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Facing South

Nationwide Rallies Aim to Save US Postal Service

Rallies are scheduled for today in every congressional district across the nation in support of the U.S. Postal Service, which is facing a financial crisis because of past congressional action. Participants will be asking lawmakers to approve a bill that's been introduced to fix the problem.

In 2006, Congress passed a postal reform law that, among other things, required USPS -- a self-funded agency that receives no taxpayer money -- to pre-pay 75 years' worth of retiree health benefits within just 10 years. The mandate, which no other federal agency is under, costs USPS $5.5 billion a year -- and accounts for all of the Postal Service's $20 billion in losses over the past four years.

In that time, USPS actually made a net profit of over $600 million sorting and delivering the mail. But it ended up in the red after it was forced to deposit billions from its operating budget into the retiree health fund.

As a result, 120,000 postal workers are now facing the threat of layoffs, and thousands of post offices and mail-processing centers are targeted for closure. There are also plans to eliminate Saturday mail service, which would hit residents of rural areas especially hard. Last week President Obama joined those who endorse dropping Saturday service.

But the proposed postal cuts, coming amid a broader attack on the public sector, are sparking growing resistance. At a march and rally in defense of public-sector jobs held earlier this month in Raleigh, N.C., Tony McKinnon with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) in Fayetteville, N.C. addressed the crowd.

"Every time the economy goes down, one of the first thing they do is attack public-sector workers," McKinnon said. "The Postal Service is now under attack."

APWU is one of the organizers of today's rallies, along with the National Association of Letter Carriers, National Rural Letter Carriers' Association and the National Postal Mailhandlers. The rallies are calling on Congress to approve H.R. 1351, a bill that would release $6.9 billion in pension obligations back to the USPS for its operations. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), has bipartisan support in the House with 215 co-sponsors so far -- almost half of the body's 435 voting members.

Jeanette P. Dwyer, the North Carolina-based president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, calls H.R. 1351 a "fair and sensible approach" to the Postal Service's financial problems. "Unlike other bills in Congress, this legislation does not use taxpayer money and requires no drastic cuts in services to the American people," Dwyer said.

But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been withholding action on the measure while pushing his own bill, H.R. 2309, which would establish a "solvency authority" with the power to cut postal workers' wages, benefits and jobs while closing thousands of post offices and ending to-the-door mail delivery. The measure, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), won approval last week from the committee's Federal Workforce Subcommittee.

For more information about today's rallies, which are scheduled from 4 to 5:30 p.m., click here.

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis is the Director and regular contributor to the Institute for Southern Study's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or co-author of five Institute reports, including Faith in the Gulf (Aug/Sept 2008), Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (January 2008) and Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (Aug/Sept 2007). Sue holds a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

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