Postal employee Sondra Ferrell loads a flat of sorted mail at the U.S. Postal Service’s southern Maryland sorting facility in Capitol Heights in August. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

This post originally had incorrect details about the bill post unions are supporting; it has been corrected.

Postal workers rallied nationwide on Tuesday in hopes of drawing attention to Democratic-backed legislation supported by their labor unions that they think 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 establish a financial control board to overhaul USPS finances — and possibly force layoffs.

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

Fran Owens, an eastern region representative with the American Postal Workers Union, called Issa’s measure “a union-busting bill” that didn’t merit a vote. She blamed the Postal Service’s financial problems on a 2006 reform package that forced USPS 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 persuading lawmakers to support their efforts.

In the Washington region, similar rallies were 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 advanced Issa’s bill last week and it is expected to emerge from Issa’s committee in the coming weeks before 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 behind the counter, Norris said she notices that customers are waiting in longer lines to buy stamps or send packages.

Worse, Norris said, “management is telling us nothing” about USPS’s potential 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, eager to keep USPS operating at full throttle, have long argued that the billions of dollars in annual payments — and not declining mail volume — are to blame for USPS’s historic losses. Their decision to hold joint rallies on Tuesday signals further cooperation between organizations that haven’t always worked in tandem. Three of the unions announced plans last week to run television ads through November on cable news channels to promote the Lynch bill.

A short-term spending bill that the Senate approved Monday and that the House is likely to clear this week would give the Postal Service until mid-November to make the $5.5 billion in payments, but postal officials had hoped for more time, warning they will be unable to afford the payments this year.

In an effort to cut costs and stay solvent, Postal Service officials are insisting they can secure competitive deals for workers’ health insurance. On Tuesday, the Office of Personnel Management said most postal workers using the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) would see an average 4.5 percent increase in health-care premiums next year. Most civilian federal employees will see a 3.8 percent increase in premium costs in 2012, OPM said. Postal workers generally pay a lower percentage of their health-insurance costs than other federal workers because they have a different mix of plans.

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

USPS first proposed withdrawing from FEHBP and the federal retirement program in August, when it also asked Congress to allow it to circumvent the no-layoff provisions in its union contracts.

In an interview Tuesday, Vegliante said circumventing the contracts is not an “all-or-nothing” proposal. But he showed no such backing away from the plan to pull out of the health-care program, even though it hasn’t been endorsed by the White House or developed much support in Congress.

“I don’t have any backup lights,” Vegliante said.

Staff writer Joe Davidson contributed to this report.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edapost

Further reading:

The Federal Eye coverage of the U.S. Postal Service

Postal service, long a gateway to middle class, is facing major job cuts