally, Snowe reiterated her call for postal reform but also addressed letter carriers’ concerns about the Senate bill.
While voicing her strong opposition to the planned closure of the Hampden plant, Snowe said the Postal Service is facing major financial challenges and needs to adopt a “new, sustainable and successful business model.”
“As Congress moves forward on postal reform legislation, we must work to ensure the Postal Service continues to provide the reliable, affordable and convenient services that the public has come to expect, especially in rural communities throughout Maine the country,” she said.
“It also is vital that the Postal Service not preempt Congressional action by unilaterally progressing with the elimination of overnight delivery for First Class mail, implemented in concert with major shutdowns of mail processing facilities and rural post offices,” she said.
According to Curtis and other postal workers, these and other cutbacks in service would not be necessary if Congress did away with a 2006 mandate requiring that the Postal Service prefund — for 75 years in advance — retiree health benefits.
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 have said in information sheets distributed to the nation’s news media and the public.
Critics say the mandate is why the Postal Service has been running in the red for the past several years. The postal service is required to set aside $5.5 billion annually, beginning in 2007, Curtis said.
“It has brought the postal service to the edge of extinction,” Curtis said
Also on hand to rally for the Postal Service were Kingman resident Kathy Davis Page, who talked about what the loss of her local post office would mean to the fabric of her small, rural community; Renee Overlock, president of Branch 391 of the National Association of Letter Carriers; William Murphy, director of the University of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Education, who offered his views on how the Postal Service can be fixed; and former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat from Old Town who is running for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s Senate seat.
The rally in front of the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building was the third such gathering since last fall, when the U.S Postal Service announced nationwide cutbacks in processing, transportation and delivering capabilities in response to dropping annual mail volumes.
The first such gathering in Bangor took place in September in front of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s office at 6 State St. The second rally was held on Presidents Day near the Bangor post office on Hammond Street and Thursday’s protest was held in front of the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Harlow Street, the former home of the Bangor post office and the current location of Snowe’s Bangor office.