August 13, 2014 – For Immediate Release
“I suspect the authorities dropped the charges because their persecution just emboldened us to further spotlight waste, fraud, and abuse at the people’s postal service,” said Rev. John Schwiebert. Schwiebert was one of the “postal protector” arrestees who were charged with “impeding a mail delivery vehicle” and “blocking a loading platform” in two separate protests against the dismantling and privatization of the US Postal Service. Three activists – Rev. Schwiebert, Jamie Partridge, and Jack Herbert – were singled out by postal and federal authorities because “these individuals have been involved in repeated protests, demonstrations and trespassing incidents” (United States Postal Inspection Service report). The protesters accused postal officials of attempting to suppress their right to free speech and assembly. All charges were dropped on August 1st.
Two actions generated the federal charges — a demonstration on a postal loading dock last December, protesting the scheduled closure of the Springfield, Oregon mail processing plant, and the blocking of a private truck contracted to transport the US mail, in July of 2013.
Privatization leads to waste, fraud and abuse
The private company, Dill’s Star Route, Inc., had last year secured a padded, no-bid trucking contract, was in bankruptcy, did not have the proper equipment, had been rejected in the past for “poor performance and equipment deficiencies”, was recently convicted of major labor law violations, and cost the USPS more to move the mail than if the postal service were to use postal employees. Postal truckers complained to the Office of the Inspector General that the transportation manager had increased the number of truck “runs” from fourteen per day when using postal employees, to twenty-one, then thirty-two, then thirty-eight runs using the private company. The postal service’s own records showed that the Dill’s truck blocked by protesters was carrying no mail.
Dismantling the postal infrastructure leads to mail delays & revenue loss
Less than a month after the Springfield demonstration, which received national press coverage, the Postmaster General announced he was suspending closures and consolidations of mail processing plants. 2013 had seen the closure of 141 plants, half the mail processing facilities in the nation, including the Salem, Oregon plant in June. This month the PMG has announced he will continue “consolidations” with the closure of 82 more plants, beginning in January, 2015, including the Springfield, Bend and Pendleton plants. Once completed, the new network will see all mail from the Willamette Valley, from the Snake River to the Pacific, processed in Portland. Mail delivery standards are being degraded to allow two and three day delays.
“Postal management is tearing apart the infrastructure of the public postal service,” said Jamie Partridge, retired letter carrier and one of the postal protector arrestees. Vowing further direct actions, Partridge declared that “we plan to escalate this fight to save our national treasure.”
The U.S. Postal Service’s own studies, which they attempted to suppress, showed that big mailers leave the system as a result of such delays, costing more in lost revenue than is saved by lowering labor costs, not to mention the dramatic increase in trucking costs as mail is transported hundreds of extra miles to be sorted in the closest still open facilities.
The Salem, Springfield, Bend and Pendleton plant closures would eliminate approximately three hundred local union jobs, delay Oregon mail delivery, and disproportionately affect small businesses, the elderly, rural communities, the one-half of the public that pays bills by mail and the many who lack access to reliable internet service. Oregon’s vote-by-mail system could be compromised.
The protesters, organized by Portland Communities and Postal Workers United, claim that a 2006 Congressional mandate, which forces the U.S. Postal Service to prefund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, has created a phony financial crisis. Although the USPS has claimed a “loss” every year since 2006, due primarily to the pre-fund mandate, the postal service has not made an actual payment toward prefunding since 2011. The USPS has generated an operating profit for the last six quarters.
The activists are calling on postal management to suspend cuts, closures, and subcontracting and allow Congress to fix the finances by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus. Twin bills, HR 630, sponsored by U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (Oregon) and S 316, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), would fix postal finances and prevent plant and office closures and service cuts.
Via Portland Communities and Postal Workers United
Contact: Jamie Partridge, 503-752-5112