Rallying to save their jobs, postal workers Tuesday afternoon gathered outside the Bayside office of Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Nassau) to thank him for his support.
More than 100 postal employees held signs and cheered as passing buses and tow trucks on Northern Boulevard honked in support of their cause. Gloria Lum, union liaison for District 5, coached participants on their chant, “Hip, hip, hooray,” in anticipation of Ackerman coming out of his office to encourage their campaign.
Workers want Congress to pass HR 1351, a bill that would allow the Postal Service to use billions of dollars in excess retirement pension overpayments to meet its debts. According to the American Public Workers Union, the $20 billion in postal losses is a result of a 2006 congressional mandate that forced the Postal Service to pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and do it within 10 years.
“No other public agency is forced to do this,” said Tony Paolillo, president of the Flushing Letters Carriers, Branch 294.
The APWU says that without the mandate, the USPS would have shown a surplus of $611 million over the past four fiscal years.
If approved, the legislation would release $6.9 billion for this year’s pension obligation of $5.5 billion.
Trevor Stewart, head of the area mail handlers, called the 2006 legislation “improper,” adding, “They created it, but they can fix it.”
HR 1351 has 216 sponsors in the House and has been referred to a subcommittee. Postal workers around the country held rallies Tuesday at the officers of members of Congress to garner their support and push for quicker action.
Gloria Jackson, who works at the postal processing plant in College Point, believes HR 1351 “is a start” and if passed “the money can be used to pay the debt. We are fighting for our jobs.”
If no action is taken, the USPS said it would eliminate 3,700 mail processing facilities and post offices, lay off 120,000 workers and possibly end delivery of mail on Saturdays.
Tony Sanchez, who works at the Flushing processing facility, said passing the bill in both houses would, “take us out of the hole and let us keep our paychecks.”
Teddy Koutros, who works at the Bayside station, said the Postal Service is at a big disadvantage because of the pre-payment of funds. “We need to save jobs,” Koutros said. “We don’t need more people on unemployment.”
Ackerman told the workers that it is the responsibility of the federal government to maintain the Postal Service. “It helped build the country,” he said. “And we need it open six days a week.”
The congressman agreed that no other agency pre-pays benefits and the requirement must be eliminated. In addition, he believes stamp prices are too cheap. “They are losing money because they keep the prices down,” Ackerman said. “No other business in the private sector can operate so cheaply. Sending a letter across the country for only 44 cents is too little.”
Borough President Helen Marshall also lent her support, telling the gatherers that people need post offices. “This is an un-American thing to do,” Marshall said. “Keep them open; seniors especially depend on them more than anyone.”