WASHINGTON - After three days of starving themselves to "save a starving postal service" 10 hunger strikers today took aim at the Washington Post.
Charging the Post editorial board with "disinformation and omission," the 10 threw up a picket line here in front of the newspaper's office.
Pointing to an April 15 editorial "Dead letters," which describes the postal service as "technologically obsolescent" and suggests that "costs will get shifted to...taxpayers," the strikers said that a $5.5 billion annual pre-funding mandate is sinking an otherwise successful agency.
The postal service is required by a 2006 act of Congress to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, something not required of any other public agency or private company.
"It's not the Internet, not private competition from FedEx or UPS, not the recession - its Congress that's killing the U.S. postal service," said James Partridge, one of the hunger strikers in a phone interview. Partridge is a retired letter carrier from Portland, Ore. "Allow the postal service access to its own funds - not tax but postage funds - from the pension surplus, and the finances can be fixed," he said.
The pension surplus amounts to $60 to $85 billion overpaid into federal retirement accounts, according to the Office of the Inspector General and the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The hunger strikers have spent much of their time walking the halls of the massive congressional office buildings where Partridge says the strikers have been "intent on shaming Congress into action." He said the strike will culminate in a mass rally June 28 at 4 p.m at postal headquarters on L'Enfant Plaza. The hunger strikers will attempt what he called "an encounter with the Postmaster general."
The hunger strike is happening only a week before the U.S. Postal Service downgrades delivery standards for first class mail. Beginning July 1, overnight single-piece first class mail delivery will end.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has announced that he will then begin shutting down half the mail sorting plants in the country and slash hours from 25 to 75 percent in half the nation's post offices. Forty thousand jobs will be eliminated. The hunger strikers are demanding that Donahoe maintain current delivery standards and suspend cuts and closures while allowing Congress to repair the financial mess by repealing the prefunding mandate and refunding the pension surplus.
"The Postmaster General is sending the service into a death spiral," said Matt McAuliffe, another of the hunger strikers. McAuliffe is a mailhandler in Denver. "By slowing the mail, one to two days," he said, "the postal service will drive away customers. Those most dependent on the mail, the elderly, the poor and rural communities will be hit the hardest."
Hunger strikes and other protests in sympathy with the action in the nation's capital are being organized in cities across the country, including Seattle, Olympia, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Baltimore. Hundreds of individuals and groups have endorsed the hunger strike, which has been put together by Communities and Postal Workers United, a national grassroots network.
"Corporate interests, working through their friends in Congress, want to undermine the postal service, bust the unions, then privatize it," said Tom Dodge, of Baltimore, another of the hunger strikers. "We will not stand by as our beloved postal service is destroyed."
Photo: Hunger strike by postal workers in Washington. Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO.