Unions representing U.S. Postal Service workers are staging a hunger strike this week to urge Congress to avoid dramatic changes to the mail delivery agency as part of any new legislation in the lame-duck session.
The six-day hunger strike -- which started Monday and lasts through Saturday -- is meant to symbolize the proposal to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, taking the Postal Service from a six to a five-day schedule. It is the second such strike by USPS advocates this year.
Jamie Partridge, a participant in the strike and a Communities and Postal Workers United organizer from Portland, Ore., pointed to the much maligned congressional mandate to prefund retirees’ health benefits well into the future -- a provision also passed in a lame-duck session in 2006 -- as the primary cause of USPS’ ongoing fiscal woes.
“It’s not the Internet, it’s not even the recession, it’s not bloated labor costs, it’s not private competition,” Partridge said. “It’s this prefunding mandate that Congress created . . . and that’s why we’re back, because we’re very concerned this lame-duck session will slip in another [piece of] postal legislation that will further cripple the Postal Service.”
Partridge, who is participating in the strike with five other protestors, pledged to make his voice be heard and is planning to “march through the halls of Congress.”
“We will use escalating tactics,” he said. “We’re going to make it rough on them,” adding his group will target House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as well as Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.
Partridge said lawmakers have the ulterior motive of privatizing the Postal Service when drafting reform legislation. “Privatization is the agenda,” he said. “We’re pushing back.”
Kevin Cole, who, like Partridge, participated in a hunger strike in June, said he felt the publicity his group raised in the last protest prevented a full House vote on Issa’s postal reform bill and he would not hesitate to come back to fight again.
“The last effort was worthwhile,” said Cole, who took a three-day bus ride from Anaheim, Calif., to participate in the hunger strike. “The experience last time was such that I wanted to come out again.”
Cole and Partridge maintained that eliminating the prefunding mandate -- coupled with the restoration of a pension surplus -- is enough to bring the Postal Service back to fiscal solvency. The Office of Personnel Management, however, recently said the pension surplus is much smaller than originally thought.