The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

September 27, 2011

Rally supports postal workers

MANKATO — Four-dozen area postal workers and supporters at Mankato’s Jackson Park joined thousands of colleagues at rallies around the country aimed at preventing massive cuts in jobs and customer service that they contend are the result of a manufactured crisis.

“We think we can be a viable entity without any kind of a bailout and without going on the chopping block,” said Bob Sturtz of Winnebago, the Minnesota president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association.

The postal employees don’t dispute that Americans’ ever-growing use of electronic communication and bill-paying has been a blow to the U.S. Postal Service. But the bigger problem is a 2006 law forcing the organization to pre-fund 75 years worth of retiree health care benefits within 10 years.

The law, passed by Congress when the Postal Service was especially profitable, straps it with a burden that no other public agency or private company must bear, according to postal worker unions. Without the requirement, the Postal Service would have been profitable in the past four fiscal years — despite the deep economic recession.

The focus of the rallies, held in cities across America Tuesday afternoon, was House File 1351, which would ease the retirement pre-funding requirement.

“It’s the best bill out there,” said Sturtz, who works out of the Blue Earth post office. “It doesn’t use any taxpayer dollars, and it doesn’t break apart the postal service.”

The rallies organized by postal worker unions aimed to send a message to the public that drastic cuts aren’t necessary to keep the Postal Service profitable and to persuade members of Congress to support HF 1351. The latter had already been accomplished locally, and Rep. Tim Walz was on hand to offer his support for the legislation and for the workers.

A Mankato Democrat, Walz said the pre-funding of the retiree costs for 75 years is unprecedented and unreasonable. Opposition to changing the provision stems in part from anti-labor sentiment among some conservatives and in part from their desire to privatize public sector operations, Walz said.

Delivery of mail by private sector companies wouldn’t provide the level of accountability to the public that the Postal Service does, Walz said. And it would also lead to higher costs for rural Americans who don’t offer the economies of scale that are in place in urban areas.

He’s hopeful that the legislation easing the 75-year requirement will become law, particularly as more and more members of Congress see local post offices closing in their districts. But there is a belief among some lawmakers “that government can’t do anything,” he said.

Other bills before Congress, particularly legislation sponsored by Rep. Darrel Issa of California, would make dramatic cuts in the Postal Service. Issa, the Republican chairman of the House committee overseeing the Postal Service, said the changes — including the potential reduction in the organization’s workforce of 120,000 employees and the end of Saturday mail delivery — is necessary to avoid a future taxpayer bailout.

Area postal workers strongly disagree, saying the organization has shown its ability to adapt over its long history. The number of postal workers, for instance, has dropped from more than 700,000 to about 535,000 in recent years.

Americans’ fondness for electronic communication is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one, they say.

“Sure, it’s an obstacle to us,” said Harold Weed, a North Mankato resident and member of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “But when the telegraph came, we overcame that. When the telephone came, we overcame that. We just have to be smart.”

Besides, Sturtz said, people still want stuff that has to be delivered by hand.

“You can order by eBay,” he said. “But somebody has to deliver that product.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News