Nearly two dozen members of the American Postal Workers Local 3722 — Mid-Hudson Area participated in a National Day of Action Rally at the New Paltz Post Office on Friday, November 14. The event was one of 150 rallies in 48 states held to protest planned postal service cuts and sorting facility closures. The reduction of service standards to be implemented January 5 and the scheduled April closing of the Mid-Hudson Newburgh mail sorting facility will slow mail delivery to our area even more than has already happened in recent years and result in the end of overnight mail delivery. All mail — including local newspapers, online purchases, bill payments and checks received and first-class mail from one address to another within the same city or town — will be delayed.
“We’re just trying to keep the plant open and keep the mail being processed locally, so that we don’t delay the mail any further than it already has been,” said Christine Lawlor Roth, president of Mid-Hudson Area Local 3722. “Our ideal would be that it be put back the way it was five years ago and return all the processing to Mid-Hudson [Newburgh] so that no mail is delayed. We want it back to the first class mail being overnight instead of this two to three, sometimes five-day delivery we have now.”
The Mid-Hudson Newburgh facility is one of 82 mail processing and distribution centers nationwide scheduled to close on April 15, slated to join the more than 140 plants that have already been closed since 2012. The resulting changes in service standards since then have already slowed local delivery from what it was, due to the 150-mile ride our local mail now takes up to Albany for canceling before it’s sent back to Newburgh for the final stages of processing. “That’s delaying the mail now,” said Lawlor Roth. “Everyone has felt it.” But it’ll be even worse should the planned changes come to pass and the Newburgh facility closes.
John Bouck is the chief steward for the American Postal Workers Union. He worked in the Newburgh facility for 29 years until last September when USPS downsizing brought him to work in New Paltz. “They’ve been trying to close [the Newburgh facility] for ten years, and we’re just not going to let them do it,” he said. “It makes no sense. There’s no way you can do what we do there cheaper anywhere else; it’s not going to save any money, and the town and the community need the jobs. If they close that plant, they have to relax the delivery standards for the mail.” He pointed out two businesses across the street from the post office. “Meaning if you mail a letter from that one to that one, it will take three days, whereas it goes overnight now.”
The rent on the building in Newburgh costs $1 per year. That’s no typo — it’s one dollar, said Bouck. “Anybody who tells you that closing it saves money… it’s not going to. We want to keep that plant open; it’s at the intersection of major highways, right on the runway of the airport; all the express mail for the entire area comes into that building.”
The closing of the Newburgh distribution center means that the mail now sent up to Albany for canceling will also have to undergo its final processing of separation by streets and addresses for delivery there. “To do our mail in Albany means that they’ll have to do it on the day shift, because they don’t have the room to do the mail otherwise,” said Bouck. “With their other responsibilities, that means it can’t get delivered in a timely manner.”
In the fiscal year 2014, the United States Postal Service (USPS) earned more than $1 billion in operating profit (and that’s been on the rise over the last few years). So what’s the problem? The reason can be traced to the lame duck Congress in 2006 that decreed the USPS must pre-fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance over a ten-year period at a cost of $5.8 billion per year. No other public or private entity has that burden, and the responsibility for it negates the actual profits that the postal service earns.
“We’d have the money,” said Lawlor Roth, “if we didn’t have to prefund a retirement for 75 years into the future. And it doesn’t make sense to do that; we’ve never had any problem paying employees their retirement salary without having any prefunded retirement.” New employees coming into the postal service are being paid at a much lower rate as “PSEs,” she said — postal support employees, i.e. assistants — “and they’re not paid enough to stick around for long. They’re not going to have people to retire in 75 years at the rate they’re going.”
Both Lawlor Roth and Bouck note the common perception that the USPS runs on tax dollars. “We do not. We don’t receive one penny in tax money,” said Bouck. “We make our money selling stamps and from whatever else we do.” And the unions have been cooperative, he said, taking a hit in Newburgh already where the job force that used to number 650 is now approximately 100.
The date for the National Day of Action rallies was chosen to coincide with a meeting held that day in Washington, DC at postal service headquarters between the USPS board of governors and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. And in a surprise move met by the cheers of several hundred postal workers who were protesting at the site — and denied admission to what was supposed to be a public meeting — Donahoe used the occasion to submit his retirement, effective February 1. The new postmaster general will be Megan Brennan, currently the post office’s chief operating officer. She will be the first female postmaster general.
Whether the changing of the guard will make a difference in the plans to close the 82 sorting facilities has yet to be seen.
“We’re hopeful that it will,” said Lawlor Roth. “We’re not sure if she’s going to turn things around and work with us. We hope she sees that it’s not a good way to go for the postal service or the customers. In addition to the jobs we’re going to lose, the customers are the ones, bottom line, who are losing big time.”
The closing of the 82 facilities will mean the loss of 15,000 jobs. And the postal service is one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans.
“We’re hoping that somebody that gets it, gets involved,” said Bouck. “We’re reaching out to our congressmen and our senators; [Congressman] Sean Patrick Maloney has been very helpful to us. But anybody who looks at the facts knows that it just doesn’t make any sense.”
For more information, visit www.apwu.org.