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Local postal workers join national day of action over USPS privatization proposal

Greta Mart/KCBX
SLO rally participants listened to NALC chapter president Alfred Ramos outline the union's concerns.

About a dozen United States postal workers and their supporters gathered in San Luis Obispo Monday, joining their colleagues across the country on a day of rallies, chanting, “U.S. Mail, not for sale.”

In every state, letter carriers and other postal workers held rallies to protest what they say is a threat to one of America’s most fundamental institutions - universal mail delivery guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In March 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order planning to reorganize government agencies and programs. Part of that is a plan to privatize the United State Postal Service. The USPS was created by Article One of the U.S. Constitution, but the administration says the “current government infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the needs of the 21st century.”

Margaret Weichert is deputy director for management with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the office tasked with drafting a government-wide reorganization plan. In June, she testified before a congressional committee about the privatization plan.

“Economic issues and really, change in the economic model for the postal service, and particularly the drop in first class mail, have fundamentally affected our ability to meet our liabilities for employee benefits, as well as to be economically viable as an independent agency,” Weichert told the committee.

The USPS doesn’t receive taxpayer monies; it’s self-funded by its products and services. Electronic mail has replaced much of the postal service’s original business. But at the same time, the growth in e-commerce shipping has more than made up for it, according to Art Sackler of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service.

For years, Congress has been working on fixing the postal service. But in 2006, it passed a lawthat many say has made it impossible to get the service back on sound financial footing. Part of that law required it pre-fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years.

Megan Brennan is the Postmaster General. She spoke about this prefunding requirement before a congressional hearing last year.

“The civilian federal government is not required to prefund retiree health benefits, but that obligation is imposed on the Postal Service,” Brennan said. “We are merely asking to be treated like any business that offers health benefits to its retirees and has to fund them.”

Alfred Ramos is president of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the National Association of Letter Carriers. He led Monday’s rally in San Luis Obispo and said the postal service has the infrastructure to support its costs, but the retiree health care pre-funding requirement is hamstringing the agency.

What Ramos is concerned about is all the USPS delivery address that are rural. If the postal service is privatized, Ramos said, it would jeopardize service to the estimated 44 million rural addresses across the country.

“You start piecing it out—selling it—you’ll get astronomical fees in rural areas,” Ramos said. “Our rural communities will suffer beyond measure. Nobody wants to go up the canyons for 50 cents. They all want the urban areas, the business zones.”

Another main concern expressed by speakers at the San Luis Obispo rally is the increasing pivot towards vote-by-mail ballots. Many counties in California are looking at doing away with polling stations altogether, and on the Central Coast, roughly 70 percent of residents vote by mail. With the new realities of mail voting, those opposed to privatization of the U.S. postal service say they are concerned it will endanger American democracy.