April 29, 2013 – New York City
The Postal Service is under siege — New York City post offices put up for sale, Postmaster Donahoe’s failed attempt to cutback mail delivery to five days, and the rush to close mail processing plants throughout the nation.
These cutbacks in services have the biggest impact on people who most depend upon the post office — the elderly, the disabled, disabled veterans, the poor, and small business owners. The cutbacks must be stopped.
Join the May Day March to Save the People’s Post Office on Wednesday, May 1.
The March will culminate in a “mail-in” at the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, with marchers “occupying” the lobby as they attempt to mail oversized “post cards” to government officials who have the authority to reverse the disastrous dismantling of the people’s post office.
What: May Day March to Save the Peoples’ Post Office
When: Wednesday, May 1 2013 (May Day) High Noon
Where: Start at Washington Square Park and go to Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, 432 East 14th Street.
Why: Enough is Enough! There must be an immediate moratorium on the destruction of the infrastructure and network of the people’s post office.
Who: Occu-Evolve, Occupy Wall Street, the New York Metro Area Postal Union, Community/Labor for Postal Jobs and Services, Communities and Postal Workers United
April 27, 2013
Over the past few weeks, there have been several meetings in New York City about the Postal Service’s plans to close historic post offices and move retail services to smaller spaces. Not many people attended the first of them — about the Bronx General Post Office — because it was held in the morning and with little advance notice.
But three subsequent meetings — on the Triborough (Tito Puente), Old Chelsea, and Peter Stuyvesant stations — were packed with frustrated and angry citizens, worried about what the closures and relocations will mean for postal workers, seniors, small businesses, average customers, and the neighborhood as a whole.
A fifth New York City post office is also set for closure — the Washington Bridge Station at 555 West 180th Street. Retail services and post office boxes will be relocated to a smaller space a couple of blocks away, at 518 West 181st Street. The new space is about half the size of the current space, so letter carriers will probably be transferred to other facilities.
The Washington Bridge relocation has been in the works for several years, so it won't come as a big surprise to the community. But for some reason, the Postal Service has not included this relocation in its discussions with city officials, and there hasn’t been an announcement about a public meeting or comment period. The Postal Service seems to be treating the Washington Bridge closure as a done deal. That’s because it is.
A "possible" candidate for closure
Originally named after the nearby George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, the Washington Bridge post office was renamed the Sergeant Riayan A. Tejada Post Office in 2004, in honor of a Marine hero killed in Iraq. It's located in Washington Heights, at the northern tip of Manhattan, in a primarily Dominican neighborhood. (The Heights was the scene for a reality TV show that had a short run recently.)
In July 2009, the Postal Service informed workers at the Washington Bridge station that the office would be closing because the landlord wanted a big rent increase. Customers would need to go to another post office, like the 192nd Street post office, over twelve blocks further uptown.
That announcement met with strong protests from the community, and the post office remained open. There was talk of a closure again in October 2009, but then a last-minute lease extension kept it open.
In April 2010, Congressman Charles Rangel met with Postmaster General John Potter to lobby on behalf of the post office, and Rangel was told that the Postal Service was working on another lease extension with the landlord and looking for a new, smaller location.
Nothing more seemed to happen after that, at least not in public view. Behind the scenes, the Postal Service continued to arrange lease extensions, apparently with the help of elected officials. One extension (May 2010 to June 2012) went into effect just after Rangel met with the PMG. The current extension runs until June 30, 2013.
The new location
It looks as though the Postal Service found the new location for the Washington Bridge post office sometime in early 2012. According to the USPS facilities list, a ten-year lease for the property at 516-518 181st Street went into effect on April 1, 2012. The facility is identified as "Washington Bridge Retail."
April 22, 2013
The third annual Postal Vision 2020 conference will take place this week in Washington, DC. The conference brings together speakers from a variety of backgrounds for what the Postal Vision website describes as a "provocative, candid conversation about what Americans should have in the way of ‘postal services’ in 2020 and beyond and who should provide them.”
The title of this year's Postal Vision 2020 is "Positioning America for the New Millennium," and much of the conference will be about innovations in the mail industry, like digital solutions and eCommerce. But that reference to "postal services" and "who should provide them" indicates that the conference may be about something else as well. Judging by who's speaking at Postal Vision 2020, it's likely that one of the conference's main themes will be privatization of the Postal Service.
Three of the conference's big name speakers were recently involved with a study about a proposal to privatize half the Postal Service by creating a “hybrid public-private partnership.” The study was conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) with funding from Pitney Bowes, one of the two platinum sponsors for Postal Vision 2020. The proposal calls for transferring the retail and processing operations of the Postal Service to the private sector, leaving the Postal Service with the delivery end. Over half the Postal Service — $35 billion in operating costs — would be handed over to private companies — companies like Pitney Bowes.
The Postal Vision 2020 website doesn't say a word about the NAPA-Pitney Bowes privatization study, but you can be sure it's on the agenda.
The NAPA-Pitney Bowes privatization study
The NAPA study was conducted with financial support from Pitney Bowes, amount unknown. The study purports to be objective and independent, but Pitney Bowes is anything but a disinterested observer of the country’s postal system.
The corporation received over $30 million from the USPS in 2012, and it's number 49 on the list of Top USPS Suppliers for 2012. Besides benefiting from direct payments for services rendered, Pitney Bowes profits off the Postal Service in other ways. PB is the country’s largest presort corporation. It consolidates, processes, and transports mail, which then qualifies for workshare discounts with the Postal Service. The system ends up giving private companies work that could be done (and used to be done) by postal workers, and many of the deals cost the Postal Service money because the discounts are larger than the costs avoided
If the hybrid public-private model were implemented, something on the order of $30 billion in mail processing costs would be transferred from the Postal Service to the private sector. Pitney Bowes stands to make billions off such a privatization scheme. No wonder it was happy to fund the NAPA study and to provide generous support to the Postal Vision conference, where the study can be discussed in a high-profile way.
April 15, 2013
Last week postal workers took the fight to stop the consolidation of mail processing plants to the nation’s capital. On Wednesday, April 10, employees representing several communities and APWU locals traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with their elected officials and protest the Postal Service’s decision to accelerate the consolidation of 55 mail processing plants that had been scheduled for 2014.
Several APWU locals have also filed formal Complaints challenging the Postal Service’s plan with the Postal Regulatory Commission. While in DC, union representatives and other postal workers attended a meeting of the PRC to make their case in person. The video above includes the audio of the twenty or so minutes they spent talking to the Commissioners at the end of the meeting. (You can listen to the podcast of the entire PRC meeting here.)
The postal workers were accompanied on their visit to the PRC by Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), who wanted to testify on behalf of the hundreds of employees at the Mid-Hudson Postal and Distribution Center in Newburgh, New York. Maloney was the first member of the House of Representatives to testify in person before the PRC.
“I’m outraged at the Postal Service’s decision to consolidate the Newburgh facility an entire year earlier than the original deadline,” said Congressman Maloney, “and I will continue fighting to ensure that this consolidation does not impact employees or their families.” You can listen to Rep. Maloney’s entire statement to the Commission here.
The complaints and the comments to the PRC may spur the Commission to do something, but as Chairman Ruth Goldway said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, there’s not much the PRC can do.
“We’re the regulator, not the operator of the Postal Service,” said Goldway, “and what the law directs us to do is somewhat limited, especially when it comes to plant operations, but we will look at the complaints that you filed and we will consider the comments you made about efficiency and service and we’ll see what it is possible that we can either advise the Postal Service to do or direct them.”
The Mid-Hudson Area APWU Local was the first to file a complaint about the consolidations with the PRC. Similar complaints have since been filed by APWU Helena Local 649 (Helena MT CSPDC); Greater East Texas Area Local (East TX Processing & Distribution Plant in Tyler TX); Red Bank Area Local (Monmouth P&D Center in NJ); the Bakersfield Area Local (Bakersfield P. & D. in Bakersfield, CA), and Booklyn Local 251 (Brooklyn P&DC). More complaints are expected to be filed over the coming days. You can read more about the complaints in this previous post.
April 13, 2013
For our Founding Fathers, post offices and post roads played an essential role in “binding our nation together.” Congress reaffirmed that vision when it passed the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970: “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together.”
The leaders of the Postal Service appear to have forgotten that mission. Their actions — closing post offices and processing facilities, slowing down the mail, reducing services, focusing on the interests of large corporate mailers rather than citizens and communities — seem intended to dismantle the postal system, not to preserve it.
This week, however, Postal Service executives did manage to bind the country together, but not in a way they could possibly have intended. In an unprecedented act of coast-to-coast solidarity, postal activists in Berkeley, California, have joined forces with community leaders in the Bronx, New York, to stop the closing of the Bronx General Post Office.
Relocating a landmark
As the New York Times described it, the Bronx GPO is “an official city landmark, a centerpiece of life in the borough for more than 75 years and a monumental gallery of the work of Ben Shahn, one of America’s leading Social Realist artists.” Shahn worked with Diego Rivera on the murals in Rockefeller Center, and the Bronx GPO contains thirteen of his works. One of them (shown above) depicts poet Walt Whitman instructing some young people that "Democracy rests finally upon us."
In spite of the historic, artistic, and economic importance of the Bronx post office, the Postal Service has decided that it would be in its own financial interest to close the office, sell the building, transfer workers, and move retail services to a leased space somewhere else. The Postal Service calls the action a "relocation" because in its view retail services are simply being moved elsewhere.
The Postal Service formally announced its final decision to proceed with the relocation on March 14, just eleven weeks after first informing the community of its intentions. According to the federal regulations that govern relocations, the community had thirty days to appeal.
On April 10, the law firm of Ford & Huff, acting on behalf of Bronx resident Julio Pabon and the Berkeley-based National Post Office Collaborate, sent a letter of appeal to Tom Samra, USPS Vice President of Facilities, asking him to reconsider the Postal Service’s decision to close the post office and sell the historic building. The letter is here.
The appeal reviews many of the problems with the Postal Service’s decision, and it’s packed with references to federal laws, regulations, and precedents, thus preparing the way for a legal argument, should the case end up in court.