by Dave Welsh
They set up their tent on the National Mall after outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman announced that he and California Rep. Darrell Issa would hold “secret” postal reform talks in December to eliminate six-day delivery of the mail. Lieberman and Issa proposed taking advantage of the “lame duck” session of Congress to do away with Saturday delivery, reportedly by attaching it to a budget bill.
Hunger striker Jamie Partridge, a retired Oregon mail carrier, said: “Along with thousands of postal workers and community allies who are battling to save America’s postal service, we were able to raise awareness and increase pressure on the decision-makers as they attempted to wrangle back-room deals.” Though the Lieberman-Issa scheme did not succeed this time, the threat to axe six-day mail service remains a live one in 2013.
The hunger strikers, members of a national network called Communities and Postal Workers United (CPWU), used their week in the nation’s capital to do the following:
- Broke into the media, including favorable coverage in Washington Post, Federal Times, Press TV, DC Labor, Federal Daily and various radio stations around the country.
- Staged a sit-in and occupation of Issa’s office, which resulted in a heated, 20-minute debate with the congressman over the merits of cutting six-day delivery. The occupiers demanded that Issa “back off from your campaign to wreck the Postal Service.” They sang “Six Days a Week” (to the tune of the Beatles’ song “Eight Days a Week”) and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Four of the hunger strikers were ejected by Capitol police. One of them, John Dennie, a retired mail handler from New York, refused to leave and was arrested. He was released from jail three hours later, charged with “blocking an entrance.”
- Rode a banner-draped horse and carriage, parading from the Postal Museum up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to celebrate 150 years of Saturday delivery (city free delivery was established 1863). They attempted to deliver a giant postcard calling on President Obama – who has twice allowed for cutting to five-day delivery in budget proposals – to instead use his veto power to save six-day delivery. “We helped elect Obama and he owes us,” said Ken Lerch, a local letter carriers union president. Reducing mail delivery to five days will eliminate 80,000 postal jobs in total, according to postal unions.
- Delivered to the USPS Board of Governors evidence of Postmaster General Donahoe’s criminal delay and obstruction of the mail in violation of federal law, and calling for his prosecution. The evidence documented massive mail delays resulting from the closing of the Frederick, Md., mail processing plant in 2011. (To see the evidence, go to www.cpwunited.com.) “We will not stand by as our beloved postal service is destroyed,” said Tom Dodge, postal worker from Baltimore and a CPWU coordinator.
Last June, 10 CPWU activists staged an earlier hunger strike in Washington, D.C., declaring that Congress was starving the postal service – and broke into the national media big-time. They said that a 2006 congressional mandate, forcing the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, is bankrupting the service. The Postal Regulatory Commission released a report in November stating that not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, the USPS has also overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.
“Not the internet, not private competition, not labor costs, not the recession – Congress is responsible for the postal mess,” said Kevin Cole, a returned hunger striker and postal maintenance worker from California. “Corporate interests, working through their friends in Congress and the presidency, want to undermine the USPS, bust the unions, then privatize it.”
A half dozen postal hunger strikers completed a six-day fast for six-day delivery demanding that Congress and the president halt closures and cuts to the U.S. Postal Service.
Postal unions are calling on the postmaster general to suspend cuts and closures and allow Congress to fix the finances by repealing the pre-funding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.
And in this time of high unemployment, why the rush to eliminate livable-wage postal jobs? As Victoria Panell of New York, youth leader of the National Action Network, told the first group of postal hunger strikers in Washington, D.C., last June: “Take away a parent’s job, take away a child’s future.” Victoria Panell is a member of Community Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services, a CPWU affiliate in New York City.
Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, is an organizer with the Community-Labor Coalition to Save the People’s Post Office. He can be reached at email@example.com.