Local Post Office Workers Fight Back

On September 27 at 4 p.m. there will be two rallies to save the jobs of post office workers. The rallies will be at Congressman Richard Neal’s office at 300 State Street in Springfield, and at Congressman John Olver’s office at 57 Suffolk Street in Holyoke. The rallies will last 90 minutes.

The organizers of the rallies are asking the public to contact their members of Congress in support of House Bill 1351.

More information is available at www.SaveAmericasPostalService.org or by calling Michael Harazmus, president of the Letter Carriers Union in the Valley, at (413) 737-0640.

Joe Gonzales has worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Springfield, Massachusetts for more than nine years. (This is not his real name; the Postal Service has tried to fire workers who criticized it.) Now he’s afraid he will lose his job. “As it is, I live with my sister,” he said. “If I lost my job, I’m not sure I’d be able to feed and clothe myself.”

Gonzales was born in Springfield and has lived there his entire life. He raised his children there. While the current union contract prohibits the Postal Service from laying workers off, they can be ordered to move to a city hundreds or thousands of miles away. “All my friends and family are here,” Gonzales told the Valley Post in a 2010 interview. “I don’t want to move.”

The post office can refuse to hire new workers to replace workers who quit or retire.

Dan Kuralt is president of the Springfield local of the American Postal Workers Union, APWU. In 2009, about 40 of his union’s members in Springfield got letters from the Postal Service saying they might lose their jobs. “One member, when he got the letter, asked me if he should sell his house,” Kuralt said in 2010.

In 1995, American Postal Workers Union Local 497 in Springfield had about 1,800 members. In 2010, it had about 950 members. That decline mirrors a national decline in postal jobs caused in part by people using the mail less and the internet more.

Dan Kuralt said the management at the Postal Service is so bad that post offices sometimes run out of stamps to sell.
Now the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) wants to end Saturday mail delivery, laying off tens of thousands more workers at a time when unemployment is at near-record highs.

John Nichols is the co-founder (with bestselling author Robert McChesney) of www.FreePress.net which has created dozens of jobs in Northampton. Nichols is the bestselling author of several books. Nichols is also an expert on the postal service. “There are more post offices in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Wal-Marts combined,” he said. “Today the postal service exists in a netherworld where it must provide universal service--a classic public good--and at the same time break even; it must ‘compete’ with private parcel services [like FedEx] while providing them with platforms to expand their nonunionized and nonuniversal businesses; it must meet the demands of Congress while getting by without tax dollars.”

The postal service gets no tax money.

Sally Davidow is a spokeswoman at the APWU’s national office in Washington, DC. In 2010, she said that, while she hadn’t heard of non-union companies like FedEx lobbying Congress to cut Saturday USPS service, “It wouldn’t surprise me if they were.”
The average APWU member makes between $40,000 and $53,000 a year, and gets between 13 and 26 days of paid vacation annually, depending on how long they have been working for the Postal Service, Davidow said. They get retirement benefits, and the federal government health insurance plan. “They are both good programs,” she said.

APWU represents all kinds of workers at the Postal Service, including mail sorters, truck drivers, janitors, and highly skilled electronics technicians.

“Congress has forced the Postal Service to ‘pre-fund’ retirement benefits,” Davidow said. “No other private company or government agency does that. It costs USPS more than $5 billion a year.”

But not all the news is bad for the postal service. Across the country, an increasing number of states, cities, and counties are making it easier for their citizens to vote – without waiting in long lines or relying on electronic voting machines that could be faulty. More and more governments are allowing their constituents to vote by mail.

“The APWU enthusiastically supports this trend, which will encourage working people to exercise one of the most fundamental rights of every citizen – the right to vote,” Davidow said. “We believe that voting in every election should be as convenient, fair, and secure as possible. There are many advantages to voting by mail. It increases voter participation. Voting by mail can improve the integrity of elections by creating a paper trail. It expands the timeframe within which ballots can be cast. Mail balloting eliminates long lines, and it reduces the possibility of polling-place intimidation. Voting by mail removes the obstacles that prevent many people from voting, such as having to leave work early or arrange for daycare. Finally, there is no confusion about where to vote.”

Moreover, ballots would be handled by the most trusted (according to scientific public opinion polls) federal agency, the Postal Service, she said.

Last year in Congress, bills were introduced by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that sought to expand opportunities for voters to cast ballots by mail, without eliminating traditional polling places.

Twenty-three states now allow voting by mail. Oregon, which uses mail-in voting, has had the highest level of voter participation of any state; 87 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2004. About 50 percent of Americans vote in presidential elections; only about 30 percent vote in Congressional elections when there is no presidential election.

In a 2003 survey, 81 percent of Oregonians said they preferred voting by mail to traditional polling-place elections.

In California – home to one in nine Americans -- more than 50 percent of ballots cast in 2008 were submitted by mail. Other states have experienced a similar level of acceptance of voting by mail, and increased voter participation.

One of the important features of mail-in balloting is the low incidence of fraud compared to other methods. Voting by mail gives election officials the ability to validate every voter’s signature and creates a verifiable paper trail. “Increasing complaints about other balloting methods highlight the value of voting by mail,” Davidow said. The Bush-Gore election debacle is a case in point.

Even though the internet has taken a toll on the postal service, there are ways to bring business – and jobs – back to the agency. In addition to voting by mail, post office-based banks have been proposed.

John Nichols notes that, from 1910 until 1967, the postal service maintained a postal banking system that allowed people to open savings accounts at post offices. “The system was so successful that after World War II it had a balance of $3 billion--roughly $30 billion in today's dollars,” he said. Congress killed postal banking in the late 1960s, but other nations including Japan have kept similar systems. Now, Japan Post is, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the world's largest financial institution by assets, with $3.3 trillion on its balance sheet.”

Recently, the New America Foundation proposed that post office banks be restored in the United States. These publicly-owned and controlled banks would help poor and working class Americans, the Foundation said.

Commercial banks generally aren’t interested in helping low-income people, who often end up borrowing from “payday lenders” and credit card companies at very high rates.

APWU’s Sally Davidow said the volume of mail goes up and down with the economy. “Companies mail more ads when the economy is good,” she said. In the past 30 months, some 100,000 jobs have been lost at the Postal Service, she said.

Today, around 600,000 people work for postal service. Only Wal-Mart and the military employ more Americans.

In 2006, the USPS delivered 213 billion letters, postcards, packages, magazines, and other kinds of mail. It expected that number to be just 177 billion in 2010, mostly because of e-mail, online advertising and clothing catalogs, and online bill payments.

“We need people’s help to save our jobs,” said Dan Kuralt of Springfield. “Contact info for your members of Congress is at www.Senate.gov and www.House.gov.”

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This is an updated version of a Valley Post article that was first published on April 26, 2010.

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