On a recent Saturday morning, 500 protesters poured out of a parade of school buses, signs and megaphones in hand, and tried their best to shame a single Staples store just outside Chicago. Among them was Mike Suchomel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, who traveled all the way from New Jersey for a nearby labor conference. What has infuriated Suchomel and many of his fellow postal union members is a new arrangement struck between USPS and the office supply retailer. Under the premise of a pilot program, a limited number of Staples locations are now offering most of the same services provided at post offices, to be handled by Staples employees rather than postal workers. “It’s just a big step toward privatization,” said Suchomel, who hopped a bus to the protest from the Labor Notes conference, a biannual gathering of labor activists held in Chicago. “I think it’s a terrible thing that the postmaster general would even think about this.”
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is usually pretty good at peering behind the rhetoric and seeing what is really going on. But in tearing into Senator Elizabeth Warren’s support of postal financial services, he has done a serious disservice to the underdogs — both the underbanked and the U.S. Postal Service itself. In his February 27 article “Liz Warren Goes Postal,” Palast attacked her support of the USPS Inspector General’s proposal to add “non-bank” financial services to the U.S. Postal Service, calling it “cruel, stupid and frightening” and equating it with the unethical payday lending practices it seeks to eliminate.
Declaring that “the U.S. Postal Service is under unprecedented attack,” the presidents of the four postal unions have formed a historic alliance to fight back. “A congressionally-manufactured financial crisis drains the USPS of vital resources,” the union presidents write in a proclamation [PDF] signed over the last several days. “Six-day delivery is under constant threat of elimination. The reduction of service standards and the elimination of half of the nation’s mail processing centers has slowed service and wiped out tens of thousands of good jobs. Post offices in cities and small towns are being sold or closed or having their hours cut back.
Holding signs aloft and using a megaphone, the protesters staged a sit-in on the processing center’s loading dock and refused to leave when asked to do so. Arrested by U.S. Postal Inspection Service police officers, the protesters were cited for blocking the loading dock, a federal misdemeanor charge, and quickly released. Among those arrested were Bart Bolger, a part-time rural letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service; Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier from Portland; and Peg Morton, a longtime Eugene peace activist. The sit-in followed a rally outside the adjacent Gateway post office attended by about 40 people — including processing center employees, activists and local elected officials — on what is typically the busiest day of the year for the Postal Service.
If you had a great job that paid really well, but your health insurance benefits from that job had to be paid in full for 75 years into the future, it wouldn’t matter how much you got paid because you would always be broke and in debt. The same thing is happening to the United States Postal Service. The USPS is NOT in trouble. Despite the doom and gloom trumpeted by the corporate media, the post office actually posted $700 million in operation profits in the last four years. The USPS is certainly in a crisis, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the post office’s facilities, online commerce or employee salaries. It should come as a surprise to nobody that the USPS’s dire financial situation is a direct result of the callousness and shortsightedness of Congress.
Calling themselves “postal protectors,” 15 activists gathered in the lobby of the main post office in downtown Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, holding signs protesting postal privatization. Seven were arrested while attempting to negotiate a meeting with District Manager Erica Brix. After months of attempts to gain a meeting with senior postal managers, the “protectors” showed up armed with more than a thousand signatures on a petition. Since August senior postal managers have received requests—from postal union local presidents, from Congresspeople, and from community groups—for meetings to discuss an end to privatization of postal jobs. For the sixth time, the activists were refused. “Postal truckers, mail handlers, and mail processing clerks are losing their jobs to profiteering private corporations,” declared Michael Colvin, a retired teacher and one of those arrested. “We are protesting the privatization of the people’s postal service. We oppose the destruction of family-wage, union jobs and the delay of the people’s mail.”
In an impassioned speech before more than 1,000 union members, the newly-elected national president of the American Postal Workers Union, Mark Dimondstein, issued a call for a “grand alliance” to save the USPS as a public postal service and to protect postal jobs. To succeed, postal workers must build a movement, he said. “When the Flint sit-down strikers occupied a General Motors plant in the 1930s, labor law reform was won. When women took to the streets to demand the right to vote, they won. When courageous civil rights workers fought segregation with sit-ins and boycotts, the 1964 Civil Rights Act followed,” Dimondstein said. “History shows that movements move Congress. Movements create legislative victories, not the other way around,” he said. “We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers,” he proclaimed.
In July 2011 the United States Postal Service (USPS) management announced it would rapidly close 3600 local post offices and eventually as many as 15,000. And shutter half the nation’s mail processing centers. A frenzy of grassroots activity erupted as citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes a defining role in their communities. Only when Congress appeared ready to impose a six month moratorium on closures and consolidations that December did USPS management agree to a voluntarily moratorium of the same length. That moratorium ended in May 2012. Rather than proceed with closings, management embraced a devilishly clever new strategy.
Ralph Nader wants Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) to introduce legislation to put a halt to the sell off of United States Postal Service (USPS) buildings around the country. In a letter, Nader calls on Feinstein to “introduce and champion a bill to immediately suspend all sales of postal properties throughout the country.” Why Feinstein? As it turns out, Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, is chairman of the C.B. Richard Ellis Group (CBRE), which has an exclusive contract to negotiate the sale of USPS real estate. Investigative journalist Richard Byrne has dug into CBRE’s and Blum’s activities and written an expose, most recenty in e-book form, titled: Going Postal: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Husband Sells Post Offices to His Friends, Cheap.
We are proud to announce the release of four new occucards. The first (#22) is on the Surveillance State. Thanks to the courage of Edward Snowden, it is now confirmed that the NSA monitors, collects and stores virtually all domestic electronic communications, including telephone calls, emails and texts, in direct violation of the fourth amendment of the U.S. constitution. Snowden’s revelations have shocked the country, put the corporate-intelligence network on the defensive and ignited a movement to end NSA spying (see stopwatching.us). Our card also addresses the likely reason for the implementation of such a massive domestic spy program, which is not about protecting us from terrorism, but about protecting corporate interests from us amidst increasing economic inequality, environmental collapse and social unrest.
When a post office closes, it is obviously that much harder to buy a stamp, pick up a package, send a registered letter, or purchase a money order. But inconvenience alone did not account for the existential angst being expressed by the mostly over-fifty members of the throng as they questioned the motives of the United States Postal Service for selling post offices all over the country to developers. “Which of our public assets will be privatized next?” speakers asked. “Streets? Schools? The Lincoln Bedroom?” The Berkeley crowd is not acting alone: From the beaches of Santa Monica to the avenues of the Bronx to the orange farms of Nalcrest, Florida, people who like the US Mail are getting mad. “Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Postman! That is our community post office — ”
Public support for the USPS is the primary reason that it has been preserved. This is still a huge battle. More than taking a defensive position, it is important to go on the offense and demand not only that the attack on the USPS end but that the services offered by the USPS are expanded. There are a number of exciting possibilities. According to Jim Sauber of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the USPS has more storefront facilities nationwide than five or six fast food chains and Starbucks combined. Post offices exist in every community, even in places that have been abandoned by private companies and banks because they are rural or do not have enough commercial business. It is in these communities in particular that the local post office serves as a lifeline. Some have suggested that the post office could provide notary services and fishing and hunting licenses. Other possibilities include voting and financial services.
The Postal Service can thrive in a digital age by innovating and adapting to provide new services, as it has done repeatedly over its 230-plus year history. The Postal Service’s universal reach — its mandate to cover even the very last mile to touch every American, six days a week — is part of what makes it more than just a business and so vital to American life. For all its current problems, the Postal Service remains an important national asset that is just as vital to the nation’s infrastructure as the Interstate highway system. Congress should not settle for slashing costs and battling over which services to cut. Instead, it should start working a plan to revitalize the Postal Service in a manner that makes sense for our way of life in the 21st century.
Protesters have been occupying the space for nearly two weeks in a last-ditch effort to prevent the sale of the post office to private developers. The investigators, federal agents dedicated to enforcing Postal Service regulation, warned protesters verbally and provided them with the service’s rules governing conduct on Postal Service property on Friday. Agents have not attempted to forcefully remove the protesters but continue to monitor the scene. Currently, the protest is being held by four or five activists handing out pamphlets and talking to passers-by as well as a few loiterers who say they will remain despite the threat of law enforcement.