Story by Jamie Partridge • Photos by Jerry Atkin
Over forty demonstrators, ten of whom blocked the entrance to the Portland Air Cargo Center (US Postal Service), declared victory against “postal privatizers” today. According to postal service managers, several morning mail runs by subcontractor Dill Star trucking were disrupted by the protest.
”Postal truckers, mail handlers and mail processing clerks are losing their jobs to profiteering, private corporations,” declared Jamie Partridge, a blockader and retired letter carrier. “We intend to stop this attack on our communities.”
Calling themselves “postal protectors,” the ten included members of postal unions, a pastor, a small business person, people of color, seniors, a teacher, and a veteran, all of whom declared themselves impacted by postal privatization.
Chanting, picketing and holding banners that read “Stop Privatization of the People’s Postal Service” and “Save Family Wage, Union Jobs”, the protesters vowed to further interfere with private mail transport, handling and processing, if postal management did not reverse the subcontracting of postal jobs.
Portland Communities and Postal Workers United (PCPWU) has been fighting cuts and closures to the postal service for the past year. In May 2012, ten activists were arrested occupying Portland’s University Station post office, which has since been closed. In April of this year, five protesters went to jail for a civil disobedience action at the Salem mail plant, which is now being dismantled with mail processing machines moving to Portland.
Postal mail handlers and processing clerks are losing their jobs in Salem, as their work is being subcontracted to the low-wage, non-postal, non-union Matheson corporation in Portland.
At the same time, Portland postal truckers are being put on standby while the low-wage, non-postal, non-union Dill Star/ LAPO trucking company takes their work.
“This privatization and union-busting is being carried out in the name of a phony financial emergency,” said Rev. John Schwiebert, one of ten in the blockade. “The security, safety, and timely delivery of the mail are all at risk. Rural communities, seniors and the disabled, small businesses and low-income communities are hit the hardest. Postal management needs to stop and reverse these closures, cuts, and subcontracts which are sending our beloved postal service into a death spiral.”
MAIL HANDLERS AND PROCESSING CLERKS
Mail sorting machines being moved from Salem cannot fit into the Portland Air Cargo Center, so space is being leased next door in the Matheson (Asiana Cargo) facility. But when the SWYB machine is moved into the Matheson space, it will be worked by twelve non-postal mail handlers and six non-postal processing clerks, hired by Matheson. USPS management says the subcontracting is necessary to save labor costs in this “financial emergency”.
No postal truckers have been hired for years, leading to understaffing and excessive overtime. Postal management’s solution is to subcontract approximately twenty trucking routes in the Portland area to a fly-by-night outfit, Dill Star/LAPO trucking. Not only was this a no-bid subcontract, but the company is in bankruptcy (they owe USPS over $300,000). Dill Star is using USPS trailers while the USPS pays over $30,000 per month to lease nine tractors for Dill Star’s use, plus the company is being paid $59/hour for the driving. Meanwhile, postal management abolished seven full-time postal trucking positions and approximately fifteen postal truckers have had their hours drastically reduced and are stuck on standby two to six hours a day.
PHONY FINANCIAL EMERGENCY
The “financial emergency” is phony. Since 2006 the USPS has been forced to spend nearly 10% of its budget pre-funding retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. No other U.S. agency or private business faces such a crushing financial burden. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, the USPS has also over-paid tens of billions into two pension funds.
COSTLY CUTS, CLOSURES, AND CONTRACTING-OUT
In the past year, the Postmaster General has closed 30% of mail processing plants, reduced hours by 25% – 75% in half of post offices, put hundreds of post offices up for sale, subcontracted trucking and mail handling, eliminated tens of thousands of family wage, postal jobs and delayed mail delivery.
The USPS own studies (revealed at the March 22, 2012 meeting of the Postal Regulatory Commission), showed that big mailers leave the system as a result of such delays, costing more in lost revenue than is saved by lowering labor costs, not to mention the dramatic increase in trucking costs as mail is transported hundreds of extra miles to be sorted in the closest still open facilities.
Postal workers have seen their wages cut by 25% for new hires. Bottom-tier Postal Support Employees (truckers and clerks) and Mail Handler Assistants now make less in wages and benefits than the non-postal, non-union sub-contract workers.
The postal service is not broke. Subcontracting work is unnecessary and costly. However, the agenda of corporate America, their friends in Congress and in postal management, according to the CPWU, is to cripple the USPS, to soften it up for union busting and privatization. The USPS is a $65 billion annual business with over $100 billion surplus in its pension and retiree health benefit funds, over 30,000 post offices and 200,000 vehicles. Postal activists claim that America is being confronted with a huge transfer of public wealth to for-profit, private corporations.