Letter carriers protest in Vancouver

They oppose federal plan to cut back on services

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Southwest Washington letter carriers hosted a demonstration on Thursday outside the Marshall House in Vancouver to fight a federal proposal that would cut back on post office services, including eliminating Saturday mail delivery.

Some 35 people showed up to hear members of the National Association of Letter Carriers union discuss U.S. Senate Bill 1789. The legislation would limit mail delivery to weekdays only and change door-to-door delivery to “cluster” delivery, in which neighbors would get mail from a centrally located cluster of mailboxes.

Those speaking at the rally said the legislation, as well as 2006 legislation affecting the U.S. Postal Service’s retirement fund, are attempts by big businesses to weaken public trust in the agency and eventually shut down the service, making way for mail delivery privatization. Some attending the rally also said the bill would eliminate 1 in 6 jobs within the Postal Service, and that the USPS makes a special effort to hire U.S. veterans.

“Those kids have a chance at a middle-class job,” Paul Price, a national business agent with the union, told the crowd on Thursday.

He said he worries that if the postal service is eventually eliminated, privatizing mail delivery would harm consumers, especially those living in remote areas that a business might deem too costly to service.

“Big businesses want to come in and take what’s profitable,” Price said.

Price acknowledged that the ability to send letters and conduct other business online has affected the postal service, but not as much as a recent government law.

The union would like to see lawmakers repeal the requirement that the postal service overpay into its retirement benefit fund. Those prepayments caused the semi-independent agency to go into the red by roughly $5 billion in 2011. Had it not existed, the agency would have ended in the black, Postal Service advocates say.

“Stop that nonsense payment,” Price said, adding that the Postal Service belongs to the American people. “It’s yours. Keep it that way.”

The country’s postal service is 236 years old, and although it is a government agency, it has not relied on tax funds since 1971, Price told the group during the rally. The agency receives its income through postage fees, with tax money sometimes designated for mailing voter documents to Americans with disabilities or those living in other countries.

During the rally, National Association of Letter Carriers legislative liaison Mike Blazey passed a petition around that calls for the repeal of SB 1789, which was introduced by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Rally organizers planned to distribute the petition to Washington’s U.S. senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

“We know reform is coming,” Blazey said. “We want the public to know what the bad and the good is, and for you to join in.”

The legislation rallied against by the letter carriers has received support from charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross because it preserves the nonprofit postal rate.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523, http://www.facebook.com/reportermathieu, http://www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com