Santa's postal helpers in Christmas, Mich., have demanded higher wages and walked off the job this year.
For more than a decade, letters to Santa and greeting cards mailed to Christmas, an Upper Peninsula village of 250, have been hand-stamped with the town's postmark and rerouted to their final destinations.
But last month, Dick and Sharon Miller, who inherited the postal job a decade ago from an elderly resident, announced that they would no longer work for what they viewed as Scrooge wages.
The Millers complained that the U.S. Postal Service paid them only $1 a year to serve as the contract station in Christmas, even though they hand-stamped between 10,000 and 12,000 letters every holiday season.
"At least we should get the minimum wage," said Dick Miller, owner of the Christmas Cone and Party Store.
The Postal Service advertised for a new contract station in Christmas, but it rejected both of the bids it received as being too high. The highest bid came from the Millers, who offered to cancel letters and decorate them with red-and-green Santas and wreaths for $10,000 a year.
Bah Humbug! replied Al Gruetzmacher, the postmaster in nearby Munising, who has wielded the Christmas stamp since the Millers quit. Gruetzmacher told officials at the USPS regional office in Chicago that it would be cheaper to dispatch a postal employe to Christmas for four hours each day during November and December.
"He figured sending in an employe would cost us about $3,500 per year," said Walter Dyer, a USPS spokesman in Chicago. Gruetzmacher's bosses liked his plan but told him to give the residents of Christmas one last chance, Dyer said.
"We are going to re-advertise, and if a bid comes in under $3,500 per year, we probably will take it," Dyer explained. It will take USPS until after Christmas to advertise and review its bids. Until then, it has told Gruetzmacher to continue canceling letters with the Christmas postmark even if he has to do it from Munising.