By Jenny Kalish
Lansing Star staff writer
Among the navy blue sea of postal workers gathered in front of the Lansing Capitol steps last Tuesday, hundreds of community members and their families held picket signs–some wrapped in blankets-to show their support of a pending bill that would help relieve the Postal Service’s debt.
If passed, the government would take a portion of the $78 billion in funds taken from the Postal Service to pre-fund future employee healthcare, and return it to its operating budget — A financial cushion that the U.S. Postal Service desperately needs right now.
“The loss that we’ve had in the past five years is because of a 2006 mandate that requires us to pre-fund our retiree health benefits for the next 75 years in 10 years. We’re paying for
health benefits for people that aren’t even born yet,” said Jami Groce, Mason letter carrier and Lansing rally coordinator. “If we had this burden taken care of, we wouldn’t be in any financial trouble and wouldn’t have to close post offices, close distribution centers and dismantle the system that we have now.” Groce said.
Postal workers all over the country held demonstrations on Sept. 27, 2011, at the same time as the rally in Lansing, with the goal of getting petitions signed to send to their representatives. “The rallies were to inform the public that we don’t take taxpayer money and were we’re really not looking for a taxpayer bailout. This is basically, the way we see it, our money, the Postal Service’s money,” said Gary Smith, Grand Rapids postal worker and rally coordinator.
If the bill doesn’t pass, however, the Postal Service will have to save money in less desirable ways. Most likely, Groce says, it could result in five-day or even three-day delivery, closing distribution centers, excessive job loss, and less access for people in rural areas to the Postal Service.
“If the Lansing distribution center close there will be about 400 people that lose their jobs,” said Groce. “They’re talking about losing 200,000 jobs in the next two years. We’ve already lost 110,000 jobs and America really needs jobs right now.” Groce said.
President of the Michigan Postal Workers Union John Marcotte said that short-term solutions like cutting jobs and closing post offices will most likely lead us into, what he calls a death spiral. “The Postal Service wanting to shut down two thirds of its processing centers and all the rural post offices, that’s simply not the answer. To cannibalize your network is just not the answer,” said Marcotte.
Still, with 216 co-sponsors in Congress, Marcotte hopes the bill will be passed, though he understands why government may be hesitant. “Even though [the postal service] is part of the government, we’re self-funding. So any money the government can take from the postal service makes their budget look better. Anything they give the postal service counts against them because we’re off the books,” Marcotte said. “The political will to give the money back just was never there.”