PORTLAND, Ore. (PAI) - While the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) was closed on Veterans Day, a group of Portland, Ore., postal employees used their day off to say that if USPS really wants to honor veterans, it should hire them.
Hiring has been frozen for five years at USPS, and that's reducing opportunities for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Letter Carriers and Postal Workers who gathered at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland.
USPS is historically the biggest employer of veterans. USPS applicants take civil service aptitude tests, and veterans get five points added to their test scores. Disabled veterans get 10 points. Over 108,000 former service men and women are current USPS employees, about a fifth of the workforce. But the average USPS employee is now over 53 years of age, and workers aren't being replaced as they retire.
In Oregon, for example, there are 180 vacant letter carrier positions, says Kevin Card, state director of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and 114 of those are in the Portland area. At the rally, those missing co-workers were represented by blue USPS shirts hoisted up on picket signs. And blame for the missing workers, protesters said, belongs to Congress.
"In the last session of Congress, we were saddled with a $5.5 billion a year pre-funding requirement," Card said. That's the amount USPS is required to pay, in advance, for future health costs of retirees. That would be a very unusual requirement for any employer, and it has pushed USPS - already under stress from declining mail volumes - to the brink of insolvency.
Now, a bill by Rep. Darrell Issa, D-Calif., HR2309, would make the situation even worse, Card said. It authorizes USPS to go down to 5-day delivery, encourages contracting out, orders USPS to close sufficient post offices to cut costs by $1 billion a year and to close mail processing facilities to save $2 billion a year, caps contributions to employee health care, and bars collective bargaining agreements from containing anti-layoff clauses. Issa chairs the GOP-run House committee that writes USPS legislation.
Could it pass the Senate and the White House during the lame-duck session of Congress that began Nov. 13? "We don't know, and you gotta be fearful," Card says.
"When it comes right down to it, the working class is being asked to pay the bill."
Marching out of the square, USPS workers passed by the Pioneer Courthouse-former site of a post office-where a man sitting on the sidewalk held a sign: "Disabled veteran. 67 years old. Trying to get by. Anything helps. Happy Veterans Day."
Don McIntosh is Associate Editor of The Northwest Labor Press
Photo: Postal News