Big changes are coming to the USPS — if Congress ever gets off its butt and passes them. In addition to closing rural post offices, there is a proposal to drop Saturday delivery.
Some postal workers are unhappy about that, and other changes, and are staging a hunger strike to draw attention to their concerns.
Six former and current postal workers, part of a group called Communities and Postal Workers United, are calling the strike “six days starving to save six-day delivery.” Their goal is to stop Congress from reducing postal delivery to five days a week.
“We have to be on guard, to raise awareness and pressure the decision-makers as they wrangle back-room deals,” group spokesman Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier from Portland, said in a statement.
The same small, grassroots group staged a hunger strike in June to protest legislation proposed to overhaul the service.
The agency lost $16 billion in fiscal year 2012, and needs to cut around $22.5 billion from its annual budget by 2016.
One top proposal, to reduce postal delivery days in order to reduce expenses at the cash-strapped USPS, would also cut letter carrier jobs. According to the protesters, as many as 80,000 postal jobs could be lost.
Congress has been unable to pass postal reform measures and the House and the Senate are in recess until after Christmas.
This week, the group targeted President Obama and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) for endorsing legislation that would cut postal delivery to five days a week.
There is an argument about what has caused the uncontrolled bleeding of red ink. Certainly the rise of email and alternative package delivery services has cut volume substantially. But there was also a change to how the USPS prefunds its benefit payments. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) forced the postal service to set aside billions of dollars to fund retirement and health benefits for employees it hasn’t even hired yet. While prudent, the measure is draining cash from USPS coffers at exactly the wrong time.
There is a bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch that would allow the USPS to tap that fund and pay off some of its current debt. This would be a temporary solution, but so would enacting most of the reforms the postal service thinks are necessary to get it back in the black.
The long term solution is a smaller, leaner USPS. But is stopping Saturday delivery necessary? Eventually, going to a 5-eday delivery schedule will probably be necessary to save the USPS from going under.