Postal Service employees hold rallies nationwide

Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST - Rep. Gerald Connolly, left, talks with Ernie Kirkland of the National Association of Letter Carriers at a rally in Annandale, Va., Tuesday.

Postal workers rallied Tuesday across the country in hopes of drawing attention to Democratic-backed legislation supported by their labor unions that they believe would best fix the U.S. Postal Service’s financial woes.

At a rally in downtown Washington, several dozen workers angrily targeted Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who is co-sponsoring a bill that would set up a financial control board to overhaul USPS finances — and possibly force layoffs.

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“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Darrell Issa has got to go!” workers chanted along 14th Street NW outside the offices of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

Fran Owens, an eastern region representative with the American Postal Workers Union, called Issa’s measure “a union-busting bill.” She blamed USPS’s financial problems on a 2006 postal reform package that forced the Postal Service to pay about $5.5 billion annually to fund future retiree benefits.

“Ever since that bill became effective, we’ve been in the red,” Owens said. “All that we need is for that payment to go away.”

With USPS set to announce up to $10 billion in losses when its fiscal year ends Friday, organizers said members of five major postal unions and worker groups — the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mailhandlers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association and the National Association of Postal Supervisors — planned to hold rallies in each congressional district in hopes of swaying lawmakers. In the Washington area, rallies were also held in Silver Spring, Rockville, Annandale and Herndon.

Several measures are under consideration in the House and Senate, and postal unions are supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) that would refund billions of dollars USPS has paid into federal retirement accounts and allow the mail agency to recalculate its payments.

But a House subcommittee last week advanced Issa’s bill, which is expected to emerge from Issa’s committee in the coming weeks for an up-or-down vote in the GOP-led House.

At Tuesday’s rally in Washington, workers said a shrinking postal workforce is forcing them to carry heavier workloads.

“You are under a lot of pressure to get the job done,” said Linda J. Norris, a postal employee at the Curseen-Morris mail-processing facility in Northeast Washington. After 38 years with USPS, she said she now carries a workload once assigned to three employees. And with fewer clerks at the counter, Norris said customers are waiting in longer lines for service.

Worse, Norris said, “management is telling us nothing” about USPS’s future course of action.

“I think in three years it will be safe to retire,” said Norris, 57. “But younger colleagues — they may have it harder. They’re not even hiring young people now; they’re just hiring people for a year at a time.”

Postal unions have long argued that the billions in annual payments — and not the declining mail volume — are responsible for USPS’s losses. Their decision to hold joint rallies Tuesday signaled further cooperation between organizations that haven’t always worked in tandem. Three of the unions last week announced plans to run TV ads through November on cable news channels to promote Lynch’s bill.

A short-term spending bill approved Monday by the Senate and likely to clear the House this week would give USPS until mid-November to make the $5.5 billion payment, but postal officials had hoped for more time.

Postal Service officials are also insisting that they can secure competitive deals for worker health insurance. On Tuesday, the Office of Personnel Management said most postal workers using the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would see an average 4.5 percent increase in the cost of health-care premiums next year. Most civilian federal employees will see a 3.8 percent increase in premiums in 2012, OPM said. Postal workers generally pay a lower percentage of their entire premium than other federal workers because they have a different mix of plans.

The Postal Service’s chief human resources officer, Anthony Vegliante, said he believes that USPS can provide “the same and possibly even better health-care choices” in a program separate from FEHBP, and “its our managerial and fiduciary responsibility” to do so.

Staff writer Joe Davidson contributed to this report.

 
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