A small but determined group of postal workers and supporters will travel to Washington today to stage a four-day hunger strike to protest the U.S. Postal Service’s deteriorating finances and service and Congress’s failure to address the situation.
The strikers will make their stand days before the postal service makes changes that will end overnight delivery of up to 20 percent of the country’s first-class mail, as mail-sorting hubs are shuttered.
The group, Communities and Postal Workers United, formed this spring, with rallies in several cities to protest a range of planned cuts to postal services. Organizers plan to kick off their strike with a 10 a.m. press conference at the Capitol on Monday with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D- Ohio) the only member of Congress so far who has publicly supported the effort.
On Tuesday, the activists will march to the Capitol from the postal service headquarters at l’Enfant Plaza; on Wednesday, they plan a protest in front of the Washington Post offices on 15th Street. The strike is scheduled to end Thursday with a rally in front of postal service headquarters, where protesters say they will try to meet with Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe.
The activists say they are targeting the newspaper over a series of editorials that have pressed for more cost-cutting and criticized the postal service’s contracts with its labor unions as too generous to employees.
But the biggest target is Congress, which has not passed legislation to reform the cash-strapped agency. The Senate approved a bill in April that would rebalance postal finances by giving billions of dollars to offer buyouts and early retirement incentives to employees. Several bills are pending in the House.
When they are not marching, the activists plan to demonstrate at congressional offices in yellow T-shirts bearing the message: “Congress is starving the postal service.”
The theme of the strike is that cuts to service — slower mail, reduced window hours at 13,000 rural post offices, shuttering processing plants — will only hurt business by draining revenue. There’s a labor issue too: The service is expected to lose tens of thousands of jobs in coming years through buyouts and attrition.
“You reduce service, and people give up on the service,” said Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier from Portland who is coming to Washington to strike. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The activists say declining mail volume and criticism of bloated union contracts are not the cause of the postal service’s financial woes. They argue that Congress can solve the problem by giving the postal service access to billions of dollars it has paid — unnecessarily, many say — into health benefit and pension funds.
The hunger strikers are calling on Donohoe to maintain delivery standards and suspend cuts and closures until Congress acts.
In a statement Friday, the postal service said, “We respect the right of our employees and retirees to engage in lawful public dialogue regarding postal issues. We have worked hard over this past year to bring to the attention of Congress, the [Obama] administration, the news media and the American public the urgent need for postal reform legislation.”
But the statement said the agency’s projected losses of $14 billion this fiscal year require “necessary and responsible cost-reduction steps.”
The hunger strikers have been endorsed by many groups active in the Occupy movement, as well as local chapters of several postal unions.