BY Liza Béar | Wearing T-shirts with the message, “Congress is Starving the Post Office,” the 10 postal activists who took part in a hunger strike from June 25 to 28 in Washington, D.C., demonstrated at congressional offices to educate recalcitrant representatives. In solidarity, Debbie Szeredy, president of the American Postal Workers Union local, fasted in New York City, and others fasted in Washington State, Oregon and Texas.
Among the D.C. strikers’ actions were a press conference at the Capitol with Representative Dennis Kucinich, a “Stop the Robbery” march from postal headquarters to the Capitol, and a “Tell the Truth” protest at the Washington Post.
“We could easily protect the Postal Service if Congress would address the agency’s overpayment into its retiree health benefits program,” said Kucinich.
Retired city letter carrier Jamie Partridge, the Community Postal Workers Union national spokesman, participated in the four-day fast.
“The hunger strike energized frustrated and despairing postal workers and members of the public,” Patridge said.
In an e-mail letter, Partridge said that judging from the national press response, including CNN, NPR, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Fox Business News, the hunger strike was “a huge media hit. It got our message about the 75-year prefund mandate and pension surplus out there to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands,” he said. “Congress also received calls from constituents about the prefund mandate.”
However, the hunger strike did not spur Congress to act on two bills languishing in the House. And on Aug. 1, the United States Postal Service was poised to default on a mammoth $5.5 billion prepayment on pension funds due the Department of the Treasury.
Of the two opposing bills, the Community Postal Workers Union supports HR 3591, the Postal Service Protection Act of 2011, introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). DeFazio has called for the postmaster general to be fired.
Rather than calling it a default, Partridge said, “Postmaster General Donahoe has agreed to suspend payments on the prefunding mandate — so he has no excuse for going forward with closures and cuts. He’s sending the U.S.P.S. into a death spiral.”
On July 14, retired Staten Island letter carrier John Dennie was holding an “Occupy Labor Alliance” sign at a Con Ed lockout protest in Manhattan. For Dennie, the hunger strike was largely symbolic. He attempted a citizen’s arrest of Donahoe, was briefly handcuffed but released because the postal police would not arrest him at Postal Headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza in D.C.
With 48 mail-processing plants slated for closure in August, including one in Monmouth, N.J., and 13,000 post offices facing cuts in services, postal activists have their hands full.
They’re now part of a coalition planning a major March on “Wall Street South” in Charlotte, N.C., during the Democratic National Convention.