BANGOR, Maine — Both of Maine’s U.S. representatives and one senator offered words of encouragement to postal employees attending the Maine State American Postal Workers Union Convention on Saturday morning and promised to fight to keep Hampden’s mail distribution plant open.
Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, along with a representative from Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office, vowed to continue to work against the planned consolidation of the U.S. Postal Service Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility, arguing that the plant is vital to mail service in rural Maine.
“I commend all of you for your strength and determination,” Michaud said to the audience. “It has been a very difficult year, I know, for the postal service.”
Michaud, Pingree and Snowe — who drafted a letter that was read by staffer Mark Kontio — argued that the Postal Service was too important to fail or suffer from drastic cuts.
The three lawmakers said shutting down the Hampden distribution facility could cripple mail service in western, eastern and northern regions of the state — preventing elderly residents from getting medications on time and businesses from being able to operate efficiently.
If the Hampden plant were to close its doors, Maine would be left with one processing facility in Scarborough and only 13 employees remaining at the Hampden plant after a consolidation process is completed in July.
“All too often, it’s easy to pick on rural areas because of the population,” Michaud said, arguing that officials in Washington, D.C., don’t give enough consideration to how changes in service might affect people in lightly populated places.
The mantra of Congress in recent years has been to save and trim the fat from the nation’s spending, “but we can’t do it on the backs of vital services and workers,” Pingree said.
She said Postal Service employees are being faced with cuts and are being asked to get more work done with fewer resources, “and then we’re asking them why they aren’t doing a better job.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins also has expressed her opposition to the consolidation of the Hampden plant both publicly and in a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahue.
Pingree and Michaud said they would fight to preserve a six-day mail delivery schedule.
At the conference, the American Postal Workers Union distributed fliers that instruct people to call their senators and representatives and ask for a new solution to the Postal Service’s finance problems — one that won’t lead to 100,000 layoffs, the consolidation of 223 mail processing centers and the closure of 3,600 post offices.
The union argues that the financial crisis faced by the Postal Service was caused partly by a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years’ worth of future retiree health benefits over a 10-year period. That drains $5.5 billion from USPS’ annual revenues, the flier states.
No other government agency is required to pre-fund health benefits in that way, Michaud argued.
Pingree and Michaud said they have backed the Postal Service Accountability Act, which would establish a formal appeals process for postal facilities tagged for closure or consolidation.
They also supported the Postal Executive Accountability Act, which would place a pay cap on USPS executive salaries — the postmaster general is the second-highest-paid U.S. government employee — and would prevent certain executives from receiving bonuses in years when postal facilities are closed.
Michaud asked those who attended the conference to call elected officials and urge them to find ways to reform the Postal Service without layoffs or facility shutdowns.
“Hold our feet to the fire,” he said.