Charges dropped in Oregon postal protests
Activists vow to escalate the pressure on USPS
“I suspect the authorities dropped the charges because they were afraid of us,” said Rev. John Schwiebert, one of the “Forever Five” arrestees (so named for the “forever” stamp and to protect “forever” the postal service). “They knew we were planning to plead not-guilty to criminal trespass and to demand a jury trial. We were ready to plead that our “occupation” of the Salem mail processing plant was in the public interest, to preserve our constitutionally mandated postal service.” The protesters claim that closure of the Salem plant is itself a criminal act, violating Title 39, U.S. Code, Sec. 404 which requires the postal service to provide a “maximum degree of effective and regular services…” and to consider the effect of plant “consolidations” on communities, jobs and service.
Mail sorting machines from the Salem plant began to be removed on April 30th, headed north to Portland and south to Medford. In the beginning of May, mail collection times and overnight delivery standards changed throughout Oregon. Although their plants are not scheduled for closure until later this year, mail from Eugene/ Springfield, Bend and Pendleton is already being shipped all the way to Portland to be sorted. Mail is being delayed one or two days.
The U.S. Postal Service’s own studies (see attached), which they attempted to suppress, 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 management is tearing apart the infrastructure of the public postal service,” said Jamie Partridge, retired letter carrier and one of the Forever Five arrestees. Vowing further bold actions, Partridge declared that “we plan to escalate this fight to save our national treasure.”
The Salem, Springfield, Bend and Pendleton plant closures will eliminate approximately three hundred local union jobs, delay Oregon mail delivery, and disproportionately affect small businesses, the elderly, rural communities, the one-half of the public that pays bills by mail and the many who lack access to reliable internet service. Oregon’s vote-by-mail system could be compromised.
Despite a “no lay-off” provision in union contracts, at least forty workers in the Salem plant have lost their jobs, according to local union officials. Twenty-eight were forced into early retirement and twenty Postal Support Employees “lost their hours.” Over sixty other workers were “excessed” to Portland or other facilities.
At least eighteen of these union, postal jobs will be subcontracted to Matheson Flight Extenders, according to union leaders in Portland. Twelve mail handler positions and six clerk positions will be filled by low wage, non-postal, non-union workers at Matheson, which owns a warehouse next to the USPS Portland Air Cargo Center. Postal management states that the PACC cannot hold all the machines from Salem, so they must moved into the private facility. They claim that union workers are too expensive, thus subcontracting is required.
Further subcontracting has hit postal truckers in the Portland area. Faced with understaffing and extensive overtime, the USPS decided to contract out twenty tractor-trailer routes to Dill Star Trucking, instead of hiring union postal truck drivers. Claiming an “emergency”, postal management issued the no-bid contract, sub-leased postal trailers to Dill Star, and put APWU-represented postal truckers in “short” trucks with many on stand-by for up to six hours.
The protesters, organized by Communities and Postal Workers United, a national grassroots network, claim that a 2006 Congressional mandate, which forces the U.S. Postal Service to prefund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, has created a phony financial crisis. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, says CPWU, the USPS has also overpaid tens of billions into two pension funds.
The activists are calling on postal management to suspend cuts and closures and allow Congress to fix the finances by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus. Twin bills, HR 630, sponsored by U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (Oregon) and S 316, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), would fix postal finances and prevent plant and office closures and service cuts.